William Carpenter.

Scripture natural history; containing a descriptive account of the quadrupeds, birds, fishes, insects, reptiles, serpents, plants, trees, minerals, gems, and precious stones, mentioned in the Bible online

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Online LibraryWilliam CarpenterScripture natural history; containing a descriptive account of the quadrupeds, birds, fishes, insects, reptiles, serpents, plants, trees, minerals, gems, and precious stones, mentioned in the Bible → online text (page 23 of 39)
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lish version : ' The narrow way of the slothful is like perplexed
pathways among sharp thorns: whereas, the broad road of the right-
eous is a high bank' (a causeway); that is, straight-forward, free
from obstructions ; the direct, conspicuous, open path. Upon this
passage Mr. Taylor remarks, 1. The common course of life of these
two characters answers to this comparison. 2. Their manner of
going about business, or of transacting it, answers to this : an idle
man always prefers the most intricate, the most oblique, and event-
ually, the most thorny measures, to accomplish his purpose : the
honest man prefers the most liberal, and straight-forward.

We have already remarked that the word employed in the New
Testament for thorns, is akantha. There has been some variety of
opinion among critics, as to the nature of the thorn of which our
Lord's crown was composed, Matt, xxvii. 29. It was without doubt
of some kind of prickly shrub, though what it was cannot now be



THE word occurs in Judges ix. 14, 15, and in Psa. Iviii. 1(X
In the latter passage it is rendered thorn; in the former, bramble.
It is armed with thorns ; its branches are supple and pliant ; and its
leaf is of a deep green, like that of the ivy. It is certain that such
a tree is required as may well denote a tyrant ; one who, instead of
affording shade and shelter to such as seek his protection, strips
them of their property, as a bramble bush does the sheep which
come near it, or lie down under its shadow. There is a passage in
Holland's translation of Plutarch admirably illustrative of this sub-
ject : * Whereupon is thought that he [Demosthenes] forsook his
colors and fled; now as he made haste away, there chanced a bram-
ble to take hold of his cassock behinde, whereat he turned back
and said unto the bramble, ' Save my life, and take my ransome."*
Folio 567.


THERE are two different words rendered ; nettles' in the English
Bible : They occur in (Prov. xxiv. 31, Isa. xxxiv. 13.
and in (Jobxxx. 7, Prov. xxiv. 31, ZepiJ. ii. 9.)



' WHOEVER has tasted onions in Egypt/ says Hasselquist, ' must
allow, that none can be had better, in any part of the world ; here
they are sweet, in other countries; they are nauseous and strong ;
here they are soft whereas in the North, and other parts, they are
hard, and the coats so compact, that they are hard of digestion.
Hence they cannot, in any place, be eaten with less prejudice, and
more satisfaction, than in Egypt. They eat them roasted, cut into
four pieces, with some bits of roasted meat, and with this dish they
are so delighted, that I have heard them wish they might enjoy it
in Paradise. They likewise make a soup of them, cutting the on-
ions in small pieces ; this is one of the best dishes I ever ate.'

As further illustrative of the passage above referred to, we may
observe, that among the vegetables used by the Egyptians for food,
melons, cucumbers, and onions, are the most common. Concern-
ing the last, he says, ' they are sweeter than in any other place in
the world ;' and in the streets of Cairo, they sell them ready prepar-
ed for eating.


THIS word occurs only in one passage of scripture (Numb. xi. 5),
where it is joined with leeks and onions, and would, therefore, seem
to be some plant of a similar kind.


THE Hebrew word which is translated, 'leek,' in Numb. xi. 5, is.
as we have already noticed, a general term for herbage or grass,
and has been so translated in several passages of our Bible. Re-
ferring to 1 Kings xviii. 5, Harmer says, It can hardly be allowed
to mean leeks, because it is there used to express the food of horses
and mules, but may very well stand for such vegetables as grew
promiscuously with grass, which the succory or endive does, and
this, being of a very cool nature, and much used in Egypt, he
takes to be the herbage intended by the original text.


THIS is a well known vegetable, upon which the industry of
mankind has been exercised with the greatest success and utility.
On passing a field of it, one is struck with astonishment, when he
considers that this apparently insignificant plant may, by the labor
and ingenuity of man, be made to assume an entirely new form
and appearance, and to contribute to pleasure and health, by fur-
nishing us with agreeable and ornamental apparel.

