Solomon's Plant Life: Plant Lore and Image in the Solomonic Writings

Lytton John Musselman*

Department of Biological Sciences

Old Dominion University
Norfolk, Virginia 23599-0266

From Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 51.1 (March 1999): 26-33.

More plants and plant products (thirty-three) are associated with Solomon than with any other Bible character. Eighteen plants and/or their products unique to Solomonic writings are discussed here. Plants found nowhere else in the Bible are algum wood, caper, henna, saffron, and walnut. In addition, Solomon's image of almond flowers; the apple tree for human stature; hyssop ecology; gourds, lilies and pomegranates as decorations; pomegranate flesh for ruddiness; fragrance of mandrake fruits; olive wood in construction; spice tree for old age; and palm and wheat for feminine beauty is unique among Bible authors. Solomon's expertise in natural history was the basis of Solomon's House in Francis Bacon's New Atlantis and provided a widely accepted model for science at the beginning of the Enlightenment.

 There are two noted botanists in the Bible. The first is Jotham, who delivered a remarkable lecture on plants on the slopes of Mount Gerizim (Judg. 9)1 drawing on the well-known features of figs, grapes, olives, and thorns. The second is King Solomon, son of the warrior, King David, who brought Israel to its zenith of military power. Solomon reigned from approximately 1015 to 975 BC. This was an unparalleled time of economic prosperity (2 Chron. 9:13–28) with concomitant advances in literature and public building. These accomplishments are exemplified in the wisdom, songs, construction of the temple and palaces, and writings of the reigning monarch, Solomon.

Solomon authored several parts of biblical canon including Psalm 127. Portions of the book of Proverbs are ascribed to him as well (1:1; 10:1a, and 25:1). I have included the book of Ecclesiastes in this study although Bible scholars now generally agree that it was written long after Solomon's reign. Solomon wrote many songs (1 Kings 4:32) of which only one survives, the magnificent Song of Solomon.2 This book best displays the naturalist king's botanical expertise. There are references to twenty-three different plants or plant products in this short book of eight chapters. The hapax legomena (unique words in the Bible) include caper, henna, saffron, and walnut. The book of Isaiah mentions more (twenty-five) but it is eight times longer than Canticles.

Solomon's father, David, had a deep appreciation for nature. Several of his Psalms are celebrations of the creation. Perhaps Solomon's love of nature, especially plants, came from David. The Qur'an also records David and Solomon's understanding of nature but emphasizes animals, not plants (The Ant 27: 14–21). Solomon drew upon his expertise in plants when designing and building the temple as reflected in the numerous timbers and plants used for ornamentation. He, however, did more than just use plants and gardens. "He described plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. He also taught about animals and birds, reptiles and fish" (1 Kings 4:33–34). In short, the Scriptures present Solomon as a student and teacher of natural history.

At the beginning of the Enlightenment in England, Solomon was held up as an example for the newly developing investigative sciences.3 His pattern inspired Francis Bacon. In New Atlantis, Bacon describes a king named Solamona, who in the tradition of his biblical predecessor establishes a kind of research center called Salomon's [Solomon's] House. According to Bacon, "It is dedicated to the study of the works and creatures of God."4 The early establishment of the College of Physicians in London was known as "Solomon's House" and was an outgrowth of this idea.

Despite Solomon's fame as a student of natural history, there are few studies on his unique use of plants and plant products.5 In this paper, eighteen plants (arranged alphabetically by their English names) are discussed. These include only the hapax legomena and plants for which Solomon's usage is unique among biblical authors. I have drawn heavily upon earlier works on Bible plants, recent literature, and data from my work in the Middle East.

Algum Wood

Mentioned only in connection with Solomon's construction of the temple in 2 Chron. 2:8; 9:10–11; and 1 Kings 10:11–12, this tree and its timber remain the most mysterious of all Bible trees. Bible versions disagree on the translation of the Hebrew word algum or almug, using sandalwood, juniper, or some variation of algum.

 From the above verse and context, it seems that the almug tree was native to Lebanon as the wood is mentioned with the better known Lebanese timbers, cedar and pine (more accurately, cypress as Cupressus sempervirens is assumed to be the tree translated pine in many verses). In 1 Kings 10:11, we read that the ships of King Hiram (King of Tyre) brought gold and "great cargoes of almug-wood and precious stones." So, some Bible students concluded that the almug tree was native to southern Arabia. Greenfield and Mayrhofer note that there is little textual basis for including "Ophir" with almug wood.6 Furthermore, the fact that Hiram's ships brought gold and almug wood does not necessarily imply that almug wood came from Arabia, only that it was transported by Hiram's men, who brought other products from other countries as well.

