A product of incense trees and bushes of certain species belonging to the genus Boswellia, which are related to the turpentine, or terebinth, tree and also to trees producing balsam and myrrh. They are native to parts of Africa and Asia. The Hebrew term for frankincense (levoh·nahʹ or levo·nahʹ) comes from a root meaning “be white” and is evidently drawn from its milky color. The Greek liʹba·nos is derived from the Hebrew.
The Song of Solomon mentions “the hill of frankincense,” apparently in a figurative way, but may indicate the cultivation of incense trees in Solomon’s royal parks. (Ca 4:6, 12-16; Ec 2:5) Frankincense was a principal item carried by the caravans of Oriental traders who traveled the spice routes out of S Arabia up to Gaza near the Mediterranean and to Damascus. Scriptural references indicated it was imported in this way into Palestine from Sheba.—Isa 60:6; Jer 6:20.
Frankincense is obtained by making successive incisions in the bark or by peeling off the bark at intervals, causing a white juice (after several incisions it is spotted with yellow or red) to flow and form into tears of about 2.5 cm (1 in.) in length. When gathered, the frankincense consists of a fragrant gum resin in small chunks, or beads, that have a bitter taste and produce an aromatic odor when burned.—Ca 3:6.
Aside from the references in The Song of Solomon, frankincense is regularly mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures in connection with worship. (Compare 2Co 2:14-16.) It was an ingredient of the holy incense used at the sanctuary (Ex 30:34-38) and was used on grain offerings (Le 2:1, 2, 15, 16; 6:15; Jer 17:26; 41:4, 5) and on each row of the showbread of the sanctuary (Le 24:7). But it was not to be included on sin offerings (Le 5:11) or on the “grain offering of jealousy.” (Nu 5:15) This was doubtless because the latter offerings had to do with sin, or error, and were not offered up as a sacrifice of praise or thanksgiving to Jehovah.
Frankincense is mentioned as being stored in the rebuilt temple buildings, following the return from Babylonian exile. (1Ch 9:29; Ne 13:5, 9) The Oriental astrologers who visited the child Jesus brought frankincense with them (Mt 2:11), and it is mentioned as one of the items of commerce sold to Babylon the Great before her destruction. (Re 18:8-13) The Greek term for the heavenly incense vessel, at Revelation 8:3, 5, is li·ba·no·tosʹ and is derived from the Hebrew word for “frankincense.”
The prophet Isaiah records Jehovah’s displeasure and disapproval of gifts and the use of frankincense when offered by those who reject his Word.—Isa 66:3.