Hyssop. (Heb. êzôb.) The êzôb was used for sprinkling in some of the sacrifices and purifications of the Jews. In consequence of its detergent qualities, or from its being associated with the purificatory services, the Psalmist makes use of the expression, “Purge me with êzôb.” Ps. 51:7. It is described in 1 Kings 4:33 as growing on or near walls. (Besides being thus fit for sprinkling, having cleansing properties, and growing on walls, the true hyssop should be a plant common to Egypt, Sinai, and Palestine, and capable of producing a stick three or four feet long, since on a stalk of hyssop the sponge of vinegar was held up to Christ on the cross. John 19:29. It is impossible to precisely identify the plant, probably because the name was given not to a particular plant but to a family of plants associated together by qualities easily noticed rather than by close botanical affinities. Different species of the family may have been used at different times. The hyssop of the Bible is probably one (or all) of three plants:—
1. The common hyssop is “a shrub with low, bushy stalks 1½ feet high, small pear-shaped, close-setting opposite leaves, all the stalks and branches terminated by erect whorled spikes of flowers of different colors in the varieties. It is a hardy plant, with an aromatic smell and a warm, pungent taste; a native of the south of Europe and the East.”—Ed.)
2. Bochart decides in favor of marjoram, or some plant like it, and to this conclusion, it must be admitted, all ancient tradition points. (This is the Origanum maru, the z’atar of the Arabs. The French consul at Sidon exhibited to Dr. Thomson (“The Land and the Book,” i. 161) a specimen of this “having the fragrance of thyme, with a hot, pungent taste, and long slender stems.” Dr. Post of Beirut, in the American edition of Smith’s large Dictionary, favors this view.—Ed.)
3. But Dr. Royle, after a careful investigation of the subject, arrives at the conclusion that the hyssop is no other than the caper-plant, or Capparis spinosa of Linnæus. The Arabic name of this plant, asuf, by which it is sometimes, though not commonly, described, bears considerable resemblance to the Hebrew. “It is a bright-green creeper, which climbs from the fissures of the rocks, is supposed to possess cleansing properties, and is capable of yielding a stick to which a sponge might be attached.”—Stanley, “Sinai and Palestine,” 23. It produces a fruit the size of a walnut, called the mountain pepper.