What is Stacte?

Stacte

Stacte (Greek: στακτή, staktḗ or Hebrew: נָטָף‎, nataf) is one of the ingredients of the most sacred temple incense, the HaKetoret, discussed in Exodus 30:34. It was to be mixed in equal parts with onycha (labdanum), galbanum and mixed with pure frankincense and made into an incense for burning on the altar of the tabernacle.

This incense was considered restricted for sacred purposes honoring Yahweh; the trivial or profane use of it was punishable by exile, as laid out in Exodus 30:34-38 (KJV)

The Hebrew word nataf means “drop,” corresponding to “drops of water (Job 36:27).” The Septuagint translates nataf as stacte, a Greek word meaning “an oozing substance,” which refers to various viscous liquids, including myrrh. [1] Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel explained, “Stacte is simply the sap that drips from the tapping of the wood of the balsam tree (Kerithot 6a).” Various contenders for stacte include myrrh of the highest grade, the resin of Styrax officinalis, the benzoin resin of Styrax Benzoin (a close relative of and of the same genus as Styrax Officinalis), myrrh and benzoin mixed, storax, the resin of Turkish Sweetgum (Liquidambar orientalis),[2] opobalsamum, labdanum, and the oil of cinnamon.

My research has led me to the conclusion that stacte is indeed myrrh and most probably myrrh and benzoin mixed.

Myrrh

Most all ancient sources refer to Stacte as being myrrh.[3] It is variously described as the transparent parts of the myrrh resin, the myrrh that exudes spontaneously from the tree, or the product of myrrh heated over fire. The ancient Greek botanist Theophrastus describes the manufacturing of stacte: “From the myrrh, when it is bruised flows an oil; it is in fact called “stacte” because it comes in drops slowly.” The ancient Roman historian Pliny in “A Natural History,” describes stacte as, “the liquid which exuded naturally from the myrrh tree before the gum was collected from man-made incisions.” Pancirollus says, myrrh is a drop or tear distilling from a tree in Arabia Felix; and stacte is a drop of myrrh, which is extracted from it, and yields a most precious liquid. [4] Dioscorides wrote that Stacte was made from Myrrh. He recorded that after having bruised the myrrh and dissolved it in oil of balanos over a gentle fire, hot water was poured over it. The myrrh and oil would sink to the bottom like a deposit; and as soon as this has occurred, they strained off the water and squeeze the sediment in a press. [5] [6] Stoddart, who lists myrrh as a balm, informs us that “Myrrh—after the almost clear stacte has passed through—is reddish brown . . . Stacte is the thinnest moiety of myrrh, the very best of which is forced through tiny holes in the intact bark at the start of spring.”[7] Pomet wrote that to obtain stacte one must first gather the myrrh “that flows spontaneously from the tree” and to look for portions of the resin which are “clear and transparent, apt to crumble, light.” He says to choose the myrrh “that when it is broke, has little white spots in it.” We are told that “stacte is that liquid part which is found in the center or middle of the lumps or clots of myrrh.” Pomet also wrote that stacte is that “which is first so gather’d from the tree without force, and also press’d from the myrrh . . . there is prepar’d from it, an extract, an oil or liquor of myrrh.”[8]

The Gerrhaean tribute to Antiochus III in 205 BC included one thousand talents of frankincense and two hundred of “stacte myrrh.”

Cant. I:I reads, “I rose up to open to my beloved; And my hands dropped with myrrh, And my fingers with stacte” referring to myrrh and the stacte which seems to have exuded from it.[9] This would seem to agree with Sauer and Blakely who note that stacte was myrrh oil or liquid myrrh. [10]

Abrahams informs that “With regard to the Tabernacle incense, most scholars agree that the term ‘stacte’ is of Latin and Greek origin, and that stacte represents myrrh.” [11] A. Lucas informs us in no uncertain terms that stacte is indeed a product of the myrrh tree. [12] [13] While some identify commiphora opobalsamum as the myrrh that was used for stacte, Tucker says that “Common myrrh is obtained from Commiphora myrrha ; this is the species from which . . . stacte, was obtained.”[14] [15]

R. Steuer, in his scholarly paper Stacte in Egyptian Antiquity, gives a convincing argument in favor of stacte being the product of the myrrh tree in ancient Egypt. [16] [17]

However, this viscous liquid myrrh would have needed a concrete carrier such as benzoin, which I believe did indeed accompany the myrrh ingredient.

