HYSSOP A small (about 27 inches), bushy plant, probably Origanum Maru L., the Syrian marjoram. Stalks of hyssop bear numerous, small, white flowers in bunches. Hyssop was thus well-suited for use as a “brush” to dab the lintels of Israelite homes with the blood of the Passover lambs (Exodus 12:22). The associations of hyssop with the events of the Exodus perhaps led to its use in other rites, the cleansing of lepers (Leviticus 14:4,Leviticus 14:6,Leviticus 14:49,Leviticus 14:51-52) and the cleansing of those unclean from contact with a corpse (Numbers 19:6,Numbers 19:18; see Heifer, Red). Psalms 51:7 applies the well-known image of hyssop to spiritual cleansing from sin.
A branch of hyssop bore the sponge used to offer vinegar to Christ at His crucifixion (John 19:29; Matthew 27:48; Mark 15:36 mention a reed). Various attempts to resolve this tension have been offered. Most exegetes have attempted to harmonize the parallel accounts: (1) by suggesting that Christ was offered vinegar twice, once using a reed and once hyssop; (2) by suggesting both a reed and hyssop were simultaneously used to support the sponge; (3) by emending John's text to read “spike” which is more easily harmonized with reed; (4) by taking hyssop to refer to a plant other than marjoram which could be described as a reed, e.g., Sorghum vulgare. An alternative approach is concerned primarily with the question of why (theological significance) rather than the details of what. These interpreters stress that John intends to link Jesus' death with the Exodus event that marked liberation from Egyptian slavery and/or with the Old Testament cleansing rituals involving hyssop.
Hebrews 9:19 says the people were sprinkled with hyssop at the reading of the covenant. The account of Exodus 24:6-8 lacks this detail.
Joseph E. Glaze
Mitchell G. Reddish
Charles R. Wade
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.