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Olibanum (frankincense), traded on the Arabian Peninsula for more than 6000 years, has a balsamic-spicy, slightly lemony fragrance with a conifer-like undertone. The word frankincense derives from the Old French expression franc encens, which means “high-quality incense.” The word franc meant “noble” or “pure”. Olibanum translates from the Arabic expression “that which results from milking,” a reference to tapping the sap from the scraggly but hardy Boswellia tree. The tree is tapped by striping (slashing the bark with a hatchet) and letting the exuded resin bleed out and harden.

In the process of mummification, frankincense and natron were used to cleanse the body cavity (see my blog of August 25, 2015 on mummification). But because of its fragrance, Amram, Miriam’s host for Shabbat, burns the oil in his lamps on festive occasions:

Flanked by marble stands bearing Jerusalem clay lamps filled with olibanum for Shabbat, the couches surround a low square table covered that evening with a bleached Indian cotton cloth. The cloth was set with matching napery, a crater filled with a mixture of Palestinian wine and honey-sweetened water, six crystal goblets, and a ladle to fill them. Amram’s servants had also arranged a stack of Syrian glass plates, knives of various sizes, and spoons, some of carved ivory, others of gold with long handles to dish out the many sauces.

Join them for the wine followed by Egyptian dates, shelled walnuts, and olives on a silver tray before trouble interrupts their festive meal. Just click here.

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