Category Archives: Plants in the Early Church

Myrrh Tree and Resin

Bible References: Genesis 37.25; Esther 2.12; Psalm 48.8; Proverbs 7.17; Matthew 2.11; Revelation 18.13.

Myrrh use was recorded throughout the Bible. In Genesis, Joseph was sold to Ishmaelites, who included myrrh in their caravan traveling to Egypt. Esther completed a twelve-month beauty treatment with myrrh before she was taken to King Xerxes. Myrrh perfumed robes of a king  and the bed of an adulteress. Myrrh was catalogued seven times in Song of Songs to describe the Lover, the Maid (Bride), and Solomon’s gardens. In Revelation, John listed myrrh as a commodity no one would buy after Rome fell.

Despite the various times myrrh was identified in the Bible, three times stand out: The earliest is in Exodus. Myrrh was a component of anointing oil used in the tabernacle. This same anointing oil was used in the Temple in first-century Jerusalem when Jesus taught there. Second, myrrh was a gift that wise men brought Jesus at his birth. There, myrrh symbolized the deity of Jesus; he was the Son of God. Also, myrrh represented “gifts.” God gave his son as a gift to mankind. Thirty-three years after Jesus’s birth, Jesus gave his life as a gift for mankind. In turn, the gift that Jesus wants from each of us is that we belief in him as risen Savior. When we belief in Jesus as Savior, we accept God’s gift of his son and Jesus’s gift of his life. Third and finally, myrrh was used in Jesus’s burial. Following Jesus’s death, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus wrapped Jesus’s body in linen saturated with myrrh and aloes. Then, they laid Jesus’s body in a tomb carved in rock.

The Myrrh Tree

New Testament myrrh was from a different plant than in the Old Testament. Most myrrh in the Roman Empire came from the Commiphora myrrha plant; however, in Israel the plant used to make myrrh was the C. abyssinica (C. habessinica, myrrh tree, Arabian myrrh, Yemen myrrh). Probably, the myrrh used by Nicodemus and Joseph was from the C. abyssinica plant, because it was readily available in Judah. The Hebrew word for myrrh is môr or môwr which means bitter because myrrh had a bitter taste.

Myrrh is a dried resin from myrrh trees. The myrrh tree is small, growing only up to twenty feet. The trunk (bole) can be as tall as thirteen feet. Myrrh trees have spiny branches and stems that grow at right-angles from stems. Stems end in sharp spines. Flowers are tiny and inconspicuous. One-or-two round fruits grow each stem; fruit are three-fourth to one-and-one-half inches long.

When myrrh resin is harvested, lateral cuts are made on tree trunks and larger branches. Aromatic gum resin seeps from cuts. When exposed to air, gum hardens forming irregular-shaped yellow or brown globules. Most sold myrrh has sharp-edges and is marble-sized.

Reflection: Because I am interested in Bible plants, I bought a few jars of myrrh resin. The myrrh smelled pleasant; however, I never tasted it. The myrrh just stays in the jar in my closet. I don’t use it to perfume my home. I guess, we could compare my myrrh to a Bible that just lies on a desk or even beside a chair. The Bible never gets opened.

Copyright July 1, 2019; Carolyn A. Roth

Easter Symbols: Plant, Eggs

 

The Easter season last 50 days, from Easter morning through Pentecost eve. There are two preeminent symbols of Easter (besides the cross and empty grave): the lily and the colored egg. Here is the stories of both.

Easter Lily: On Easter morning at my church, the altar is surrounded by blooming Easter lilies. Even window sills in the sanctuary are filled with the white lilies. Many churches that decorate for the Easter service with Easter lilies allow members to buy (sponsor) the lilies as a memorial to friends and relatives or in honor of someone in the church or in their lives. After Resurrection Sunday, individuals can take the flowers home, or, as in our church, donate them to beautify the church grounds.

Although the Easter lily is the pre-eminent symbol of the resurrection of Jesus, most of us don’t know its origins and what we think we know is tradition or legend. For example, one legend is that lilies sprang up in the Garden of Gethsemane after Jesus prayed there during his final hours. Another is that after Mary died, white lilies were found at her empty tomb, despite lily flowers or bulbs not being placed there. The white petals represented Mary’s body and the golden anthers represented her soul.

Although Jesus named the lily of the field when he urged the crowd to not worry (Matthew 6:25-34), the lily of the field isn’t the resurrection lily found in our churches at Easter. A minor prophet, Hosea, identified the resurrection lily and associated it with chastity and innocence. Hosea lived in the final disastrous years of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Hosea averred that Israel’s idol worship was spiritual adultery (Hosea chapter 14).

