[Heb., ʼaha·limʹ (plural) and ʼaha·lohthʹ (plural), ʼaha·lohthʹ qetsi·ʽohthʹ; Gr., a·loʹe].
A name applied to a variety of tree containing a fragrant or aromatic substance used as a perfume in the Biblical period. (Ps. 45:8; Prov. 7:17; Song of Sol. 4:14) Most commentators consider the aloe tree of the Bible to be the Aquilaria agallocha, sometimes called the “eaglewood tree” and now found principally in India and neighboring regions. The tree is large and spreading, at times reaching a height of over 100 feet (30.5 meters). The inner core of the trunk and branches is impregnated with resin and an odoriferous oil, from which comes the highly prized perfume. Apparently attaining its most aromatic state when in decay, the wood is sometimes buried in the ground to hasten the decaying process. In a finely powdered condition it is then sold commercially as “aloes.”
The prophet Balaam’s comparison of the tents of Israel with “aloe plants that Jehovah has planted, like cedars by the waters,” may relate to the spreading shape of these lofty trees, a cluster of aloe trees resembling an encampment of tents. (Num. 24:6) This text, however, has occasioned some discussion, since the Aquilaria agallocha trees usually identified with the aloes of the Bible are not found in Palestine. Their absence today, of course, would not necessarily prove that such trees were not present in that land over 2,500 years ago. On the other hand, Balaam’s reference to the trees does not require that they be growing right in the area where he spoke. If the “cedars” mentioned immediately afterward in this text were cedars of Lebanon, then they would be trees growing outside that area, and the same could be true of the aloes. Balaam could have been acquainted with them from the place of his residence near the Euphrates River (Num. 22:5), although they are evidently not now indigenous to that region either. Whatever the case, the other texts dealing with aloes refer only to their aromatic qualities and would allow for them to have been foreign imports.
Following the death of Christ Jesus, Nicodemus brought “a roll of myrrh and aloes” weighing about a hundred pounds (45.4 kilograms), to be used in preparing Jesus’ body for burial. (John 19:39) Since Herodotus, the Greek historian, states that aloeswood at one time was worth its weight in gold, Nicodemus’ contribution must have represented a considerable outlay of money on his part, although the proportion of the less expensive myrrh included in the one hundred pounds is not stated. While some apply the term “aloes” in this text to the plant of the lily family that now bears the botanical name of Aloe vera or Aloe succotrina, the product of this plant (a thick juice from the leaves) is mainly employed as a purgative, used today by veterinarians for treating horses. Thus most modern commentators consider the aloes brought by Nicodemus to be the same aloeswood product as that referred to in the Hebrew Scriptures.