BIBLE HISTORY DAILY

Harvesting the Balm of Gilead 

Israeli archaeologists extract biblical balm from pistachio trees 

In the Summer 2023 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Zohar Amar of Bar-Ilan University identifies the biblical “balm of Gilead” with the resin from the Atlantic pistachio tree. He explores the reasons for this identification in his article, “Balm of Gilead.” But his research didn’t stop there. After identifying the tree, he and his student Elron Zabatani engaged in some experimental archaeology and successfully harvested some of the biblical balm.

They reconstructed the traditional method of resin extraction from the Atlantic pistachio tree. Here, they share photos of the process.

An Atlantic pistachio tree in the Judean lowlands. Photo: Courtesy Zohar Amar. 

 

Harvesting the Balm of Gilead

Amar and Zabatani harvested resin from 80 trees in Israel. They based their method of extraction on the resin production in Chios, Greece, and Iraqi Kurdistan. In both those locales, residents harvest resin during the summer season.

Step 1: They cut the trees to allow the resin to flow down the trunks.

 

Cuts in the trunk of the pistachio tree allow the resin to drip down. Photo: Courtesy Zohar Amar. 

 

Resin of the pistachio tree flows down the tree trunk. Photo: Courtesy Zohar Amar.

Step 2: To facilitate the collection of resin, they attached clay bowls under the cuts in the tree trunk. The resin slowly dripped into the bowls.

A clay bowl used for collecting resin from the cut in the trunk of the pistachio tree. Photo: Courtesy Zohar Amar. 

 

A large pistachio tree—from the Judean Lowlands—with clay bowls placed under cuts in the trunk. Photo: Courtesy Zohar Amar.

Step 3: After a month, they returned to the trees. By then, the sticky liquid resin had dried and crystallized. To collect it, they scraped it off the trunk, and they siphoned the resin from the clay bowls into a basin.

 

Zohar Amar gathers resin from a pistachio tree. Photo: Courtesy Zohar Amar. 

 

Close-up of Zohar Amar, in the northern Golan, collecting resin from the clay bowls that are attached to the pistachio tree. Photo: Courtesy Zohar Amar. 

Amar and Zabatani calculated that 50 trees produce around 33 pounds of resin per season. The high yield makes this industry particularly desirable. Amar explains, “Although it is not possible to estimate how much resin was actually collected every year and how many people were involved in the process, the large amounts of resin we obtained confirm that this was indeed a profitable industry in the past.”

To learn more about the balm of Gilead, read Zohar Amar’s article, “Balm of Gilead,” published in the Summer 2023 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

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