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Trees in the Bible - part 2

Bible overview
Pictures of trees in the Bible and their significance in understanding scripture.
Contributed by Prof. Julian Evans
Moringa tree at Ein Gedi, Israel. <br/>Moringa (Moringa peregrina). <br/>Moringa is not named in the Bible, but it occurs in the semi-arid parts of Israel, the Sinai, and Jordan and may help explain the puzzling verse in Exodus 15:25. God instructs Moses to purify undrinkable water by throwing in a piece of wood (or tree). The Bible does not make mistakes or have fairy tales, so how might this miracle have occurred if there is a natural explanation? <br/>The seeds of moringa trees (which are in long pods), when crushed and added to water, release proteins that are natural coagulants. This causes dirty matter to flocculate or precipitate out and sink to the bottom taking harmful bacteria as it does so.  Seeds from just one tree are sufficient to purify about 30,000 litres of water and the process takes only 1-2 hours. <br/>Another possible explanation is a charred log, the carbon of which absorbs the dirty matter and is why carbon is commonly used in water filters. – Slide 1
Mustard in flower and typical of the plant which is an annual. Some varieties grow very rapidly and may achieve 3 m in one season with a ‘woody’ stem that supports ’twigs’ with seeds i.e. they are ’tree-like’ for a few weeks. <br/>Mustard ‘tree’. <br/>Several times in the gospels, Jesus compares faith and the Kingdom of God to mustard seed and the mustard tree. The Greek word, sinapis, is correctly translated as mustard, yet the mustard family - Brassica - with its cross shape of four petals in the flower, has no trees. They are all annuals. Also their seeds, though tiny, are not the smallest in the world. So what was Jesus getting at? <br/>We cannot be sure, but a good suggestion is that in speaking to His audience in Galilee, who were familiar with farming, they would know about black mustard. This plant was cultivated, and had the smallest seeds of any crop plant they would use and in one season it might achieve 3 m or more in height. It’s like giant hogweed in Britain, by the autumn it is tall and woody in stem. Black mustard’s woody stem supported ‘branches’ with seeds on which for a short time in the autumn small birds would come to and feed. <br/>This may be what Jesus was picturing in His powerful illustration. If only we had been there 2000 years ago, I am sure we wouldn’t be perplexed! – Slide 2
Almond tree in northern Israel. Flowering is over even though photo taken in March. (Both ‘shaked’ and ‘luz’ in Hebrew refer to the almond). <br/>Almond (Prunus dulcis). <br/>This widely cultivated fruit tree is common in Israel and its profuse blossom lights up the winter landscape in late January and early February as flowering precedes flushing of leaves. It is a harbinger of spring! <br/>Biblically ‘almond shaped’ was a key decoration of the candelabrum for the Tabernacle and the lovely white blossom a metaphor for the elderly (Eccles. 12:5), but it is best known for the mysterious and miraculous budding of Aaron’s staff (Num. 17:8). – Slide 3
Myrtle growing in the Mediterranean garden at Kew, London. <br/>Myrtle (Myrtus communis). <br/>A delightful evergreen shrub or small tree of drier parts. Its fragrant foliage, owing to glands in its leaves, and delicate creamy-white flowers make for a much loved plant. Often used as a sign of blessing that God will bestow e.g. Isaiah 41:19 & 55:13 where it is pictured as replacing scrub which is all thorny and prickly. It is one of the species used in the Feast of Tabernacles (Neh. 8:15). – Slide 4
Tamarisk tree shading the drinking fountain on top of Masada, Israel. <br/>Tamarisk (Tamarix aphylla). <br/>Known as the leafless tamarisk because it is the twigs which are green. A small tree of the desert and wadis that is tolerant of saline (salty) soil. It excretes salt through glands in its ‘leaves’ which, as the moisture evaporates, cools the air, making it a lovely shade tree in the hot desert. Abraham planted one to seal the treaty of Beersheba (Gen. 21:33). <br/>Two other tamarisk species may be implied in the Bible. The Jordan tamarisk which forms dense, impenetrable shrubbery beside the river may be the ‘thickets’ of Jeremiah 12:5 and Manna tamarisk may be what yielded the manna the children of Israel gathered in the their desert wanderings. – Slide 5
Carob foliage showing the curly pods. <br/>Carob (Ceratonia siliqua). <br/>Small, open woodland tree with edible fruit in the shape of straight or curved pods. Their remarkably uniform seeds (beans) were used for weights with scales and give rise to the root of the wood ‘carat’ for assaying gold. <br/>Carob pods were probably what the prodigal son fed to the swine, the husks of which he wanted to eat, in Jesus’ famous parable (Luke 15:16). Carob may also be the food John the Baptist ate in the wilderness which is often translated as ‘locusts’ (Matt. 3:4). A common name for carob is ‘St John’s bread’. – Slide 6
Pomegranate displaying bright scarlet flowers. <br/>Pomegranate (Punica granatum). <br/>Long cultivated for its fruit, this colourful tree yields two harvests a year. The pomegranate motif was woven into and hung from the hem of a priest’s robe (Exod. 28:33-34). It was one of the seven species of promise (Deut. 8:8) and is included in the fruits the spies brought back (Num. 13:23). A metaphor of beauty and desire in Song of Solomon (Song.4:3). – Slide 7
Poplars near the Dan River, in northern Israel. <br/>Poplar (Populus alba and P. euphratica). <br/>There are many species of poplar and two mentioned in the Bible. They are fast growing trees usually found near water and can often be seen beside the River Jordan. <br/>Jacob peeled white poplar branches when breeding sheep (Gen. 30:33) and it was probably Euphrates poplars on which the Israelites hung their harps in exile in Babylon (Ps.137:1-3). David was instructed to muster his army by listening for when the wind rustled the leaves of poplars (2 Sam. 5:23-24). – Slide 8
Judas tree in Jerusalem. <br/>Judas trees (Cercis siliquastrum). <br/>This common, small tree in Israel is not mentioned by name in the Bible but has been associated with Judas Iscariot as the tree on which he hanged himself. There is little evidence supporting this, more that its flower buds stay tight for weeks and look like drops of blood. The tree itself flowers profusely in the Spring and, as a result, can be readily identified in the countryside of the Middle East in March and April. The leaves are lovely too, paired, heart-shaped and without a tip and of a delicate lightish green. – Slide 9
Frankincense tree. <br/>Frankincense (Boswellia sacra) and Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha). <br/>Both trees of the semi-desert and both not-native to Israel and Jordan. There are several species of both and they occur in the Horn of Africa and Arabian Peninsula. – Slide 10
Taping scars in the stem of a Frankincense tree. <br/>Frankincense (Boswellia sacra) and Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha). <br/>Their bark is incised to ‘tap’ the resin for ‘tears of incense’. It is a profitable and very ancient industry, so much so that in 1500 BC Egypt’s Queen Hatshepsut’s famous expedition to Punt was charged with bringing back the incense trees to plant to help the massive demand for incense in temple worship. Both resins were and are widely traded - think of the ancient trade and spice routes. Both resins are valuable, myrrh especially. There are many biblical references to incense. – Slide 11
Frankincense and myrrh resins. <br/>Frankincense (Boswellia sacra) and Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha). <br/>As two of the precious and costly gifts brought by the Magi to the infant Jesus, they symbolise His priesthood - His offering to God - (frankincense) and His messiahship (myrrh) implied in Psalm 45:8. And of course myrrh was offered to Christ on the Cross (Mk 15:23) and used in His burial (Jn. 19:39). – Slide 12
Slide 13