Tag Archives: fauna and flora

The Acacia in the Sinai Wilderness

Most travelers to Israel have probably seen acacia trees growing along the shore of the Dead Sea. Fewer travelers have visited the Sinai Peninsula, now part of Egypt. The term acacia is used in most English versions of the Bible, but the King James version (1611) simply transliterated the Hebrew word shittim.

The Fauna and Flora of the Bible comments on the acacia:

The acacia is a member of the Mimosa family. Four different species are found in Palestine, the most common being the A. raddiana, which grows in the valleys around the Dead Sea. It is an evergreen tree, 3 to 5.5 m high, with spiny branches carrying yellow flowers; its wood is very useful for building purposes.

The acacia below is in the Wadi el-Tor in the Sinai Peninsula between the Gulf of Suez and Mount Sinai.

Acacia growing in Wadi el-Tor in the Sinai Peninsula. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Acacia growing in Wadi el-Tor in the Sinai Peninsula. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

In the description of the construction of the tabernacle, the book of Exodus uses the word acacia 26 times from chapter 25 to chapter 38. When we see the smaller trees today we may wonder about finding enough wood for the tabernacle. At Ain Musa (Spring of Moses), the traditional place of Marah (Exodus 15:23), there are a few older large Acacia growing. Could it be possible that 3500 years ago there were many this size?

Large acacia at Ain Musa (Spring of Moses) on the east shore of the Gulf of Suez. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Large acacia at Ain Musa (Spring of Moses) on the east shore of the Gulf of Suez.

Like a cluster of henna…

Henna is mentioned only twice in the Bible, both in the Song of Solomon (or Canticles). The Shulammite girl describes her beloved.

My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms in the vineyards of Engedi. (Song of Solomon [Canticles] 1:14 ESV; see also 4:13)

Scholars are divided about the meaning of the Hebrew term used here. Is this woman named Shulamith? Is she from the Jezreel Valley town of Shunem? Is she described as “the Perfect One” (NET Bible)? Or, is there some other plausible explanation?

Tristram mentions finding the “camphire of Engedi” at the site (cf. KJV transliteration of the Hebrew kopher).

The camphire of Engedi, mentioned in the Book of Canticles, we identified in a pretty shrub, with bunches of graceful pink-white blossoms, which was already in flower in some sheltered nooks, and called El-Henna by the Arabs, from which they procure the Henna dye—the Lawsonia alba of botanists. (The Land of Israel: A Journal of Travels in Palestine, Undertaken With Special Reference to Its Physical Character, 294-95).

Some small plants identified as henna can be seen at Neot Kedumim in the low hill country between Modi’in and Tel Aviv. Both they and the Fauna and Flora of the Bible identify it with the Lawsonia inermis. I don’t know how to sort out this name and the Lawsonia alba that Tristram mentions.

Henna growing at Neot Kedumim. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Henna growing at Neot Kedumim. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Henna is used by women of many societies on their hands, and other parts of the body. In several places I have seen local women painting designs on those who wished to try it.

One of the young ladies of my tour got henna tatoos from the Nubians in southern Egypt. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Stacy got henna tattoos from a Nubian lady in southern Egypt near Aswan. She says it lasted about three weeks. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Stacy tells me that the henna caused quite a stir when she returned to work. She says,

I talked with my hands. I gestured during a meeting and it stopped the meeting cold. Everyone stared. I said, “not to worry … it will disappear in 3 weeks” and continued on with the point I was making. 🙂

Life is fun.

Plants growing in the Sea of Galilee

A member of the Biblical Flora group asks,

I was wondering if anyone knew what kind of water plants grew in the Sea of Galilee. Reeds, seaweeds, water lilies…anything like that?

Here is a slide that I made in June, 1980, at the northeast corner of the Sea of Galilee. I am not aware of the technical names of the plants, but it certainly shows a nice variety. Perhaps some other list member will be able to provide more information.

More recently, much of this area has been cleared for recreational use.

A secluded place on the NE corner of Sea of Galilee. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A secluded place on the NE corner of Sea of Galilee. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

When I made this photo I was thinking of the text in Mark which speaks of Jesus and His disciples going by boat to a desert (Greek, eremos) or secluded place.

And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. (Mark 6:32 ESV)

The reference may be to the land area (cf. Mark 6:35), but it provides a good illustration of the type of place that could be reached by boat.

Those with an interest in Biblical Flora might enjoy being part of the group. Click here for information. J.P. van de Giessen is the list moderator.

The pollen is blowin’ in the wind

The unseasonably warm weather here in Florida has already begun to affect allergy sufferers, including yours truly. The pollen is not as high as it will be, but high enough to cause sniffling, sneezing and stuffiness. That’s nothing new. Keep reading.

The excavations at Ramat Rachel, between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, reveal evidence of etrogs and myrtle from the ancient royal garden. A word of explanation might be appropriate for some readers. English readers know Sukkot as the Feast of Booths, Tabernacles, or Temporary Shelters – Leviticus 23:34).

Ha’aretz reports here today:

The earliest evidence of local cultivation of three of the Sukkot [commonly know to English readers as the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles,  holiday’s traditional “four species” has been found at the most ancient royal garden ever discovered in Israel.

The garden, at Kibbutz Ramat Rachel in Jerusalem, gave up its secrets through remnants of pollen found in the plaster of its walls.

