Mislabeled in translation

Because Bible translators knew little about botany, they often used the name of a plant they were familiar with, not necessarily knowing if it grew in the Holy Land. As scholars have learned more about the plants that were in the Middle East in biblical times, they have been able to identify more closely which plants are actually referred to in the Bible.

While not all experts agree, this list reflects the current thinking of many botanists.

Name in the Bible What botanists think it is

Apple Apricot

Corn Wheat

Dove's dung Star-of-Bethlehem

(Ornithogalum umbrellatum)

Frankincense Resin of Boswellia tree

Husks Pods of carob tree

(Ceratonia siliqua)

Hyssop Old Testament: Syrian marjoram

(Origanum syriacum)

New Testament: Sorghum

Locusts of Mark 1:6 Fruits of carob tree

Myrrh Resin from rock-roses

(Cistus creticus)

Rose of Sharon Narcissus tazetta

Sycamine Black mulberry (Morus nigra)

Tares Darnel grass (Lolium)

These biblical plants are known by their correct names: almond, aloe, barley, bay tree, cedar of Lebanon, coriander, date palm, dill, fig, flax, garlic, grape, leek, melons, mint, myrtle, oak, olive, onion, papyrus, plane tree, pomegranate, reeds, and tamarisk.

Biblical plant resources


"Planting a Bible Garden," by F. Nigel Hepper (Fleming H. Revell, $19.95).

"Plants of the Bible," by Harold N. Moldenke and Alma L. Moldenke (Dover Publications, $11.95).

For children: "Consider the Lilies: Plants of the Bible," by John Paterson, Katherine Paterson, and Anne Dowden (Clarion books, $7.95).

"Plants of the Bible and How to Grow Them," By Allan A. Swenson (Citadel Press, $9.95).


The biblical garden of First Congregational Church, Fair Haven, Vt. www.sover.net/~hkfamily/Pages/Gardens.html.

Neot Kedumim, a biblical landscape preserve in Israel, www.neot-kedumim.org.il.

Catholic Dictionary, Plants in the Bible, www.newadvent.org/ cathen/12149a.htm.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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