Styrax Benzoin

Dioscordes referred to styrax as “storax” which was the name used of the styrax genus in antiquity (modern storax is usually liquidamber) [18] Styrax benzoin was used by the ancient Egyptians in the art of perfumery and incense. The apothecary of Shemot (book of Exodus) would have been familiar with its aromatic uses. H.J. Abrahams states that the use of benzoin in the Biblical incense is not altogether inconceivable since Syro-Arabian tribes maintained extensive trade routes prior to Hellenism. Styrax benzoin was available via import to the Biblical lands during the Old Testament era.

Herodotus of Halicarnassus in the 5th century BC indicates that different kinds of “storax” were traded.

Most modern authorities identify Styrax officinalis as the biblical styrax, however the yield of resin produced by S. officinalis, if any is produced at all, is extremely small. The large amounts of stacte needed for liturgical purposes, especially in the first temple period, would seem to have necessitated the import of a styrax that could have met the demand. Styrax benzoin yields a much larger yield of resin and could fill this need quite adequately. As mentioned above, Styrax benzoin is a close relative of and of the same genus as Styrax officinalis.

Gamaliel said that stacte was nothing more than the sap that drips from the branches of the balsam tree. Balsam is a term that has been used for a variety of pleasantly scented vegetable gums that usually contain benzoic acid such as is contained in benzoin gum from the balsam tree styrax benzoin. [19]

S. benzoin has a history steeped in antiquity and was once employed as an incense in Egypt. All the compounds identified in benzoin resin were detected in an archaeological organic residue from an Egyptian ceramic censer, thus proving that this resin was used as one of the components of the mixture of organic materials burned as incense in ancient Egypt. [20] An ancient Egyptian perfume formula (1200 BC) consisted of “Storax, Labdanum, Galbanum, Frankincense, Myrrh, Cinnamon, Cassia, Honey, Raisins.”[21] Rosenmeuller records that “the Greeks also called stacte, a species of Storax gum, which Dioscorides describes, as transparent like a tear, and resembling myrrh.”[22]The word ‘Storax’ is an alteration of the Late Latin styrax.   In the Orphic hymns, the Greek word for storax is στόρακας or στόρακα. The book of Ecclesiasticus lists storax as one of the ingredients when alluding to the sacred incense of the biblical tabernacle. [23]

The Hindustanis use Styrax Benzoin to burn in their temples—a circumstance strongly in favor of the hypothesis that the stacte of Exodus was acompanied by a storax.[24]

Myrrh Mixed with Styrax Benzoin

Some writers say that myrrh rarely consisted of one sole resin but was a mixture of resins. One kind of myrrh described by Dioscorides was “like the stacte, a composition of myrrh and some other ingredient . . . “ [25] Dioscordes said that one form of stacte was styrax (storax in antiquity) and a fat mixed. The essential of myrrh is oftentimes referred to as “the fat of fresh myrrh.” [26] The book of Eccesiasticus (Sirach) 24:15 alludes to the sacred incense speaking of “a pleasant odour like the best myrrh, as galbanum, and onyx, and sweet storax, and as the fame of frankincense in the tabernacle.” At the time that this was written either myrrh and styrax were mixed together or styrax was treated with myrrh or by the time of the first temple period a fifth ingredient was added to the ketoret. [27] Styrax was most probably the solid carrier for the liquid myrrh. For centuries, benzoin has been mixed with myrrh, particularly in the Middle East, to scent private homes and places of worship.[28]

There is no doubt that stacte is the finest part of the myrrh resin of the commiphora species and styrax benzoin was most probably the solid carrier for this aromatic resin.