The garden was part of an Israelite palace at Ramat Rachel that has been excavated for many years, most recently in a joint dig by Prof. Oded Lipschits and Dr. Yuval Gadot of Tel Aviv University and Prof. Manfred Oeming of Heidelberg University. The palace existed from the time of King Hezekiah until the Hasmonean period in the second century B.C.E.

The excavations revealed that the garden must have had a beautiful – and strategic – view, but it lacked its own water source. Thus the ancient landscape architects had to build channels and pools to collect rainwater for irrigation.

The archaeologists discovered that the garden’s designers had removed the original hard soil and replaced it with suitable garden soil. But until recently, they had no idea what was grown there.

Then, Lipschits said, he and his colleagues had a “wild thought”: If plasterers had worked on the garden walls in springtime, when flowers were blooming, breezes would have carried the pollen to the walls, where it would have become embedded in the plaster.

Enlisting the aid of Tel Aviv University archaeobotanist Dr. Daphne Langot, they carefully peeled away layers of the plaster, revealing pollen from a number of plant species.

Etrog late in the season at Qatzrin. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Etrog late in the season at Qatzrin. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The article continues,

Most of the plants were wild, but in one layer of plaster, apparently from the Persian period (the era of the Jewish return from the Babylonian exile in 538 B.C.E. ) they found pollen from ornamental species and fruit trees, some of which came from distant lands.

The find that most excited the scholars was pollen from etrogs, or citrons, a fruit that originated in India. This is the earliest botanical evidence of citrons in the country.

Scholars believe the citron came here via Persia, and that its Hebrew name, etrog, preserves the Persian name for the fruit – turung. They also say royal cultivation of the exotic newcomer was a means of advertising the king’s power and capabilities.

The garden at Ramat Rachel is also the first place in the country to yield evidence of the cultivation of myrtle and willow – two more of the four species used in Sukkot rituals.

Myrtle growing at Neot Kedumim in Judean Hills. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Myrtle growing at Neot Kedumim in Judean Hills. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

For an earlier post on the royal garden at Ramat Rachel, read here.

HT: Joseph Lauer

Some things you may not hear about Myrrh in a sermon

Myrrh is described in Fauna and Flora of the Bible, a publication of the United Bible Societies, as follows:

Myrrh is a dark-red gum with a strong aroma and a bitter taste. It exudes from a bush or tree belonging to a family of the burseraceæ which grows in Arabia, Abyssinia and on the Somali coast of East Africa. It is not native to Palestine. This tree or bush has a great number of knotted branches. The gum exudes from the branch as a thick light-coloured paste which, when exposed to the atomsphere, soon hardens and takes on a brownish colour. The finest myrrh was the resin secreted of itself (rather than by artificial incision) through the bark… (147)

When the secretion is collected directly from the bark it can be used as an ingredient in ointments.

When Ismaelites (Midianites) came from Gilead into the Dothan valley on their way to Egypt, Joseph’s brothers sold him to them (Genesis 37:27, 36). The Bible describes the caravan and the goods the Midianites were transporting.

a caravan of Ishmaelites was coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing aromatic gum and balm and myrrh, on their way to bring them down to Egypt. (Genesis 37:25 NAU)

In previous posts we have written about the Incense Route which was used by the Nabateans. This event was much earlier, and we see the caravan coming from the east (Gilead). The famous King’s highway ran through Gilead.

Myrrh is listed as a product of the land of Canaan when Jacob prepares his gift basket to be taken to Joseph (Genesis 43:11). This differs from what we normally read about myrrh. I do not know the solution to the problem at the moment. Perhaps it had been purchased from traveling merchants and was included with local products in the gift basket.

Myrrh could be in a liquid form. The ointment used in the anointing of priests had myrrh in it (Exodus 30:23). Oil of myrrh was in the cosmetics used by Esther (Esther 2:12). See also Song of Solomon 5:5.

The young man is advised to avoid the prostitute. He is told that she will entice him by saying,

I have sprinkled my bed
With myrrh, aloes and cinnamon. (Proverbs 7:17 NAU)

The young lady in the Song of Solomon thinks of her lover as a pouch or sachet of myrrh that lies all night between her breasts (1:13). She thinks of his lips as dripping with liquid myrrh (5:13).

The young man dreams of the time when he can approach her, and perhaps thinks of her breasts as the mountain of myrrh and the hill of frankincense.

Until the day breathes and the shadows flee, I will go away to the mountain of myrrh and the hill of frankincense. (Song of Solomon 4:6 ESV)

Myrrh displayed at Avdat, a stop on the Incense Route. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Myrrh displayed at Avdat, a stop on the Incense Route. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The wine offered to Jesus on the cross was mixed with myrrh (Mark 15:23).

Nicodemus brought about 75 pounds (= 100 Roman pounds) of myrrh and aloe for the burial of Jesus (John 19:39). We may conclude from this that Nicodemus, like Joseph of Arimathea (Matthew 27:57 NAU), was a wealthy man.

Myrrh branch. From 1000 Bible Images (Logos digital edition).

Myrrh branch. From 1000 Bible Images (Logos digital edition).

The wise men brought rare and expensive gifts to Jesus (Matthew 2:11). I trust that this brief discussion over the past three days has enhanced your understanding and appreciation of those gifts. What have we to give Him?

J. P. Van de Giessen has an article on Myrrh here, and a photo of the tree here.