Notes Cilician

The beams of our house are cedar, and our rafters of fir.

Song of Solomon 1:17 (KJV)

The beams of our house are cedar, our rafters are pine.

Song of Solomon 1:17 (RSV)

The beams of our grand house are cedars, our rafters juniper trees.

Song of Solomon 1:17 (NWT)

Off to a taxonomic bad start. What do you think? What timber was used in the rafters, fir as in KJV, pine as in RSV, or juniper as in the NWT? In this exceptional case, each version has its own rendering for the plant name underlined. No one can say for sure which version is correct. There are no voucher specimens. You will hear me lament that fact many times. And even today, the names fir, juniper, and pine mean different things to different people. If I include them all, I will have more tentative species in my faith-based herbal here. Zohary (1982) lists Abies cilicica, Cupressus sempervirens, and Juniperus excelsa as candidates for the word berosh, found more than 30 times in the scriptures, and interpreted to mean coniferous trees with small scale-like or short linear leaves rather than pine-like needles. Amazingly, he concludes by considering berosh a collective name for all three. Perhaps not so amazing; we have popular scrub oak and scrub pine concepts that are suprageneric here in the United States, and our English word conifer embraces more kinds of gymnosperms than Zohary's berosh. When Zohary encountered berosh associated with the word for Lebanon or erez, he thinks they mean Abies cilicica, which grows in Lebanon mixed with cedar. "The great timber negotiations between King Solomon and Hiram of Tyre undoubtedly included this outstanding species of Lebanese tree, whose southernmost limit of distribution is today the village of Slenfe (at a latitude of about 34° North)". Jane Philips (1958) noted that the tree still occurred near Beirut and Tripoli. Private growers of the trees said they were used for medicine, the resin used for cough medicines and salves. Twigs or dried leaves were boiled up in cough syrups. To prepare the salve, leaves were ground up in a mortar to apply to wounds. Algerians are said to sprinkle powdered leaves in butter as a vulnerary (Philips, 1958).

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