 One possibility for almug wood is the box tree, Buxus balearica Lam. (B. longifolia Boiss.) because large box trees were known from the Lebanon Range; its wood is mentioned in ancient documents.7 Greenfield and Mayrhofer record a mountain called "Boxwood Mountain" in Lebanon. Boxwood was highly valued by Egyptians for furniture.8 Hepper considers the box tree of the Bible (perhaps the tree mentioned in Isa. 41:19 and 60:13) to be Buxus sempervirens L.9 but this species is unknown from Lebanon.10 The Akkadian word for boxwood is different from that of almug weakening the argument that the box tree could be the elusive almug wood.11

What, then, is almug wood? Various scholars give Juniperus,12 Aquilaria,13 Pterocarpus14 or Santalum or Pinus15 as almug. Linguistically, the original word in several ancient documents is an Akkadian word and indicates a valuable timber from Lebanon.16 To date, no one has offered Taxus baccata L. (Taxaceae) as almug wood although it grows in Lebanon/Syria17 and is known from Egyptian carvings of the eighteenth dynasty.18 Another possibility is that the almug tree is now extinct. 1 Kings 10:12 notes that exceptionally large quantities of the wood were imported. Was this the end of the almug tree?

Whatever its true identity, almug wood was obviously of high quality and durable as it was used for musical instruments. Could this wood from Lebanon be the wood used in King Solomon's carriage (Song of Sol. 3:9)?19


The motif of the almond, Amygdalus communis L., for the construction of the candlestick in the tabernacle is well known (Exod. 25) as is the resurrection symbolism in Aaron's almond rod that budded (Num. 17). Solomon, however, is the only author to allude to the masses of white flowers of the almond in one of the best-known soliloquies on old age and death (Eccles. 12:5).


The word translated apple in Prov. 25:11 (a proverb of Solomon); Song of Sol. 2:3, 5; 7:8b; 8:5; and Joel 1:12 is the Hebrew word tappuah. To meet the features described in these verses, the tree must be attractive and have a tasty, fragrant fruit. In describing the apple tree as growing among the forest trees (Song of Sol. 2:3), the author may be referring to the large, showy masses of flowers of this fruit tree in contrast to the forest trees. Or, the imagery may be similar to that of the Cedar of Lebanon when used to described prominent persons (e.g., Ezek. 31:2–3, Amos 2:9). By using this analogy, the Beloved is referring to the unique beauty and character of her Lover, a theme often repeated in this book.

The New American Standard Bible (NASB) translates tappuah as apricot, although this is not accepted by some students of Bible plants.20 Moldenke and Moldenke citing older works also conclude that the apricot is tappuah.21 Josh. 15:53 mentions a village called Beth Tappuah ("house of apples") as one of the associated settlements of Hebron. Today many apricots are grown in this region. Further evidence for apricots might be their link with raisin cakes (Song of Sol. 2:5). Both could be stored as dried food. However, as Zohary and Hopf point out, neither apples nor apricots are native to the region.22 Since apricots were apparently not introduced to the Middle East until Roman times, it seems plausible that the plant described by Solomon is the common apple (Pyrus malus L.). Dried apples have been found in Kadesh Barnea (Negev region of Israel) from the tenth century BC indicating that apples were either grown in oases23 or that dried apples were items of commerce from apple-growing regions further north. Apples are commonly grown at suitable sites in the Middle East today.


Exod. 30:23–25; Song of Sol. 4:14; Isa. 43:24; Jer. 6:20; and Ezek. 27:19 are the only references to an unusual plant sometimes translated as "sweet cane," "calamus," or "sweet myrtle." The Hebrew word, qaneh, indicates a fragrant plant with an upright aspect. The above verses in the prophets clearly indicate the value of calamus and the fact that it was widely traded with nations in Asia. Two plants have been implicated.