From time immemorial, Egypt was celebrated for the produc-
tion or manufacture of flax. Wrought into inner garments, it con-
stituted the principal dress of the inhabitants, and the priests never
put on any other kind of clothing. The fine linen of Egypt is
celebrated in all ancient authors, and its superior excellence is
mentioned in the sacred Scripture. The manufacure of flax is
still carried on in that country.

In Deut. xxvii. 11, is a prohibition of wearing a garment of flax
and wool. The original word translated 'linen and woollen,' (Lev.
xix. 19), is difficult of explanation. We are inclined to believe that
it must rather refer to a garment of divers sorts, than to what we
call ' linsey woolsey ; ' to one made up of patch- work, differently
colored and arranged, perhaps, for pride and show, like the coat
of many colors made by Jacob for his son Joseph, Gen. xxxvii. 3.

In predicting the gentleness, caution, and tenderness with which
the Messiah should manage his administration, Isaiah (ch. xlii. 3)
happily illustrates it by a proverb : * The bruised reed he shall not
break, and the smoking flax he shall not quench.' He shall not
break even a bruised reed, which snaps asunder immediately when
pressed with any considerable weight; nor shall he extinguish


even the smoking flax, or the wick of a lamp, which, when it first
begins to kindle, is put out hy every little motion. With such
kind and condescending regards to the weakest of his people, and
to the first openings and symptoms of a hopeful character, shall he
proceed till he send forth judgment unto victory, or till he make
his righteous cause victorious. This place is quoted in Matt,
xii. 20, where, by an easy metonomy, the material for the thing
made, flax, is used for the wick of a lamp or taper; and that, by a
synecdoche for the lamp or taper itself, which, when near going
out, yields more smoke than light. 'He will not extinguish, or put
out, the dying lamp.'

In Jer. xiii. 1, a linen girdle is mentioned ; and in Ezek. xl. 3,
a measuring line ofjlax.

Our version having more than once mentioned 'the fine linen of
Egypt,' n umbers of people have been ready to imagine, that their
linen manufactures were of the most delicate kind ; whereas, in
truth, they were but coarse. This is proved by examining that in
which their embalmed bodies are found wrapped up. So Hassel-
quist observes: 'The ancients have said much of the fine linen of
Egypt; and many of our learned men imagine that it was so fine
and precious, that we have even lost the art, and cannot make it so
good. They have been induced to think so by the commen-
dations which the Greeks have lavished on the Egyptian linen.
They had good reason for doing it, for they had no flax
themselves, and were unacquainted with the art of weav-
ing: but were we to compare a piece of Holland linen with the
linen in which the mummies were laid, and which is of the oldest
and best manufacture of Egypt, we shall find that the fine linen of
Egypt is very coarse in comparison with what is now made. The
Egyptian linen was fine, and sought after by kings and princes,
when Egypt was the only country that cultivated flax and knew
how to use it.'

Our translators have been unfortunate in this article, says Dr.
Harris, in supposing that one of the words might signify silk, and
forgetting cloth made of cotton. When Joseph was arrayed in
Egypt as viceroy of that country, they represent him as clothed in
vestures of ' fine linen' (Gen. xli. 42), but being dubious of the
meaning of the word there, they render it 'silk' in the margin. This
was very unhappy : for they not only translate the word ' linen' in
a multitude of other places ; but, certainly, whatever the word sig-
nifies, it cannot mean silk, which was not used, we have reason to
think, in those parts of the world, till long after the time of Joseph.
They have gone farther, for they have made the word 'silk,' the
textual translation of the Hebrew term, in Prov. xxxi. 22, which
verse describes the happy effects of female Jewish industry. ' She
maketh herself coverings of tapestry ; her clothing is pink and
purple.' They suppose, then, that the Jewish women, of not the
highest rank in the time of Solomon, were clothed with vestments
made of a material so precious in former times, we are told, as to
be sold for its weight in gold.


WE now advance a step higher in our botanical researches, and
proceed to a consideration of the dendrology of the sacred writings.

