Plants of the Bible Lytton John Musselman Old Dominion University 23 April 2003
Plants of the Bible Symbolism and Spiritual Meaning of Plants in the Bible
Overview Local names Symbolism -Pomegranate -Cedar -Mustard -Tares From Sidnaya Monastery, Syria
About 125 different plants are mentioned in the Bible. This includes well known crops and also such obscure plants as almug wood (II Chronicles 2:8) and “costly wood” (Revelation 18:12). In addition, there are general terms as “weeds” and “trees”.
More plants are mentioned in the Old Testament than in the New Testament • Isaiah mentions more plants than any other book (it is also one of the longest books). • Song of Solomon mentions more unique plants, hapex legomena, than any other book.
The vine (Vitis vinifera) and its products are mentioned more than any other plant with 372 references. On the other hand, some plants are mentioned only once such as saffron.
Few plants and plant products are unique to the New Testament Papyrus Laurel
Paper is mentioned only in II John 12: Although I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. . .
Paper was made from the Egyptian river plant Cyperus papyrus. Cyperus papyrus Hula Swamp
It was shipped to the Phoenician port of Byblos, the present day Lebanese city of Jbail. From Egypt
Our English word paper comes from papyrus and Bible from Byblos. Ruins of Byblos
Laurel (Laurus nobilis), the bay leaf of cooking, is implied in the victor’s crown in several New Testament verses, especially Paul’s writings. It is a common shrub in the Mediterranean region. “…you will receive a crown of glory that will never fade. . .” I Peter 5:4 Laurus nobilis, Chouf, southern Lebanon. March 2002.
Several plants are obvious imports to Israel. Examples are ebony (Ezekiel 27:15) and the essential ingredients for the anointing oil and incense—calamus, frankincense, and myrrh (Exodus 30) Boswellia papyrifera near Kadugli, Sudan High quality resin Flowers Summer condition
Based on an agrarian society, the Bible mentions crops frequently. Threshing wheat in Jordan
No clear correlation exists between the number of references and the frequency of plants in natural vegetation. A good example is the carob Ceratonia siliqua, a common tree in much of the Middle East yet mentioned only once (the story of the prodigal son, Luke 15). Because of their uniform weight, the seeds of carob were used to measure precious commodities, like gold. Hence the word carat in English, from the Greek, keraton, also the source of Ceratonia.
Chamaecyparis thyoides Cedar of Lebanon Local people in different lands use Bible (or Qu’ran) names for indigenous plants which never grew in their lands. The flora of Eastern North America, for example, has many "cedars," which are no relation to the cedar of Lebanon of the Bible. Atlantic white cedar, Dismal Swamp Juniperus virginiana Red cedar
In eastern Sudan, the Beja people call the large, arborescent Euphorbia abyssinca, zaqqm after the “tree of Hell” mentioned in the Qu’ran (Al-Sfft 37:65, Al-Dukhn 44:49, Al-Waqiah 56:51). Red Sea Hills Red Sea Hills, eastern Sudan.
Symbolism of Bible Plants
How can understanding the plants help us to better understand the text?
Research Methods • Linguistics • 2. Ethnology
Symbolism of Bible Plants Pomegranates Cedar of Lebanon Hold the mustard? The wheat and the tares
Pomegranates Ancient image of beauty and fecundity
Pomegranates Panel at Jerash, Jordan
Pomegranates Hatay, eastern Turkey
Pomegranates Hagia Sophia, Istanbul
Pomegranates in the Bible 1. Symbol of beauty Exodus 39 24. Pomegranates were attached to the bottom edge of the robe; these were made of linen cloth, embroidered with blue, purple, and scarlet. 25. Bells of pure gold were placed between the pomegranates along the bottom edge of the skirt, with bells and pomegranates alternating all around the edge. This robe was worn when Aaron ministered to the Lord, just as the Lord had commanded Moses. New Living Translation
Pomegranates in the Bible 1. Symbol of beauty 2. Image of feminine charm Song of Solomon 4 :3 Your lips are like a ribbon of scarlet. Oh, how beautiful your mouth! Your cheeks behind your veil are like pomegranate halves-lovely and delicious. New Living Translation
Pomegranates in the Bible 1. Symbol of beauty 2. Image of feminine charm 3. Desirable food
Pomegranates in the Bible Numbers 20: 5 Why did you ever make us leave Egypt and bring us here to this evil place? Where is the fertile land of wonderful crops —the figs, vines, and pomegranates you told us about? Why, there isn't even water enough to drink!'‘ New Living Translation
Cedar of Lebanon Cedrus libani
The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar in Lebanon Psalm 92:12
Distribution of Cedrus libani
Approximate distribution of cedar in Bible times on Lebanon.
Certainly the best known Lebanese plant is Cedrus libani, Cedar of Lebanon Cedars of the Lord, Bsherri Tannourine cedar preserve
Cedar requires fog from the Mediterranean to thrive Less than 3% of the original cedar forest is extant in Lebanon Ehden cedar preserve, March 2002
Chouf cedar reserve Female cones take 2-3 years to mature
Chouf cedar reserve First year cone Female cones take 2-3 years to mature
Second year cone Chouf cedar reserve Female cones take 2-3 years to mature
Cone scales with seeds Mature cones Seed
Symbolism 1. Large, stately trees.
Ezekiel 31 1. And it came to pass in the eleventh year, in the third month, in the first day of the month, that the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, 2. Son of man, say unto Pharaoh king of Egypt, and to his multitude: Whom art thou like in thy greatness? 3. Behold, the Assyrian was a cedar in Lebanon with fair branches, and with a forest-like shade, and of high stature; and its top was among the thick boughs.
Isaiah 2 11. The lofty looks of man shall be brought low, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and Jehovah alone shall be exalted in that day. 12. For there shall be a day of Jehovah of hosts upon all that is proud and haughty, and upon all that is lifted up; and it shall be brought low; 13. and upon all the cedars of Lebanon, that are high and lifted up, and upon all the oaks of Bashan,