The first, Acorus calamus L. (Araceae), is a widespread plant found in wetlands in the northern hemispheres of both the Old and New Worlds. The rhizome has a peculiar sweet, lingering aroma suitable as a "carrier" in a perfume. Motley suggests that A. calamus is the calamus mentioned in Exod. 30 used as the anointing oil applied to priests and objects in the tabernacle.24 Milne and Milne state that A. calamus was found in the tombs of the Pharaohs but cite no reference.25 Acorus calamus is not listed in the modern treatment of perfumery,26 but it is still used in medicine and cosmetics.27

The second candidate is lemon grass. These are species of the genus Cymbopogon (Poaceae), most likely C. citratus (DC) Stapf. Several species are widely grown in tropical regions for their aroma and flavor. As the oil of lemon grass can be sensitizing to the skin, it seems a less likely candidate for the biblical calamus than A. calamus.28


 The caper, Capparis spinosa L. (Capparaceae), is found in only one Bible verse, Eccles. 12:5, although the NIV translates the Hebrew ab'ionah as "desire." This chapter is a well-known allegory of old age with reference to sight, hearing, white hair, and, eventually, death. Included in the list of features of old age is when "...the caperberry is ineffective" (NASB)—likely a reference to the use of the caper fruit, technically a berry, as an aphrodisiac.


 All Bible scholars consider gourd or colycinth to be Citrullus colycinthus (L.) Schrad. (Cucurbitaceae), a common vine found in the drier parts of the Middle East. Colycinth creeps along the ground and has leaves that vaguely resemble those of the grape. Its fruit is about the size of an orange with a yellowish rind, greenish pulp that is extremely bitter, and light brown seeds. Figures of gourds were carved into the cedar wood in Solomon's temple (1 Kings 6:18a). It is the only poisonous plant displayed in the temple. Known in Arabic as handel, gourd is a common herbel remedy in Jordan today.


Henna, Lawsonia inermis L. (Lythraceae), is a much branched shrub that grows to a height of about ten meters. Its leaves are small and elliptic. The individual flowers, borne in the spring, are small but plentiful. They are extremely fragrant. Even when dried, they retain their heavy scent for a long time. The intense fragrance of henna is also suggested in Song of Sol. 4:13 where it is mentioned with spikenard. Probably not native to Israel, it may have been grown in the subtropical En Gedi oasis.29 Solomon is the only Bible author to mention henna, another example of a Solomonic hapax legomenon.

 Henna is mainly used as a cosmetic. Today the henna most in demand in the Middle East comes from Iran. The leaves are dried and crushed into a fine powder. This powder is mixed with water and allowed to sit for two days to make a paste that forms a reddish dye. It is then applied to the fingernails, hands, and feet as ornamentation—often with intricate designs. Henna is also used in hair dyes. Both uses are very common in several countries, most notably Sudan. In Bible days, its cosmetic use may also have been widespread. Deut. 21:12 may allude to the need for the colored hair and nails to grow out because the children of Israel were proscribed from any sort of tattoo or body marking.


Hyssop, one of the better known plants of the Bible, is mentioned ten times in the Old Testament30 and two times in the New Testament (John 19:29,31 Heb. 9:19). This plant, or a product of this plant, formed an important part of the Passover (Exod. 12:22), the ceremonial cleansing from skin disease (Lev. 14), and the red heifer offering (Num. 19). Perhaps when David mentions hyssop in Ps. 51:7, he is referring to Lev. 14. Heb. 9:19 refers to the ceremonial cleansing of the children of Israel with hyssop. Interestingly, the Old Testament does not mention the use of hyssop with this specific event, but hyssop may have been a common instrument for handling a sponge (see comments below on John 19:29). The only Old Testament verse that does not mention hyssop in a ceremonial use is 1 Kings 4:33. It is also one of the most puzzling verses dealing with this plant. Here Solomon gives us insight into the ecology of hyssop not found elsewhere in the Bible.

 According to Scripture's usage, hyssop (ezov in Hebrew) must have the following features. It should grow on a "wall" (1 Kings 4:33) and the plant and/or its extracts should be useful for purgatives32 (in both Lev. 14 and Num. 19, hyssop is associated with cedar wood implying a purgative use33). Moreover, it may have been commercially available perhaps in the same way it is today. This could explain its use by the children of Israel in the Nile Delta where its occurrence would be rare. It is not certain (as it might seem on first glance) that it can hold moisture, like a paint brush. Wool or another material could have been used as a sponge in the application of the blood of the Passover lamb to the door (Exod. 12), while the hyssop served as an instrument to handle the sponge, preventing loss of moisture during the application process. As other suffrutescent plants could be used in the same way, it seems likely that hyssop may have the combined characteristics of water retention, support, and aromatic constituents. For all of these uses, Origanum syriacum L. (Lamiaceae), a plant known in English as Syrian hyssop and a relative of the well-known kitchen herbs, oregano and marjoram, seems the most likely candidate.

