Rose or Lily?

"I am the rose of Sharon, And the lily of the valleys" (Song of Solomon 2, 1)

In a previous post we brought the problem of identifying species that appear in the Bible.

In this post I’d like to discuss the rose and the lily from Song of Solomon.

From taking several English translations, we can see that we have a problem…

“I am the rose of Sharon, [And] the lily of the valleys”  (KJV/NASB/NIV)

“I am a narcissus of Sharon, A lily of the valleys” (DARBY)

I’m a flower from Sharon, a lily of the valleys (ISV)

“I am the lily of the field and the rose of the valleys” (JUB)

I am a meadow flower from Sharon, a lily from the valleys” (NET Bible)

Two flowers or one?

Most translations point to two flowers, most of them suggest rose and lily. But there are some more suggestions.

Can we tell for sure what are really the flowers?

In the Hebrew, the first flower is called Havatzelet of the Sharon. The second is called Shoshana of the valleys.

In Biblical poetry, this is called Parallelism as a rhetorical device. The sentence is built of two parts where both parts emphasize each other.

There are several types of parallelism styles in the Bible. The most common is what we call “Synonymous parallelism” in which the same or similar thoughts are repeated.

In our case we have Synonymous parallelism. It means that the word “Sharon” is the same as “Valleys” and the two flowers are in fact one, or two that have similar attributes.

Havatzelet (a  rose?)

The first flower – Havatzelet in Hebrew – was translated by many to “rose”.

It appears only once more in the Bible in Isaiah:

The wilderness and the wasteland shall be glad for them,
And the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose (Isaiah 35, 1)

There are good reasons to believe that Solomon and Isaiah did not mean rose…

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We are looking for a magnificent flower that grows in the Sharon. Roses do not grow in the Sharon. In fact, wild roses are quite rare in Israel. They are found only in the mountains in the north and they are not impressive.

So if we cannot tell what is Havatzelet, we can check what is the second flower, and assume that those are the same flower of similar ones.

Shoshana (a Lily?)

Shoshana or Shoshan (Lily?) appears many times in the Bible and in different contexts.

Its Hebrew root is the number Six (Shesh). So it makes sense that this is a flower with six petals – like the lily!

In Song of Solomon it appears many times as a flower that was growing in the gardens:

My beloved has gone to his garden, To the beds of spices, To feed his flock in the gardens,
And to gather lilies (Song of Solomon 6, 2)

In Psalms it appears in a context that is not quite clear and can be interpreted in many ways:

To the Chief Musician. Set to The Lilies. A Psalm of David (Psalms 69, 1)

But when Solomon built the temple, the “Shoshan” appeared as a geometric shape that is used on top of the pillars:

  • “The capitals which were on top of the pillars in the hall were in the shape of lilies, four cubits” (1 Kings 7, 19)
  • “The tops of the pillars were in the shape of lilies (1 Kings 7, 22)
  • “It was a handbreadth thick; and its brim was shaped like the brim of a cup, like a lily blossom. It contained two thousand baths” (1 Kings 7, 26)

So the “Shoshan” is first of all a beautiful flower with six petals that grows in the valleys of the Sharon and in the gardens of Solomon.

It has some special meaning that is used in music in Psalms.

And it is also a shape that is used as a geometric decoration in the temple.

Archaeology comes to our aid

A coin that was discovered in Israel and is dated to the Persian period (Ezra and Nehemiah) shed some more light on this topic.

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The sign of “Shoshan” on old coin and on New Israeli Shekel

The Ancient coin has a flower on it that is a symbol of the province of Judea in the Persian period. This coin was used when stamping the coin of the New Israeli Shekel.

This symbol resembles very much the Royal French symbol “Fleur-de-lis” or the symbol of the scouts!

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Fleur-de-lis

 

Royal Flower symbols

So the French Fleur-de-lis may be originated from a Jewish symbol in the Persian period. And back to our question – What is this flower.

We have Three suggestions.

  1. Lily – The Lily is a white flower with six petals that grows wild in Israel in very rare places at the cliffs of the mountains. Not very probable for a flower that grows in the valleys of the Sharon and in the gardens of Solomon.lily
  2. Narcissus – A white flower with six petals and good blossom that is common in the mountains and the valleys of the Sharon. It can be the “Shoshan” that we are looking for!narcissus

Iris – A colored flower that grows in Israel in many places, including the Sharon. The Iris resembles most then the others the Fleur-de-lis and the symbol on the Jewish coin!1787296-1600x1200

Conclusion

The “rose” and “lily” that appear in most translations of Song of Solomon are probably not rose and lily.

It makes more sense that those are the same flower or two similar flowers that their shape was used as a decoration in the first temple, and later on coins.

