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" in Word Study
The Hebrew name shushan or shoshan, i.e., "whiteness", was used as the general name of several plants common to Syria, such as the tulip, iris, anemone, gladiolus, ranunculus, etc. Some interpret it, with much probability, as denoting in the Old Testament the water-lily (Nymphoea lotus of Linn.), or lotus (Cant. 2:1, 2; 2:16; 4:5; 5:13; 6:2, 3; 7:2). "Its flowers are large, and they are of a white colour, with streaks of pink. They supplied models for the ornaments of the pillars and the molten sea" (1 Kings 7:19, 22, 26; 2 Chr. 4:5). In the Canticles its beauty and fragrance shadow forth the preciousness of Christ to the Church. Groser, however (Scrip. Nat. Hist.), strongly argues that the word, both in the Old and New Testaments, denotes liliaceous plants in general, or if one genus is to be selected, that it must be the genus Iris, which is "large, vigorous, elegant in form, and gorgeous in colouring."
The lilies (Gr. krinia) spoken of in the New Testament (Matt. 6:28; Luke 12:27) were probably the scarlet martagon (Lilium Chalcedonicum) or "red Turk's-cap lily", which "comes into flower at the season of the year when our Lord's sermon on the mount is supposed to have been delivered. It is abundant in the district of Galilee; and its fine scarlet flowers render it a very conspicous and showy object, which would naturally attract the attention of the hearers" (Balfour's Plants of the Bible).
Of the true "floral glories of Palestine" the pheasant's eye (Adonis Palestina), the ranunuculus (R. Asiaticus), and the anemone (A coronaria), the last named is however, with the greatest probability regarded as the "lily of the field" to which our Lord refers. "Certainly," says Tristram (Nat. Hist. of the Bible), "if, in the wondrous richness of bloom which characterizes the land of Israel in spring, any one plant can claim pre-eminence, it is the anemone, the most natural flower for our Lord to pluck and seize upon as an illustration, whether walking in the fields or sitting on the hill-side." "The white water-lily (Nymphcea alba) and the yellow water-lily (Nuphar lutea) are both abundant in the marshes of the Upper Jordan, but have no connection with the lily of Scripture."
(Heb. shushan, shoshannah
). Although there is little doubt that the Hebrew word denotes some plant of the lily species, it is by no means certain what individual of this class it specially designates. The plant must have been a conspicuous object on the shores of the Lake of Gennesaret, (Matthew 6:28
; Luke 12:27
) it must have flourished in the deep broad valleys of Palestine, (Solomon 2:1
) among the thorny shrubs, ib. (Solomon 2:2
) and pastures of the desert, ib. (Solomon 2:16
) and must have been remarkable for its rapid and luxuriant growth. (Hosea 14:5
), Ecclus. 39:14. That its flowers were brilliant in color would seem to be indicated in (Matthew 6:28
) where it is compared with the gorgeous robes of Solomon; and that this color was scarlet or purple is implied in (Solomon 5:13
) There appears to be no species of lily which so completely answers all these requirements as the Lilium chalcedonicum
, or scarlet martagon, which grows in profusing in the Levant. But direct evidence on the point is still to be desired from the observation of travellers. (It is very probable that the term lily
here is general, not referring to any particular species, but to a large class of flowers growing in Palestine, and resembling the lily, as the tulip, iris, gladiolus, etc. --ED.)
- lil'-i (shushan (1 Ki 7:19
), shoshannah (2 Ch 4:5
; Song 2:1
f; Hos 14:5
); plural (Song 2:16
f; 7:2; Ecclesiasticus 39:14; 50:8); krinon (Mt 6:28
; Lk 12:27
)): The Hebrew is probably a loan word from the Egyptian the original s-sh-n denoting the lotus-flower, Nymphaea lotus. This was probably the model of the architectural ornament, translated "lily-work," which appeared upon the capitals of the columns in the temple porch (1 Ki 7:19
), upon the top of the pillars (1 Ki 7:22
) and upon the turned-back rim of the "molten sea" (1 Ki 7:26
Botanically the word shoshannah, like the similar modern Arabic Susan, included in all probability a great many flowers, and was used in a way at least as wide as the popular use of the English word "lily." The expression "lily of the valleys" (Song 2:1) has nothing to do with the plant of that name; the flowers referred to appear to have been associated with the rank herbage of the valley bottoms (Song 4:5); the expression "His lips are as lilies" (Song 5:13) might imply a scarlet flower, but more probably in oriental imagery signifies a sweet-scented flower; the sweet scent of the lily is referred to in Ecclesiasticus 39:14, and in 50:8 we read of "lilies by the rivers of water." The beauty of the blossom is implied in Hos 14:5, where Yahweh promises that repentant Israel shall "blossom as the lily." A "heap of wheat set about with lilies" (Song 7:2) probably refers to the smoothed-out piles of newly threshed wheat on the threshing-floors decorated by a circlet of flowers.
The reference of our Lord to the "lilies of the field" is probably, like the Old Testament references, quite a general one.
The Hebrew and the Greek very likely include not only any members of the great order Liliaceae, growing in Palestine, e.g. asphodel, squill, hyacinth, ornithogalum ("Star of Bethlehem"), fritillaria, tulip and colocynth, but also the more showy irises ("Tabor lilies" "purple irises," etc.) and the beautiful gladioli of the Natural Order. Irideae and the familiar narcissi of the Natural Order Amaryllideae.
In later Jewish literature the lily is very frequently referred to symbolically, and a lotus or lily was commonly pictured on several Jewish coins.
E. W. G. Masterman
Also see definition of "Lily
" in Word Study