[Hyssop], or a product of this plant, formed an important part of the Passover (Exod. 12:22), the ceremonial cleansing from skin disease (Lev. 14), and the red heifer offering (Num. 19).

Modern Bible scholars, however, still express uncertainty about the actual identity of hyssop. Some suggest that it could be caper (Capparis spinosa), a very common shrub in the Middle East.34 The only evidence for caper is in 1 Kings 4:33 where it refers to hyssop (ezov) growing from a wall. Often this has been assumed to be a masonry wall,35 similar to those commonly seen in old cities in the Middle East and Mediterranean region where caper is so common.36

 A problem with caper is how it is used. The fruit, a soft berry-like structure when mature, was apparently used as an aphrodisiac (see caper above). There is little likelihood that Solomon confused these two plants. A further problem is its present use. Palestinians I have interviewed never use any part of the caper plant for food or condiment. Those who do use capers were introduced to them in Europe and purchase imported capers in local stores!

 Just the opposite is true of O. syriacum. Known in Arabic as za'atar it is one of the most widely used and valued herbs of Arabs today. A typical Palestinian breakfast is bread dipped in olive oil and za'atar. It is available in dried form in almost any Arab market. I asked the Samaritans on Mount Gerizim which plant they use for sprinkling in their Passover rites. They answered, "za'atar" —further evidence to support the argument for Syrian hyssop.

How can the plant growing out of the wall be O. syriacum? It rarely, if ever, grows out of stone walls. The Hebrew word used in 1 Kings 4:33 is qir, and while it is the word frequently used for a wall, this use does not preclude reference to natural ledges, such as are common in the mountains.37 In this verse, Solomon is speaking of natural history, not manmade objects, thus reference to a masonry wall would be out of context. Origanum syriacum is most frequent on rocky ledges and outcrops in the mountains—rock formations which can reasonably be described as walls.

The word in John 19:2938 is the same as that in Heb. 19 and there seems little doubt that hyssop is meant. The problem seems to be in how the hyssop was used. There are several possibilities. The first is that the sponge was put on a long stalk of the hyssop plant. This is unlikely due to the short stature of hyssop. The Greek words meaning "binding it to hyssop" might also suggest that the hyssop plant was a kind of holder for the sponge.39 This is plausible because of the growth habit of the hyssop where a sponge could be put in the center of the much branched plant. Why this would be necessary is unclear. Perhaps there is also a connection with the use of hyssop as a broom (Heb. 9:19, in this case with scarlet wool, which would function very well for sprinkling of water).


The lily is mentioned only in connection with the ornamentation of the temple (1 Kings 7; 2 Chron. 4), the healing of Israel (Hosea 14), the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 6; Luke 12), and eight references in the Song of Solomon. It is not possible to identify with certainty the plant referred to as the lily.40 Apparently the word translated lily can be used to describe any attractive flower.

Solomon's prescription of lilies for decoration on the pillars and laver of the temple is problematical. Hepper has suggested that they are Nymphaea species—the large, showy water lilies the children of Israel saw in the Nile River in Egypt and which have an important place in Egyptian imagery.41 Yet this seems incongruous as the imagery of Egypt had little place in either tabernacle or temple. All of the other plant images used in Solomon's temple—almond, gourd, palm, pomegranate—are plants of the land. Their use would be consonant with the deuteronomic blessings associated with the land.


 The mandrake, Mandragora officinalis L. (Solanaceae), is mentioned in Gen. 30:14–16 and Song of Sol. 7:13 although it is a common plant in many parts of the Middle East. The small, yellow fruits have a very sweet, attractive odor.42 These are the only references to mandrake fruits in the Bible.


Myrrh is the dried resin of several species of Commiphora (Burseraceae), shrubs or small trees of the arid and semi-arid regions of East Africa, Arabia, and the Indian subcontinent. Different species have different uses. Some are used medicinally43 and others for their fragrance.44 Recent work indicates that C. myrrha (Nees) Engl. has opiate qualities.45 This helps us to interpret Mark 15:23 where Jesus, on the cross, was offered vinegar mingled with myrrh but he refused the drug.

