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My Redeemer > Bible Dictionary > Plants of the Bible > Manners and Customs of the Bible > Fruits and Wood My Redeemer Home

Agriculture of the Bible

Plants of the Bible

(Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible)

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IV. Fruits. The various fruits mentioned in the Bible show not only the fertility of Palestine but the Israelites' ingenuity in growing, harvesting, and preparing them for use. Fruits were eaten fresh, dried, pressed into cakes, and squeezed for juice. Some were used as medicine. According to GOD's law, all fruit-bearing plants had to be three years old before their fruit could be harvested (Lev. 19:23). Farmers made provision for the poor and widows by leaving some fruit for them.

    A. Almonds. The almond has been known since early Bible times (cf. Gen. 43:11). The Hebrews called it shaked, which means "hasten." This may refer to the face that the pink blossoms of the almond tree are the first blooms to appear in the spring (Jer. 1:11-12).

    Some visitors think that Palestine grows the best almonds in the East. They have been found in the northern regions of Mount Lebanon and Hebron, east of the Jordan, and in Egypt. Under favorable conditions, the tree grows to 6 m. (20 ft.) in height.

    Note that when Aaron's rod budded, it brought forth almonds (Num. 17:8).

    B. Apples. Different scholars identify the apple referred to in Joel 1:12 and the Song of Solomon 2:3,4; 7:8; 8:5 with apple, quince, and apricot. The Hebrew word used in these passages is tappuah.

    The ancient Romans prized the apple tree for its fruit. Scholars believe that the Romans introduced them into England. Although our apple tree grows in Palestine today, it is not certain that the Bible refers to it.

    Henry B. Tristram and others think that the apple tree of the Bible was actually the apricot (Prunus armeniaca), which originated in southern Asia and grows abundantly in the Holy Land. It reaches approximately 9 m. (30 ft.) with very sweet golden fruit. This tree could fit the description of the "apple" in Proverbs 25:11.

    C. Figs. The fig tree was cultivated in Palestine and other Mediterranean countries (cf. Deut. 8:8). Although it is not tall, its large leaves and widely spreading branches provide excellent shade. Sitting under a fig tree was typical of peace and prosperity (I Kings 4:25; Mic. 4:4; Zech. 3:10). The Hebrew word for the fig tree was teenah, meaning "to spread out." The Greeks called this tree syke and the fruit sykon.

    There were two crops of figs in ancient Palestine. The early harvest appeared in June and was called the bikkore (Hos. 9:10; Isa. 28:4). The later crop ripened continually from August through March; it was called the kermouse.

    The fig is small and pear-shaped and often forms before the leaves appear. In biblical times, figs were eaten fresh, dried, or pressed into cakes (I Sam. 25:19; 30:12). Sometimes figs were used as a poultice (II Kings 20:7). Jesus used a fig tree to teach His disciples the need for spiritual fruitfulness (Matt. 24:32; Luke 13:6).

    D. Grapes. The Holy Land has rightly been called "the land of the grapes." Climate and soil conditions in Palestine are well suited for growing grapes.

    The Israelites found enormous clusters of grapes growing in Canaan (Num. 13:23). A single grape was reported to be as large as a plum. Since the grapes of Egypt were small, the Israelites naturally were impressed.

    Grapes have been the principal agricultural product of Palestine since ancient times. Besides furnishing raisins and wine, the grapes provided juice that was boiled down to the consistency of molasses; the Hebrews called this debash, or "honey". This was probably the "honey" mentioned in Genesis 43:11 and Ezekiel 27:17.

    E. Husks. This is thought to be the fruit of the carob tree. The carob is a tall-growing evergreen with clusters of pea-shaped flowers. The fruit appears in large flat pods, 15 to 20 cm. (6 to 8 in.) longs The pods themselves are very sweet, with flat beans inside. Israelite farmers dried the pods and fed them to cattle; humans ate them only in extremity (cf. Luke 15:16).

    Tradition says that the carob pods were eaten by John the Baptist, and so the fruit is sometimes called "Saint John's bread."

    The tree grows wild in Mediterranean countries today. It is related to the North American locust tree.