The flowers in the Bible could be narcissus but more probably an Iris. Certainly not a rose.

Who is really the Eagle in the Bible?

The word “Eagle” “Nesher” in Hebrew, appears 28 times in the Bible.

Eagle is the name of a spices of bird that appears more than any other bird name in the Bible. Sometimes the scriptures refer to the bird itself, and sometimes they refer to it symbolically.

But what is the exact bird spices that the writers of the Bible referred to when talking about the Eagle?

Depending of your country of residence, you may think of the Eagle as what you call Eagle in your home. In North America – The American Bald Eagle. In Europe and the the British Islands – The Golden Eagle. Can any of those be the Eagle in the Bible?

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Bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

Problem of identifying the species in the Bible

Whether you read the Bible in Hebrew, or in any of its many translations, we have a big issue with identifying what is the animal, the bird or the flower that the Bible call by name.

There are three reasons to this problem.

First, in ancient times, the science of systematics and taxonomy did not exist. People called an animal or a bird by different names in different places. Moreover, they sometimes called different species with the same general name. So a name of animal in the Bible does not necessarily be an exact name of one specific animal or bird.

Second, Once the Jews were exiled from the country, they did not know all the natural animals of Israel, and new better the animals in their new countries. So even if they continued to read the Bible in Hebrew, they lost the relation to the original animal that their fathers knew.

Third, when the Bible was translated to many languages, first Aramaic and Greek, then Latin, and from the 16th century to all other European languages, the translators translated the names of animals and birds to species that they knew in their own homelands. They did not know what was the original meaning.

What do we know about the Eagle in the Bible?

So we are in some kind of problem here, but as the Eagle is so important in the Bible, we want to find what it is, so we can see the exact bird when we visit Israel!

Let’s open our Bible and see what evidences we can find about the Eagle.

The Eagle is unclean animal and must not be eaten:

In Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14, the eagle appears in the list among other birds that are not allowed to be eaten by the people of Israel

The Eagle has very large wings:

“But there was another great eagle with large wings and many feathers” (Ezekiel 17, 7)

The Eagle can fly long distances and up to very high places:

  • “The Lord will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flies” (Deuteronomy 28, 49)
  • “But those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eaglesThey shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40, 31)
  • Though you ascend as high as the eagleAnd though you set your nest among the stars, From there I will bring you down (Obadiah 1, 4)

The Eagle nests in cliffs on high mountains:

  • Your fierceness has deceived you, The pride of your heart, O you who dwell in the clefts of the rock, Who hold the height of the hill!
    Though you make your nest as high as the eagleI will bring you down from there (Jeremiah 49, 16)
  • Does the eagle mount up at your command, And make its nest on high? (Job 39, 27)

Can we tell by now who is the Eagle?

According to everything we read so far, the Golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), which is also a relative of the American Bald eagle is a good fit: It is large, fly high, can pass long distances and nest in high cliffs.

The Golden eagle is common in Europe and England. It also exists in Israel today, although it is quite rare.

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Golden eagle (aquila chrysaetos)

But what about those verses…

  • The eye that mocks his father, And scorns obedience to his mother, The ravens of the valley will pick it out, And the young eagles will eat it. (Proverbs 30, 17)
  • Make yourself bald and cut off your hair, Because of your precious children;
    Enlarge your baldness like an eagleFor they shall go from you into captivity (Micah 1, 16)

From the first verse in Proverbs 30, we learn that the eagle, just like the raven may eat eyes of animals. Maybe dead animals. This is not typical to the Golden eagle that catch its prey and eats the whole of it.

But from the second verse in Micah, we learn that the eagle is bald. This is certainly not the Golden eagle!

The meaning of the word Nesher (Eagle in Hebrew)

The word Nesher comes of the Hebrew root N.Sh.R

This root is used to describe something that falls out of. For example, leaves or fruits that fall from a tree, or hair that falls from the head leading to baldness.

Is there another bird that exists in Israel and fit all verses in the Bible regarding the Eagle?

Yes! there is. The name of this bird in English is Vulture.

It is a large bird of prey that lives in cliffs. It eats only dead animals and its head is bald.

In modern Israel, the vulture is the bird that we call Nesher.

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Griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus)

Where can we see the Biblical Eagles (Vultures) in Israel?

The griffon vulture is an endangered bird.

There are two main places where you can see vultures in their native environment.

  • Gamla in the Golan Heights.
  • Valley of Zin near Ben-Gurion tomb in the Negev.

In “Hai-Bar Carmel natural reserve”, Near Haifa, vultures bred are introduced back to nature. The vultures can be seen there in cages. This is a special Israeli project that aims to help increasing the vultures population in nature.