The consecration of groves to the gods of Pagan antiquity is a
circumstance with which every reader of ancient history must be
familiar. The custom is so ancient, that it is thought to have been
antecedent to the consecration of temples and altars. This, how-
ever, is very questionable, for the ashel of Abraham, rendered
* grove' in the English version of the Bible, being differently ex-
pressed from the consecrated groves spoken of in the Old Testa-
ment, is rather to be understood of a single tree ; perhaps the oak,
or the tamarisk. But be this as it may, it is certain that the use of
sacred groves, for the celebration of mysteries, is of very high an-
tiquity, and perhaps of all others the most universal. At .first there
were in these groves neither temple nor altar : they were simple re-
treats, to which there was no access for the profane, or such as were
not devoted to the service of the gods. Afterwards temples were
built in these retreats, and to preserve so ancient a custom, they
took care, whenever they had it in their power, to plant groves round
the temples and altars, which groves were not only consecrated to
the gods in honor of whom the temples had been built, but were
themselves a place of sanctuary or an asylum for criminals, who fled
thither for refuge.

This very prevalent custom seems to have originated in the con-
ception, that shade and solitude gave an air of mystery and devo-
tion to religious services ; and were adapted to inspire the worship-
pers with a solemn and superstitious dread of those divinities which
they were taught to believe were present in such sacred places.
'If you find,' says Seneca, 'a grove thick set with ancient oaks, that
have shot up to a vast height, the tallness of the wood, the retire-
ment of the place, and the pleasantness of the shade, immediately
make you think it to be the residence of some god.' The prophet
also intimates this to have been the reason : 'They sacrifice upon
the tops of the mountains, and burn incense upon the hills, under
oaks and poplars, and elms, because the shadow thereof is good? Hos.
iv. 13.

As these groves were the more immediate scenes of these im-
pure rites which formed the leading feature of the systems of idol-
latrous worship, the Jewish legislator prohibited his people from
planting trees around or near the altar of God : ' Thou shalt not


TREES. 261

plant thee a grove of any trees, near unto the altar of the Lord thy
God,' Deut. xvi. 21. From their proneness to imitate the customs
of the surrounding nations, however, the Jewish people became
guilty of sacrificing in high places and in consecrated groves : and
one of their kings carried his impiety so far as to plant one of these
groves at Jerusalem, 2 Kings xxi. 7.

Landseer has attempted to show, that the word rendered 'groves'
in our translation of the Scriptures, means rather a kind of orrery
or armillary machine used for purposes of divination, which he sup-
poses to have been about the height of a man.

It is certain that the word translated ' groves' cannot always be
interpreted to mean a gi-ove of trees, since we read of setting up
groves ' under every green tree' (2 Kings, xvii. 8, &c.) ; nor can it
always be strictly taken as an image, for we also read that the peo-
ple * made them molten images, and made a grove, and worshipped
all the host of heaven,' and used divination, ver. 16, 17. (See also
Jufl^es vi. 25, 26, 28, '30). Hence Selden supposes, that the term
was used for the images worshipped in the groves, especially As-
tarte or Venus. Others have conjectured that as by Baal was
meant the sun, so by ashre or groves' was meant the moon, wor-
shipped as the * queen of heaven^'



THE apple tree, is, in the several passages where it is spoken of,
represented as one of the most noble trees in the garden of nature,
emitting a delightful fragrance, and bearing fruit of a most delicious
kind. 'As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my
beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great
delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste,' Cant. ii. 3. * I will go
up to the palm tree, I will take hold of the boughs thereof; now
also thy breast shall be as the clusters of the vine, and the smell of
thy nose like apples,' chap. vii. 8. In the following passage it is
classed with those trees which are peculiarly beautiful and valua-
ble : 'The vine is dried up, and the -fig tree languisheth ; the pome-
granate tree, the palm tree also, and the apple tree, even all the trees
of the field are withered: because joy is withered away from the
sons of men,' Joel i. 12.

There are six places in which the word occurs ; and from them
we learn that it was thought the noblest of the trees of the wood,
and that its fruit was very sweet or pleasant (Cant. ii. 3,) of the col-
or of gold (Prov. xxv. Jl,) extremely fragrant (Cant. viii. 8,) and
proper for those to smell who were ready to faint, chap. ii. 5.
The fifth and sixth passages (Cant. vii. 5, Joel, i. 12,) contain noth-
ing particular, but the description the other four give, perfectly an-
swers to the citron-tree and its fruit.

To the manner of serving up apples in his court, Solomon seems
to refer, when he says, 'A word fitly spoken is like apples
[citrons] of gold in pictures of silver,' Prov. xxv. 11 : whether as
Maimonides supposes, wrought with open work like baskets, or cu-
riously chased, it is not material to determine.


