The flowers of ancient Israel (Song of Solomon 2)

Image result for sharon rose

Illustration: A rose of the Sharon bush

Floral imagery was widely used in ancient Israel, in the decoration of the temple and the lampstands (Exodus 25:37, 1 Kings 6:7) as well as in the prophetic and poetic writings. The identification of various flowers in ancient Israel has been complicated by following facts:

  • Many newer plant species have been introduced into the region during the last few centuries.
  • From the time of the church fathers, the practice of naming plants after Biblical names has served as away of keeping Scripture alive in everyday life. Thus, flowers that did not exist in ancient Israel might still bear Biblical names. For example, Hibiscus syriacus has been called ” the rose of Sharon”, even though it is native to eastern Asia and more recently introduced into the region now known as Palestine.
  • Information is scanty. Frequently a plant’s only identification might be its Bible name, with no accompanying description. Oral tradition might provide the only clue in identifying a particular flower.

The rose of Sharon (Song of Solomon 2:1) has been variously identified as narcissus, anemone or even red tulip. The lily of the valley (2:1) has been equated to chamomile, crowfoot, various species of lily, narcissus, sea daffodil and lotus. Flowers in ancient Israel served mainly ornamental purposes, and it is likely that their beauty was the primary focus of the Song’s writer. Although precise identification of the various flowers would be helpful, it is not essential for interpreting the text.


 

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