    F. Mulberries. The Hebrew word baka ("weeping") is thought to have referred to the mulberry, which grew in southern Palestine. When David fought the Philistines in the Valley of Rephaim, the rustling of the mulberry leaves was his signal to attack (II Sam. 5:24). Psalm 84:6 refers to the Valley of Baca, which literally meant "valley of mulberries."

    New Testament references to the mulberry (Greek, sykaminos) denote the black mulberry. In Luke 17:6, most English Bibles translate this word as sycamine. The fruit of this tree resembles the blackberry; the leaves are rough and jagged. First Maccabees 6:34 suggests that the juice of these berries was used as a refreshing drink in Palestine.

    G. Pistachio Nuts. When Jacob sent gifts to Joseph in Egypt, he included "nuts" (Gen. 43:11). The Hebrew word for this is botnim. Most scholars believe this was the pistachio nut. These grow in parts of Palestine, Syria, and southern Europe.

    The pistachio tree grows 6 to 9 m. (20 to 30 ft.) high. The oval nuts hanging in clusters resemble the almond; but they are smaller than the almond and very sweet. The Israelites enjoyed eating these nuts just as they came from the tree; they also made them into a confection.

    A few scholars believe the word botnim refers to the pine-nut, walnut, acorn, or some other nut. But these interpretations are not generally accepted.

    In describing the "garden of nuts," Song of Solomon 6:11 probably refers to the English walnut. The Hebrew word here is egoz. This tree is cultivated in the region of Galilee and along the slopes of Mount Lebanon and of Mount Hermon. Blossoms appear in February and the tree bears fruit in August.

    H. Pomegranates. The Hebrew word for pomegranate is rimmon. Known in Palestine since earliest times (cf. Num. 13:23), the pomegranate grew wild in western Asia and northern Africa and was cultivated in Palestine.

    This sweet-tasting fruit was used in many ways. Its juice was enjoyed as a cooling drink and as wine (Song 8:2). Symbols of the fruit were embroidered as decorations around the bottom of the high priest's robe (Exod. 28:33-34) and carved on the pillars of Solomon's Porch at the temple (I Kings 7:20).

    The pomegranate tree grew 3 to 4 m. (10 to 15 ft.) high with bright red flowers. Its reddish-maroon fruit was the size of an orange and had many seeds. The rind contained a large amount of tannin, which today is used as an astringent and in tanning leather.

    I. Sycamine. For information on this plant, see the section on "Mulberries".

    J. Sycamore Fruit. The Hebrews called this tree shikmah. It belongs to the fig family.

    The biblical sycamore grew in Egypt (Psa. 78:47), along the coast of Palestine, and in the Jordan Valley (I Kings 10:27). Its small yellow fruit is similar to the common fig; it is very sweet and grews in clusters close to the branches. The tree's heart-shaped leaves resemble the mulberry, and so the plant is sometimes called the "fig mulberry." The large spreading branches growing close to the ground provided Zacchaeus an opportunity to get a better view of Jesus (Luke 19:4). Amos gathered the fruit of this tree for a living (Amos 7:14).

V. Wood. From earliest times, man has depended on the earth to provide the resources for his survival. Wood was an important source of shelter, fuel, and decoration.

Wood was always available to teh people of Israel, and they became skilled in woodcutting. In fact, they were called "hewers of wood" (cf. Deut. 29:11; 17:15-18). The Israelites used wood for four main purposes: fire, worship, shelter, and commerce.

    A. Almug; Algum. These English words are just forms of the same Hebrew word. Solomon requested "algum" wood from Lebanon (II Chron. 2:8) and "almug" was sent from Ophir (I Kings 10:11-12). We are not sure what kind of tree this was, but Bible scholars generally believe that it was sandalwood.

    The almug tree was used for making the columns in Solomon's temple, and for musical instruments. As we have noted, Solomon imported this wood from great distances.

    B. Ash. The Bible mentions this tree only once, in Isaiah 44:14. The true ash is not native to Palestine, so the Septuagint translators understood the Hebrew word (oren) to mean the fir tree. Jerome took it to mean the pine. The RSV translates it fir, and puts ash in the margin. Some scholars are of the opinion that the Syrian fir is the one mentioned. This tree grew on Mount Lebanon and was used to make idols.

