Plants of the Bible

Two new books about the plants of the Bible

Plants are mentioned countless times in the Bible -- from the "apples" of Genesis and the "bitter herbs" of Passover to the New Testament's "lilies of the field." Such references abound in ordinary conversation. But it may surprise you that most of us don't know as much about this topic as we think we do.I once wrote a long article and sidebar about this. When I give talks on the subject, one of the questions that always comes up is: Where can I read more about this?

Unfortunately, books on biblical plants tend to go out of print fairly quickly. So print references may be hard to locate except at your library. But I was delighted to find two new books on the topic.

"Figs, Dates, Laurel, and Myrrh” (Timber Press, $24.95, hardcover) is an authoritative – but accessible -- look at not only the plants of the Bible (including the Apocrypha), but also the Quran (Koran).

Its author, Lytton John Musselman, is professor of botany and chair of the department of biological science at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., who has lived and worked in several Arab countries.His goal: “to study every plant mentioned in the Bible and the Quran growing in nature; to learn how local people still use these plants today; to compare current uses with how people used these plants in ancient times; to establish what controversies, past and present, surround these plants’ identities; and, generally, to assimilate all I could about this remarkable assemblage of plants.”

The result is this interesting and worthwhile book. Musselman takes more than 80 plants and discusses how each is mentioned in the Bible or Koran, its habitat, and its traditional and current uses, plus he often adds more interesting information about everything from almonds to garlic and frankincense to rose of Sharon.

I highly recommend it.

Written in a more popular style, “Foods Jesus Ate and How to Grow Them” (Skyhorse Publishing, $14.95, paperback) is by garden writer Allan A. Swenson, who also wrote “Plants of the Bible,” “Herbs of the Bible,” and “Flowers of the Bible.”

Although this volume talks about the research that’s been done on plants mentioned in the Bible and the conclusions that experts have reached, its main focus is highlighting the fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains of the Holy Land and explaining how to grow them.

It also includes an extensive collection of nontraditional recipes that fit right into modern diets – watermelon smoothie, leek soup, and honey bread, for instance.

As more churches and groups plan and plant biblical gardens each year,  Swenson’s guide will serve as a helpful how-to guide, with chapters devoted to the basics of growing, composting, and container gardening.There are also nice sections on gardening with children and Neot Kedumim, the 625-acre biblical landscape reserve in Israel.

If the plants in the Bible interest you, then these two books are an excellent start on the journey to learning more.

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