[The scented myrrh] permeates
the pages of Solomon's writings with more references than any other Bible author.

These two different myrrhs, medicinal and fragrant, are both translated from the same Hebrew word mor. The scented myrrh is probably Commiphora guidotti Chiov.46 It permeates the pages of Solomon's writings with more references than any other Bible author. Song of Solomon has seven references to myrrh.

In the sole reference in Proverbs, the harlot refers to her bed as having been sprinkled with "... myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon" (7:17). Myrrh is used in a similar way in Song of Solomon, that is, as a personal perfume with erotic overtones (5:5; 5:13). A guild of plants is associated both with the harlot in Proverbs as well as with the lovers in Song of Solomon. These include cassia, aloes (not the bitter aloe of the New Testament), and myrrh. Myrrh is also linked with frankincense in other verses.

Sometimes people confuse myrrh with the plant known as balm or balm of Gilead (Hebrew tesriy or tsoriy) in the Bible. Zohary47 and Hepper48 consider balm to be a species of Commiphora while Stol49 cautions against confusing tsoriy with basem. There is strong historical precedence for this confusion as Josephus suggests that the Queen of Sheba brought a plant of Commiphora when she visited Solomon.50 However, myrrh was used much earlier in Israel as a component of the sacred anointing oil (Exod. 30). Myrrh oil has been found at En Gedi. And several years ago, some shrubs were planted there where they appear to be thriving.51

 Other plants have been translated as balm that are not species of Commiphora. A handbook for Bible translators equates balm with Balanites aegyptiaca (L.) Del. (Zygophyllaceae),52 perhaps because the oil from the seed was used in embalming in Egypt.53 However, the best candidate for balm of Gilead appears to be Cistus incanus L., including C. creticus and C. villosus, (Cistaceae). Cistus incanus is a common and widespread plant in the Mediterranean region.

 The extract of C. incanus is ladanum, or labdanum. It was widely used in the Mediterranean for a variety of medicines. Recent research has documented the medical efficacy of some compounds in ladanum.54 There is also strong biblical evidence that balm of Gilead is C. incanus. The weeping prophet, Jeremiah, refers twice to the balm from Gilead (Jer. 8:22, 46:11). While this could be Commiphora that had been transported there, a more natural explanation is ladanum. Stronger evidence is found in Ezek. 27:17 regarding trade in balm between Israel and Minnith.


There are about twenty-five references to the olive tree, Olea europaea L. (Oleaceae) and more than 160 references to its oil in the Scriptures. Olive oil had five main uses in Bible days: as food, for illumination, as ointment, for oiling the metal or leather of shields (and by extension as a preservative for other items), and in the manufacture of soap. It is probably safe to assume that when oil is mentioned in the Scriptures, it is always olive oil. Interestingly, we have no record in the Scriptures of olives themselves being eaten.

 The olive tree does not grow very tall and lives for up to one thousand years producing fruit during its long life. Trunks often become gnarled, bent, and hollow inside, yet the tree continues to produce fruit. Because of the growth pattern, the wood, though hard with an attractive grain and beautiful color, is not suitable for building. (Small souvenirs are made from it today.) Olive wood is mentioned only in 1 Kings 6 in the construction of several temple articles. It would be difficult to find a piece of olive wood large enough to make a door. However, as these two articles, the seraphim and the doors, would be covered with gold, the imperfections in the olive wood could not be seen. This raises the question of the value of using olive wood for these items.

Palm tree

Perhaps the most distinctive tree in Bible lands is the date palm, Phoenix dactylifera L. (Arecaceae), with its towering, unbranched trunk crowned with immense spreading leaves several meters long. The imagery in Song of Sol. 7:7 is unique in the Bible. It likens the feminine charms of the lover to the features of the date palm both in stature and fruitfulness.

Solomon also used the motif of the date palm as ornaments for the temple doors and interior walls (1 Kings 6:29, 32; 2 Chron. 3:4). In the temple described in Ezekiel, the only botanical decoration is the palm tree inscribed upon the posts of the chambers, the gate, and the posts of various gates (40:26, 31, 34, 37).


Of the six species of pomegranates in Deut. 8:8, Punica granatum L. (Punicaceae) may be the most beautiful. Pomegranates figure prominently in three places in Scripture: the garment of the high priest (Exod. 28:33), as a garland on the temple pillars, and in the Song of Solomon. Solomon's temple had two hundred pomegranates engraved on the capitals of the two pillars located at the front of the temple (1 Kings 7:42; 2 Chron. 4:13). These pomegranates are also mentioned in Jer. 52:22–23.