THE almond tree is too well known to need a description here.
It flowers in the month of January, or February, and by March
brings its fruits to maturity. To this there is a reference in the vi-


sion of Jeremiah (ch. i. 11, 12); 'The word of the Lord came unto
me, saying, Jeremiah, what seest thou ? And I said, I see a rod
of an almond tree. Then said the Lord unto me, Thou hast well
seen, for I am hastening or watching over my word to fulfil it.'
In this passage there is one of those paranomasias so frequent in
the Hebrew Scriptures, but whicli it is impossible to preserve in
any translation.

It is probable, as Parkhurst has suggested, that the chiefs of the
tribes bore each an almond rod, as emblematical of their vigilance
(Numb. xvii. 68) ; the dead almond rod of Aaron, which after-
wards blossomed and bore fruit, was a very proper emblem of Him
who first rose from the dead.

Solomon has beautifully described the approach and appearance
of old age, according to the generality of interpreters, in the ex-
pression, 4 The almond tree shall flourish' (Eccl. xii. 5) its white
blossoms appearing so soon, and presenting themselves on the bare
branches ; but it must be admitted that there is considerable force
in what Mr. Harmer has urged against this interpretation. Gray
hairs, he remarks, are quite consistent with vigorous and unailing
old age ; besides which, it is very untoward to suppose that the ap-
pearance of these blossoms, which marks out the finishing of the
winter, the approach of the spring, the pleasantest time of the year,
and exhibits the tree in all its beauty, should be used to represent
the approach of the winter of human life, followed by death, and a
disappearing from the land of the living. Surely the one, he con-
tinues, can hardly be intended to be descriptive of the other: and,
if not, some other explanation must be sought for; though this one
seems very early to have obtained, if we may judge from the trans-
lation of the Septuagint.

We have already seen that the Hebrew word signifies, literally,
'a watcher,' and that it is used metaphorically of the almond tree.
Admitting this, Mr. Harmer suggests that the clause may naturally
be interpreted, by explaining it of the frequency of the attendance
of physicians, who appear oftenest at court, and flourish most there
when the prince is in a very declining state, drawing near to death.
See 2 Chronicles xvi. 21. The functions of a physician, with re-
gard to the body, and of a watchman with respect to a palace, are
not unlike: they appear from time to time at court; but much
more observable as well as frequently, in seasons of apprehension
and danger, than at other times.



IT is difficult to conceive the reasons which induced the English
translators to render the Hebrew aumuz * chesnut tree.' It occurs
only in Gen. xxx. 37, and Ezek. xxxi. 8 : in both places the Vul-
gate understand the ' plane tree,' as do the LXX. in the former
passage, but in the latter they have the * fir.' The majority of in-
terpreters concur with the Latin version, which is certainly very
suitable to the sense of the passage in the prophet, which requires
a tree possessing extensive branches, and producing a considerable
shade ; qualities for which the plane tree has ever been celebrated.


fig tree is very Common In Palestine and the East, and it
flourishes with the greatest luxur'-ance in those barren and stony
situations where little else will {Trow.

Figs are of two sorts, the ' 'ooccore,' and the 'kermoirse.' The
boccore, or early fig, is produced in June, though the kermouse,
the fig properly so called, which is preserved, and made up into
cakes, is rarely ripe before August. There is also a long dark co-
lored kermouse^ that sometimes hangs upon the trees all the win-
ter. For these figs generally hang a long time upon the tree be-
fore they drop off; whereas the boccores drop as soon as they are
ripe, and, according to the beautiful allusion of the prophet Nahum,
fall into the mouth of the eater, upon being shaken,' ch. iii. 12.
Dr. Shaw, to whom we are indebted for this information, remarks,
that these trees do not properly blossom, or send out flowers, as
we render Hab. iii. 17. They may rather be said to shoot out their


fruit, which they do, like so many little buttons, with their flowers,
small and imperfect as they are, inclosed within them.

When this intelligent traveller visited Palestine, in the latter end
of March, the boccore was far from being in a state of maturity ;
for, in the scripture expression, ' the time of figs was not yet'
(Mark xi. 13,) or not till the middle or latter end of June. The
'time' here mentioned, is supposed by some authors, to be the
third year, in which the fruit of a particular kind of fig tree is said
to come to perfection. But this species, if there be any such, needs
to be further known and described, before any argument can be
founded upon it. Dionysius Syrus, as he is translated by Dr. Lpf-
tus, is more to the purpose: 'it was not the time of figs,' he re-
marks, because it was the month Nisan, when trees yielded blos-
soms, and not fruit. It frequently happens in Barbary, however,
and it need not be doubted in the wanner climate of Palestine, that,
according to the quality of the preceding season, some of the more
forward and vigorous trees will now and then yield a few ripe figs,
six weeks or more before the full season. Something like this may
be alluded to by the prophet Hosea, when he says he ' saw their
fathers as the first ripe in the fig tree at her first time' (ch. ix. 10 ;)
and by Isaiah, who, speaking of the beauty of Samaria, and her
rapid declension, says, she 'shall be a fading flower, and as the
hasty fruit before the summer ; which, when he that looketh upon
it seeth, while it is yet in his hand, he eateth it up,' ch. xxviii. 4.