By Curtis Ward

 

(NOTE: To make Stacte I order granulated Yemen myrrh from the following link : http://www.somaluna.com/prod/yemen_myrrh_grade_2.asp?m=20                                                                                                                                 I  then separate all of the transparent, semi-transparent, and white granules of myrrh from the red and brown granules. The transparent, semi-transparent, and the white granules are hard stacte. I moisten this with a little water and heat until liquid. This is stacte. Preferably you would get stacte when it first exudes on it’s own, but unfortunatley we do not have myrrh trees in Ohio .)

 

Footnotes

  1. ^ Gill Marks, KI TISA , THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS, SHEMEN HAMISCHA, http://www.gilmarks.com/1215.html
  2. ^ Encyclopedia Britannica (1911), ISBE (1915), Bible Encyclopedia.net (2007)
  3. ^ http://www.making-incense.com/monographs/stacte.htm
  4. ^ The New John Gill Exposition of the entire bible
  5. ^ Dioscorides, Matria Medica
  6. ^ Groom, Nigel, Frankincense and Myrrh: A Study of the Ancient Arabian Incense Trade
  7. ^ Stoddart, David Michael, The scented ape: the biology and culture of human odour
  8. ^ Pomet, Monfieur, History of Druggs, 1709
  9. ^ Theocritean parallels to the Song of Songs by Wm. G. Seiple, John Hopkins University, The American Journal of Semitic Languages.
  10. ^ Archaeology Along the Spice Route of Yemen by James A. Sauer and Jeffrey A. Blakely. Araby the blest: studies in Arabian archaeology, By Daniel T. Potts
  11. ^ Onycha, Ingredient of the Ancient Jewish Incense: An Attempt at Identification, HJ Abrahams – Economic Botany, 1979
  12. ^ Notes on Myrrh and Stacte, A Lucas – The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, 1937
  13. ^ http://www.jstor.org/pss/3854456
  14. ^ Frankincense and myrrh, AO Tucker – Economic botany, 1986
  15. ^ http://www.springerlink.com/content/1400n1v55r024681/
  16. ^ Steuer, Robert O., Stacte in Egyptian Antiquity
  17. ^ http://www.jstor.org/pss/594360
  18. ^ Encyclopaedia Britannica 1893:Incense of the Old Testament
  19. ^ Willis 1973:677
  20. ^ Journal of Chromatography A Volume 1134, Issues 1-2, 17 November 2006, Pages 298-304, Aromatic resin characterisation by gas chromatography–mass spectrometry: Raw and archaeological materials, Francesca Modugnoa, Erika Ribechinia and Maria Perla Colombini, aDipartimento di Chimica e Chimica Industriale, Università di Pisa, via Risorgimento 35-56126 Pisa, Italy
  21. ^ Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art, By Kathi Keville, Mindy Green
  22. ^ The Mineralogy and Botany of the Bible, Rosenmeuller , E. F.
  23. ^ Ecclesiasticus 24:15
  24. ^ Cyclopaedia of Biblical, theological, and ecclesiastical literature, Volume 9, By John McClintock, James Strong
  25. ^ The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Hutton, Shaw, and Pearson
  26. ^ A. Lucas, Notes on Myrrh and Stacte
  27. ^ Taylor’s edition of Calmet’s great dictionary of the Holy Bible, By Augustin Calmet, Charles Taylor, Edward Wells
  28. ^ http://www.cookingwiththebible.com/reader/Default.aspx/GR3410-4252/lore/
  29. ^ Yad, Kley HaMikdash 2:4; cf. Kerithoth 6a; Rashi; Radak, Sherashim; Saadia; Rambam on Kerithoth 1:1
  30. ^ http://bible.ort.org/books/Torahd5.asp?action=displayid&id=2414#C1806
Revised April, 22, 2010
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