In Song of Sol. 4:3 and 6:7, the red interior of the fruit is likened to the temples of the Beloved. These are the only biblical references to the red, juicy seeds of the pomegranate. The unique seed coat in pomegranate is fleshy and is widely used in the Middle East to prepare a pleasantly sour, refreshing drink. This may be the meaning in Song of Sol. 8:2 while Song of Sol. 6:11 and 7:12 refer to the attractive bell-shaped flowers.


Saffron, Crocus sativus L., in Song of Sol. 4:14 is another Solomonic hapax legomenon. Here it is in a garden, no doubt simply for its ornamental beauty as there is no indication in the Bible of it being used as a spice. Its leaves are grasslike and only a few millimeters wide; its flowers are showy and very fragrant, like the other plants with which it is associated. The most striking feature of the flower is the large, drooping stigmata.55


In English Bibles, three different Hebrew words are translated "spice," "spices," or "spicery." Nekoth is found only in Gen. 37:25 and 43:11. It was one of the gifts Jacob sent to the Egyptian ruler to curry favor in order to purchase grain during a famine. This spice is most likely a gum resin, probably from a species of Astragalus.56 Cam is used only in Exod. 30:34 in the compounding of the sacred incense. The plant involved is unknown. The word in the remaining references, including all those in the Solomonic writings, is besem or bosem and can be used for almost any fragrant or pleasantly pungent compound. All of the references in Song of Solomon deal with a pleasant fragrance except for 8:2 where spiced wine is mentioned and the spice plants (?) of 4:14 and 6:2.

One of the gifts the Queen of Sheba presented to Solomon was a large quantity of spices. In fact, "There had never been such spices as that the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon" (2 Chron. 9:9). It is not possible to ascertain what kinds of spices these were, whether or not they were to be used for flavoring or incense.

There are two gardens in Song of Solomon. The first is a garden of spices and lilies (6:2). The second is a garden of nuts, located in the valley and associated with grapes and pomegranates (6:11). In the garden of spices, feeding (mentioned twice) is emphasized and in the garden of nuts, what is seen (also mentioned twice) is emphasized. Stol, citing others, indicates that the spices mentioned in Song of Sol. 5:1 may be a tree.57


There is little doubt among Bible scholars that the nut trees mentioned in Song of Sol. 6:11, another hapax legomenon, are Juglans persica L. Like apple and apricot, walnut is not native to the Middle East. It first appears in palynological (pollen) remains about the second millennium BC.58


Wheat, Triticum spp., is mentioned as one of the payments sent to Hiram, King of Tyre, in return for timber for the temple and possibly Solomon's personal house ("House of the forest of Lebanon") in 1 Kings 5:11. Unique in the Bible is the allusion of the Bride's waist as "...a mound of wheat encircled by lilies." (Song of Sol. 7:2b). While unseemly words for a modern suitor, this language obviously conveys poetic meaning lost in the twentieth century. It has been suggested that the color of the wheat is indicated although the strong suggestion of fruitfulness also seems obvious.59 Barley, always valued at half the cost of wheat, is not mentioned in Song of Solomon perhaps because it is too plebeian.60


 One of the joys of working with the Scriptures and its flora is the help and encouragement of like-minded scholars. Henk P. Medema has criticized much of the material in the manuscript and corrected faulty exegesis. Professor Charles Holman read the paper and helped with obscure bibliographic references. Pierre Bikai, director of the American Center for Oriental Research in Amman, Jordan and world authority on the cedar of Lebanon, encouraged me and helped with linguistic problems. Ultimately, one of the richest sources of information on Bible plants comes from the farmers, the fellaheen, who graciously assisted me in Jordan, Sudan, Syria, and the West Bank. Lastly, I want to acknowledge the support of Fulbright awards at the University of Khartoum 1982–1984, An Najah University 1986–1987, and the University of Jordan 1987–1988. Solo Deo Gloria!



1Unless noted, all quotations from the Holy Scriptures are from the New International Version.

2Bacon seems to have been familiar with this lost literature for his King Salamona tells Bacon "... we have some parts of his [Solomon's] works which with you are lost; namely, that Natural History which he wrote of all plants, from the cedar Libanus to the moss that growth out of the wall; and of all things that have life and motion" (Francis Bacon, Advancement of Learning, Novum Organum, New Atlantis, in Great Books of the Western World, vol. 30 [Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1952]).

