The Great Arabian Incense Road

After the domestication of the camel, huge camel caravans trudged up and down the entire length of the Arabian Peninsula, carrying precious spices and other commodities to the temples, courts, and markets of the north...From the land of Havilah and along the Pishon River, the bdellium (from Yemen), the onyx (from the Wadi al Aqiq- Mahd adh Dhabab area), and the gold (from Mahd adh Dhabab) could have been brought to Mesopotamia, as is suggested by Gen. 2:11-12.

 The gold of Gen. 2:11-12 was probably obtained at Mahd adh Dhahab, one of the richest gold mines in the ancient Near East. The source of the onyx stone of Gen. 2:12 may have been the Wadi al Aqiq ("aqiq" agate), which is located near Mahd adh Dhahab and along the Arabian incense route. The bdellium of Gen. 2:12 most likely came from Yemen. Gold, onyx, and bdellium were transported by camel along the Arabian incense road to Sumer. This trade route was already established by the time Genesis 2 was written, so the location of the Pishon River (and Eden) is identified for the reader of Genesis by citing these commodities. These important trade routes would be familiar to people in the region. Everyone living then would have known where the "land of Cush" was located.


The last commodity mentioned in Gen. 2:12 is bdellium. Bdellium is a fragrant gum resin obtained from plants of the bursera (balsam) family. Frankincense comes from trees of the genus Boswellia of the bursera family, while myrrh and bdellium come from trees of the genus Commiphora.33 Bdellium is often regarded as myrrh.

All of these kinds of gum-resins (frankincense, myrrh, and bdellium) were used in the ancient Middle East for religious (incense), cosmetic (perfume), and medicinal purposes. Mesopotamian cuneiform texts note that myrrh (bdellium) was used in making poultices for the head; for treating ailments of the eyes, nose, and ears; and for other medicinal purposes. Also, the Sumerians and Babylonians burned incense as part of their temple purification rites. Incense is created by the burning of a variety of gums, resins, and spices to create fragrant fumes.


Myrrh (bdellium) grew within the modern-day country of Yemen from about 18ƒ latitude southward to the Gulf of Aden. Over time, a substantial incense trade developed between south Arabia and Mesopotamia, Egypt, and other parts of the Middle East, such as Israel and Jordan. Bdellium is a substance somewhat similar to myrrh and is often regarded as myrrh--as it was in ancient times ...

. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 1, The Penteteuch (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), 171; and R. L. Harris, "The Mist, the Canopy and the Rivers of Eden," Bulletin of the Evangelical Theological Society 11:4 (1968): 179.
A. Sauer, "The River Runs Dry--Creation Story Preserves Historical Memory," Biblical Archaeology Review 22:4 (1996): 52-57, 64.
N. Groom, Frankincense and Myrrh: a Study in the Arabian Incense Trade (London: Longman, 1981), 20.
U.S. Geological Survey-Arabian American Oil Company, Geologic Map of Saudi Arabia (1963), scale 1:2,000,000.
R. W. Luce, A. Bagdady, and R. J. Roberts, "Geology and Ore Deposits of the Mahd adh Dhahab District, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia," U.S. Geological Survey, Saudi Arabian Project Report 195 (1976)
P. R. S. Moorey, Ancient Mesopotamian Materials and Industries (Oxford: Clarendon, 1994)
Pliny, Natural History; in about 70 A.D.

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