When the boccore draws near to perfection, then the kennouse,
the summer fig, or caricse, begin to be formed, though they rarely
ripen before August ; at which time there appears a third crop, or
the winter fig, as it may be called. This is usually of a much lon-
ger shape and darker complexion than the kermouse, hanging and
ripening on the tree, even after the leaves are shed ; and, provided
the winter prove mild and temperate, is gathered as a delicious
morsel in the spring. We learn from Pliny, that the fig tree was
bifera, or bore two crops of figs; namely, the boccore, as we may
imagine, and the kermouse ; though what he relates afterwards,
should intimate that there was also a winter crop.

It is well known, that the fruit of these prolific trees always pre-
cedes the leaves ; and consequently, when our Saviour saw one of
them in full vigor having leaves (Mark xi. 13), he might, according
to the common course of nature, very justly 'look for frnit;' and
haply find some boccores, if not some winter figs, likewise, upon it.
But the difficulties connected with the narration of this transaction,
will not allow of its dismissal in this summary manner. We say, in
the narration, for we apprehend that the remark of Dr. Shaw is
quite satisfactory as to the reasonableness of our Lord's conduct on
the occasion, notwithstanding the multiplied objections \vliich igno-
rance and irreligion have urged against it

We now look at the construction of the passage, which has occa-
sioned so much embarrassment to commentators, and has given rise
to more discussion, perhaps, than any other narrative in the New


Testament. In our translation, the passage stands thus, which is
strictly according to the order of the words in the original text :
4 And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he (Je-
sus) was hungry: and seeing a fig tree afar off, having leaves, he
came, if haply he might find anything thereon: and when he came
to it, he found nothing hut leaves ; for the time of figs was not yet.
And Jesus said unto it, " No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever/' '
Mark xi. 12 14. Here the whole difficulty results from the con-
nexion of the two last clauses of the 13th verse: 'And when he
came to it he found nothing but leaves for the time of figs was not
yel' for the declaration, that it was not yet fig harvest, cannot be
(as the order of the words seem to import) the reason why there
was nothing but leaves on the tree ; because, as we have seen, the
fig is of that tribe of vegetables on which the fruit appears before
the leaf. Certainly, fruit, says Mr. Weston, might be expected of a
tree whose leaves were distinguished afar off, and whose fruit, if it.
bore any, preceded the leaves. If the words had been, ' He found
nothing but green figs, for it was not the time of ripe fruit,' says
Campbell, we should have justly concluded that the latter clause was
meant as the reason of what is affirmed in the former, but, as they
stand, they do not admit this interpretation.

All will be clear, however, if we consider the former of these clau-
ses as parenthetical, and admit such a sort oftrajedio as is not un-
frequentin the ancient languages, though in translating into modern
ones a transposition ought to be adopted, to adapt such passages to
the genius of those languages ; and such is here employed by Dr.
Campbell. The sense of the passage will then be asfollows: 'He
came to see if he might find anything thereon (for it was not yet the
time to gather figs) ; but he found leaves only ; and he said,' &c.
Similar inversions and trajections have been pointed out by com-
mentators in various other parts of the New and Old Testaments,
and Campbell particularly notices one in this very gospel (ch. xvi.
3, 4) : ' They said, Who shall roll us away the stone ? and when
they looked, the stone was rolled away, for it was very great' that
is, * They said, who shall roll us away the stone, for it was very
great,' fee.

The spiritual application of this transaction to the case of the Jews,
is sufficiently obvious.

In the East, the fig tree grows to a considerable size; so large,

Online LibraryWilliam CarpenterScripture natural history; containing a descriptive account of the quadrupeds, birds, fishes, insects, reptiles, serpents, plants, trees, minerals, gems, and precious stones, mentioned in the Bible → online text (page 23 of 39)