    C. Box Tree. The box tree was one of those mentioned as the "glory of Lebanon." It has small glossy foliage and grows about 6 m. (20 ft.) high. The Hebrews called it teashur.

    The hard, highly polished wood of the box tree was used in Solomon's temple (Isa. 60:13). Box wood has been used for musical instruments since Roman times.

    D. Cedar. The most valuable and majestic trees described in the Bible are the "cedars of Lebanon." The Hebrew word for this tree was erez. It grows to a height of 21 to 24 m. (70 to 80 ft.), with long, spreading branches. The branches of one tree were 33.8 m. (111 ft.) across. The trunks of some cedars are 9 to 12 m. (30 to 40 ft.) in circumference. These huge trees continue to grow for hundreds of years. They were symbols of strength and durability, and noted for their toughness (cf. Psa. 92:12; Ezek. 31:3).

    The cedar produces 20 cm. (5 in.) cones that take three years to mature. The wood is red and free of knots. Fragrant sap exudes from the trunk and cones (Psa. 104:16; Song of Sol. 4:11). The bitter wood repels insects and resists rot.

    The cedar ad many uses. Its wood was used for building David's and Solomon's houses (II Sam. 7:2; I Kings 7:12), making idols (Isa. 44:14-15), and constructing ships (Ezek. 27:5).

    Cedars grow on Mount Lebanon today; but less than a dozen of these trees stand in the actual groves mentioned by the Bible, near the Lebanon coast of the Mediterranean. All of them have trunks more than 3 m. (10 ft.) in diameter.

    The Bible first mentions the cedar tree in Leviticus 14:4. However, some scholars believe this text refers to the juniper, since the Israelites were sojourning in the Sinai Peninsula and the juniper was common in that area. See the section on "Juniper".

    E. Chestnut. Most scholars agree that the chestnut mentioned in the Bible is the Oriental plane. Jacob's speckled rod was made from the wood of this tree (Gen. 30:37).

    Ezekiel mentions the plane tree along with others growing on Mount Lebanon (Ezek. 31:8). The Hebrew word used here is armon, meaning "naked" or "bare". This points to the way the bark continually breaks and peels off, exposing the light-colored trunk. The plane tree resembles North America's sycamore or buttonwood trees and will grow to enormous size if left undisturbed. It produces small, spiny balls that hang from the branches. Its leaves are heavily veined, and resemble the maple. It is native to southern Europe, western Asia, and Palestine.

    F. Cypress. The Hebrew word tirza in Isaiah 44:14 probably refers to the cypress. It is very durable, making it suitable for building, carving, or any fine woodwork. The beautiful red wood of this tree is heavily aromatic. A native of Persia, the cypress was known throughout the Near East and is thought to have grown on Mount Lebanon. Cypress trees were planted in ancient cemeteries, and several mummy cases found in Egypt were made from cypress wood.

    G. Ebony. The wood of this tree is mentioned only once in the Bible, when traders from Dedan in Arabia brought it to Tyre (Ezek. 27:15). The Hebrew word for ebony (hobnim) literally means "stonewood."

    The ebony tree is now found in many Asian countries, as well as India and Ethiopia. It is sometimes 60 cm. (2 ft.) in diameter with a smooth bark; it has white flowers and small edible fruit. Its bark is a whitish gray, but the heart of the wood is black, sometimes streaked with light brown, red, or yellow. Ethiopia is said to have the best ebony wood today.

    HIghly polished ebony wood was used in Bible times for making musical instruments and ornamental work. The North American persimmon tree belongs to the same genus as the ebony.

    H. Fir. Our English Bibles render the Hebrew word berosh in a variety of ways to denote different trees of the pine family - especially the fir. The word probably referred only to the Aleppo or Sipcon pine, which is almost as large as the cedars found on Mount Lebanon. The Aleppo pine was common in Palestine (Hos. 14:8); it was an emblem of nobility (Isa. 41:19-20).

    The Aleppo pine has smooth bark, grows up to 8 m. (60 ft.), and produces cones 13 to 15 cm. (5 to 6 in.) long. It was used for making musical instruments (II Sam. 6:5), floors (I Kings 6:15), decks of ships (Ezek. 27:5), and houses (Song 1:17). Its wood ws also used for Solomon's temple (I Kings 5:8,10). Storks built their nests in this tree (Psa. 104:17).