3J. J. Bono, "Ficino to Descarte," chap. 1 in The Word of God and the Languages of Man: Interpreting Nature in Early Modern Science and Medicine (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1995) and C. Webster, The Great Instauration: Science, Medicine and Reform 1626–1660 (New York: Holmes and Meier, 1975). Both volumes discuss "Solomon's House" and its relationship to the development of scientific societies. The literature on Bacon and his influence on modern science is vast and reviewed in these two books.

4Francis Bacon, Advancement of Learning, Novum Organum, New Atlantis.

5Plants and plant products used in the Solomonic writings include: almond, almug, aloe, apple/apricot, barley, calamus, caper, cedar of Lebanon, cinnamon, crocus, cypress, date palm, fig, flax, frankincense, gall, gourd, grape, henna, hyssop, lign aloe, lily, mandrake, myrrh, nard, olive, pomegranate, saffron, spices, sycomore fig, thornbush, walnut and wheat.

6J. C. Greenfield and M. Mayrhofer, "The `Algumm'/ `Almuggim' Problem Reexamined," Supplements to Vetus Testamentum 6 (1967): 83–9.

7Greenfield and Mayrhofer, ibid.

8R. Meiggs, Trees and Timber in the Ancient Mediterranean World (Oxford: Clarendon, 1982).

9F. N. Hepper, Pharaoh's Flowers (London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1990).

10 Orientalis: Fascicle 2 (Jerusalem: The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1983).

11Greenfield and Mayrhofer, "The `Algumm'/ `Almuggim' Problem Reexamined."

12Anonymous, Helps for Translators: Fauna and Flora of the Bible (New York: United Bible Societies, 1980).

13I. Löw, Die Flora der Juden, vol. I–IV (1928; reprint, Hildeshein: Georg Olms, 1967). Löw also discusses the tradition in the Mishna of the mineral coral being almug.

14M. Zohary, Plants of the Bible (Cambridge: University Press, 1982) and H. N. Moldenke and A. L. Moldenke, Plants of the Bible (New York: Ronald Press, 1952). Zohary's book is one of the most useful although designed for the nonspecialist. Moldenke and Moldenke's classic is an extensive compendium on Bible plants that draws heavily on traditions of the Christian church. However, the authors apparently had little firsthand experience with the Middle East flora.

15Discussed in Greenfield and Mayrhofer, "The `Algumm'/ `Almuggim' Problem Reexamined."

16Greenfield and Mayrhofer, ibid.

17G. Post, Flora of Syria, Palestine and Sinai, 2d ed., revised and enlarged by J.<|>E. Dinsmore (Beirut: American University, 1932–1933).

18D. M. Dixon, "Timber in Ancient Egypt," Commonwealth Forestry Review 53 (1974): 205–9.

19King Solomon made for himself the carriage; he made it of wood from Lebanon (Song of Sol. 3:9).

20E.g., M. Zohary, Plants of the Bible.

21Moldenke and Moldenke, Plants of the Bible.

22M. Zohary and M. Hopf, Domestication of Plants in the Old World, 2d ed. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1994).

23Zohary and Hopf, ibid.

24T. J. Motley, "The Ethnobotany of Sweet Flag, Acorus calamus (Araceae)," Economic Botany 48:4 (1994): 397–412.

25L. Milne and M. Milne, Living Plants of the World (New York: Random House, 1967).

26R. R. Calkin and J. S. Jellinek, Perfumery: Practice and Principles (New York: Wiley, 1994).

27A. Y. Leung and S. Foster, Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics, 2d ed. (New York: Wiley Interscience, 1996).

28Leung and Foster, ibid.

29E.g., "My beloved is unto me a cluster of henna flowers in the vineyards of En Gedi" (Song of Sol. 1:14). En Gedi, an oasis between the Dead Sea and the precipitous cliffs of the Judean Desert is a place where many medicinal and cosmetic plants such as myrrh and henna were grown. The climate is tropical; there is an abundant supply of water.

30Exod. 12:22; Lev. 14:4, 6, 49, 51, 52; Num. 19:6, 18; 1 Kings 4:33; Ps. 51:7.

31M. C. Tenney, "John," in The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 9, ed. F. E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 1–203.

