The Meaning of Onycha

The Holy Bible

Onycha is an mystical incense ingredient mentioned in the Christian Bible.

However, there is some controversy as to what the ingredient actually is.

This article will discuss the possibilities, as well as which ingredient is most likely to be onycha.

The Bible says in Exodus 30:34 :

And the Lord said to Moses, “Take sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum, sweet spices with pure frankincense (of each shall there be an equal part), and make an incense blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy; and you shall beat some of it very small, and put part of it before the testimony in the tent of meeting where I shall meet with you; it shall be for you most holy. And the incense you shall make according to its composition, you shall not make for yourselves; it shall be for you holy to the Lord. Whoever makes any like it to use as perfume shall be cut off from his people.”

Due to the above quote, many people have become enamored with onycha and what exactly it could of been.

There answer is a bit complicated, as some people do disagree about about what the ingredient was.

One clue that we do have is in the etymology of the word onycha. It originates from the Greek word for fingernail, which when translated to Hebrew, becomes the word ‘Sheheleth’, which is defined as:

‘the claw or nail of the strombus or wing-shell, a univalve common in the Red Sea.’

With that out of the way, let’s go over the possibilities:

Mollusk Opercula

Most people believe onycha to be Mollusk Opercula, which is the ‘lid’ of a whelk-like shellfish. These animals are often found around the red sea. The aromatic substance is created in order to protect the shellfish from dry environments.

This ingredient has been used as an incense fixative since ancient times, and is commonly found in the correct region of the world, so it makes a lot of sense for this to be the mystical ‘onycha’. Some cultures, such as Japan, have unique processing techniques to help eliminate the fishy odor from the ingredient.

It also correlates with an ancient Hebrew incense mixture known as Qetoret, as the recipe claims that Onycha is:

“rubbed with Karshina lye to make it more pleasant and then soaked in Cyprus wine to make it more pungent.”

This sort of processing technique is very similar to other onycha processing techniques found in different regions of the world. This definitely lends a certain credence to the case for Mollusk opercula being onycha.

Labdanum

Labdanum is a fragrant resin harvested from the Rock Rose bush.

The reason some people believe labdanum resin might be onycha is because the flower petals form in the shape of a fingernail, which correlates with the etymology of onycha.

Gum Tragacanth

Gum Tragacanth is a resin harvested from some Astragalus species.

This resin also forms in the shape of a fingernail and has been used as an incense ingredient since ancient times.

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