    I. Gopher Wood. "Gopher wood" is mentioned only once in the Bible (Gen. 6:14). Some scholars believe this is an alternate reading for the Hebrew term kopher, which probably means pitch or some other resinous material. The Septuagint translates it as squared wood, and in the Vulgate it is planed wood.

    Since cypress trees were used extensively for shipbuilding and grew abundantly in the area, many believe that Noah used cypress wood for the ark. Others have suggested it was the cedar, pine, or fir tree.

    J. Oak. English versions translate many different Hebrew words as oak, terebinth, or elm. They may also translate these words as place or plain. Some of the Hebrew words are el, elah, elon, and allon. They generally mean the terebinth or elm trees (Gen. 35:4,8; Judg. 6:11; II Sam. 19:8). The Old Testament often uses oak to denote any strong tree or grove. There are 5 species of oak tree in modern Palestine:

    Quercus pseudo-coccifera, which has small prickly leaves like the holly. This was Abraham's "oak of Mamre" (Gen. 13:18; 14:13, RSV).

    Quercus calliprinos grows large on Mount Tabor and east of the Jordan River. This is believed to have been the "oak of Bashan" (Is. 2:13; Zech. 11:2).

    Quercus aegilops is a deciduous tree that grows in Samaria and Galilee. It does not seem to be mentioned in the Bible.

    Quercus sesiliflora grows at high elevations in Lebanon. Such a tree was probably the "oak of Moreh" (Gen. 12:6, RSV).

    Quercus coccifera is the type of tree that Rebekah's nurse, Deborah, was buried under. The bible called that particular tree the "oak of Bethel" or the "oak of tears" (Gen. 35:8).

    Though Mount Lebanon was famous for its great cedar trees, Palestine was the land of the oaks. The wood of oak trees was often also used for making idols.

    K. Pine. The pine of the Old Testament represents the Hebrew word tidhar. Actually the word has two meanings.

      1. Evergreen. Tidhar may refer to an evergreen, such as cedar. This fits Isaiah's references to the "pine" that he says grew on Mount Lebanon and was used for Solomon's temple (Is. 41:19; 60:13).

      2. Deciduous. Tidhar may also refer to the "oil tree," as in Nehemiah 8:15. The RSV uses the term "wild olive" in this instance. See the section on "Olive."

    L. Shittah or Acacia. The Hebrew word for the acacia tree was shittah. Thus the Old Testament often refers to acacia wood as "Shittim wood."

    Two species of the acacia are found in Palestine: the Acaccia nilotica and the Acacia seyal. These are quite similar. They grow 4 to 8 m. (15 to 20 ft.) high, with large thorns and hard wood suitable for building. Both have yellow flowers and produce long pods with beans inside.

    GOD instructed the Israelites to build a tabernacle of shittim wood. The tree was probably growing in the region of the Sinai Peninsula, so it was familiar to the Israelties at that time. The Hebrews used shittim wood for boards, altars, pillars, tables, staves, and bars for the tabernacle (Exod. 25:5,10,13; 26:15,26; 27:1; 30:1). Acacia trees grew along the Jordan Valley from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea (Is. 41:19).

    M. Teil. The Hebrew word elah is often translated oak, elm, or terebinth. But in Isaiah 6:13, the King James Version translates it as "teil tree." This is another name for the linden tree, also known as the basswood. This tree does not grow in modern Palestine.

    Many scholars believe this passage refers to the terebinth, which grew throughout Palestine. It produced clusters of red berries and may have yielded a form of turpentine. In the Apocrypha, Ecclesiasticus 26:16 gives a poetic description of this tree. Gideon may have met the angel under the wide-spreading branches of a terebinth tree (Judg. 6:11-12).

    N. Thyine. Mentioned only in Revelation 18:12, this small, low-growing, coniferous tree belongs to the cypress family. It is native to North Africa and may have been used in the construction of Solomon's temple. The thyine tree was highly valued by the Romans for cabinet-making, and its aromatic wood was burned for incense.

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