32A. Fleisher and Z. Fleisher, "Identification of Biblical Hyssop and Origin of the Traditional Use of Oregano-Group Herbs in the Mediterranean Region," Economic Botany 42:2 (1988): 232–41.

33N. Dudai, N. Putievsky, E. Ravid, U. Palevitch, D. and A.H. Halevy, "Monoterpene Content in Origanum syriacum as Affected by Environmental Conditions and Flowering," Physiologia Plantarum 84 (1992): 453–9.

34E.g., Moldenke and Moldenke, Plants of the Bible.

35L. J. Musselman and H. P. Medema, Van U is ook de Aarde. De zwijgende maar machtige boodschap von planten in het heligdom (Yours (is) Also the Earth. The Silent Yet Powerful Language of Plants in the Sanctuary.) (Vaassen, Netherlands: Uitgiverij H. Medema, 1993).

36There is a remarkable reference to the power of the caper in destroying masonry structures in S.<|>A. Fairushina, "Capparis spinosa L., Destructor of Architectural Memorials in Uzbekistan," Uzbekistan Biology Journal 5 (1974): 39–42 (Original not seen).

37E.g., Lev. 14:37; 1 Kings 6:5 and many other places.

38There is a problem of textual criticism here, as one Greek minuscule reads hussooi, meaning "on a javelin"; cf. some older Latin translations which read perticae, "on a `long' pole." Moffatt, New English Bible, and J.<|>B. Phillips adopt this option, but even if it would be the most plausible composition of the facts (for which the traditional reading would allow room!), it is probably not what the Evangelist wrote. See Bruce Metzger, e.g., A Textual Commentary to the Greek New Testament (New York: United Bible Society, in loco) who quotes R G. Batcher, "Basel," Revue Internationale de la Traduction, VII (1961): 61. See also M. C. Tenney, "John."

39F. G. Beetham and P. A. Beetham, "A Note on John 19:29," Journal of Theological Studies 41:1 (1993): 163–9.

40Musselman and Medema, Yours (is) Also the Earth.

41F. N. Hepper, Baker Encyclopedia of Bible Plants (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1992).

42A. Fleisher and Z. Fleisher, "The Fragrance of Biblical Mandrake," Economic Botany 48:3 (1994): 243–51.

43A. Y. Leung and S. Foster, Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics, 2d ed. (New York: Wiley Interscience, 1996).

44R. R. Calkin and J. S. Jellinek, Perfumery: Practice and Principles (New York: Wiley, 1994).

45Science News 149:2 (1996): 20.

46M. Thulin and P. Claeson, "The Botanical Origin of Scented Myrrh (bissabol or habak hadi)," Economic Botany 45:4 (1991): 487–94.

47Zohary, Plants of the Bible.

48Hepper, Baker Encyclopedia of Bible Plants.

49M. Stol, On Trees, Mountains, and Millstones in the Ancient Near East (Leiden: Ex Oriente Lux, 1979).

50Flavius Josephus, The Works of Flavius Josephus, trans. William Whiston (Philadelphia: Winston, 1936).

51Hepper, Baker Encyclopedia of Bible Plants.

52Anonymous, Helps for Translators.

53Hepper, Pharaoh's Flowers.

54A. Danne, F. Peterett and A. Nahrstedt, "Proanthocyanidins from Cistus incanus," Phytochemistry 34:4 (1993): 1129–33.

55The crocus illustrated in Zohary, Plants of the Bible, does not have the large, drooping stigmata nor the grass-like leaves of Crocus sativus and appears to be a different species from saffron. Hepper in Planting a Bible Garden (London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1987) suggests planting saffron from seed. However, this is not possible as saffron is a sterile triploid and does not produce seeds.

56Hepper, Baker Encyclopedia of Bible Plants; Musselman and Medema, Yours (is) Also the Earth; Zohary, Plants of the Bible.

57Stol, On Trees, Mountains, and Millstones.

58Zohary and Hopf, Domestication of Plants.

59D. F. Kindow, "Song of Songs" in The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 5, ed. F. E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991).

60L. J. Musselman and H. P. Medema, Laat de Aarde het u Vertellen. De zwijgende maar machtige boodschap von planten in het land van de Bijbel (The Earth Shall Teach You: The Silent Yet Powerful Language of Plants in the Land of the Bible), 2d printing (Vaassen, The Netherlands: Medema, 1993).