Through Hosea, God said that if Israel repented, God would cause Israel to blossom like a lily (Lilium candidum). The formerly adulterous kingdom would once again become innocent. The lily is the most mentioned flower in the Bible. It signified hope, purity, and life everlasting. By his death and resurrection, Jesus assured believers that they can become innocent and pure and are guaranteed eternal life with him.

Easter Eggs: The custom of Easter eggs is thought to have originated in the Mesopotamia Christian community. At times, this community stained chicken eggs red in memory of Jesus’ blood. Also, the egg is an ancient symbol of the tomb where Jesus was buried. The shell of the egg is dead, as Jesus’ body was dead in the tomb. But in that tomb as inside the dead shell of an egg, there is the potential for new life to break out. On Easter morning Jesus walked out of the tomb and left it an empty shell. When Christians die, their body is an empty shell in the grave, but their spirit lives. The spirit goes to be with God forever.

Red eggs are given to Orthodox Christians after the Easter Liturgy. They crack their eggs against each other’s. I assume that these eggs are hard boiled otherwise the church could become a mess. The cracking of the eggs symbolizes a wish to break away from the bonds of sin and misery and enter the new life issuing from Christ’s resurrection. In some Christian churches, priests bless and sprinkle eggs with holy water.

In my family home, several days before Easter, mother boiled chicken eggs in their shells until the egg yolk was hard, removed the shells, and placed the eggs in red beet juice in a large jar. The juice permeated the white layer of eggs and turned them pink (red). As children, we had no idea of the significance of these “red beet hard-boiled eggs.” We just knew that they were always served with the Easter meal and tasted good.

April 10, 2018; Copyright Carolyn A. Roth. This post is from my new book: Connecting the Church Calendar, 101 Meditations for Church Season. Check it out at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/

Origin of the Christmas Tree

Contrary to popular belief, the Christmas tree wasn’t adapted from ancient European pagan beliefs. The Christmas tree had a more recent history than pagan practices of first-through-third centuries when pagan Germanic and Scandinavian tribes used the hawthorn or cherry trees or branches in their celebrations. Varieties of both hawthorn and cherry trees common to northern Europe were often deciduous, not evergreen, trees.

Most likely, use of Christmas trees started with medieval plays, popular from the early middle ages (476 AD) to the beginning of the Renaissance (c 1400 AD).  Initially called morality, miracle, and mystery plays, these plays began in churches and taught Bible lessons for everyday life; that is, the plays had a moral. Plays that celebrated Jesus’ birth were linked to the creation story, primarily because Christmas eve was the feast day of Adam and Eve.

In nativity plays, the Garden of Eden was symbolized by a Paradise tree. Paradise trees represented both the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life (Holy Trinity Church). Paradise trees that symbolized the Tree of Knowledge were apple trees or decorated with apples to represent the forbidden fruit. While a Paradise tree that symbolized the Tree of Life was decorated with sweets; sweets round pastry wafers (cookies) symbolized the bread of the Eucharist. Because apple trees were deciduous trees and lost their leaves in winter, the tree evolved into being an evergreen tree.

Over time, the plays became raucous and were moved out of churches into public squares or town centers. Finally, when morality plays were suppressed altogether in the 15th-16th centuries, Paradise trees were moved into homes. Over time red balls substituted for apples, lights were added, and a Star of Bethlehem placed on the tree top.

Traditionally, the Christmas tree was set up on Christmas Eve and taken down on Twelfth Night, the Vigil of the Epiphany. Part of the reason keeping the Christmas tree up for only 12 days was to differentiate the Christmas tree from pagan trees, which often were planted in boxes and remained inside the home the entire winter months.

Christian scholars and historians aren’t sure when evergreen trees were first used as Christmas trees. Evergreen trees retain their green or blue-green color throughout the year, rather than changing color according to the seasons. In cold, snowy, dark winters in Europe, evergreen trees were a sign of everlasting life with God. By the end of the Middle ages, a common legend some Christian’s believed was that when Christ was born, near the shortest day of the year (December 25), every tree on earth produced new green shoots despite their ice and snow coverings.4

In 21st century United States, popular choices for Christmas trees are fir, pine, spruce, cypress, and cedar. Churches that understand that Christmas trees are distinct from pagan worship often include a 15–20 foot tree in their sanctuary. Below the evergreen tree are placed red poinsettia. What we think of as flaming red petals are poinsettia leaves. Poinsettias are a recent addition to Christmas decorations; but, perhaps, 100 years from now they will be part of Christmas traditions.

Reflection: Are you okay with having a Christmas tree in your home during Christmastide? What about having one in your church sanctuary?

Copyright 11/15/17: Carolyn A. Roth

http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com

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Zestful Life in God

cinnamomum_verum_spices

Bible Reference: In Revelation chapter 18, cinnamon is mentioned as a valuable spice.

The Story:  When John wrote Revelation, he prophesied the end of Rome and the Roman Empire. At the same time, John was writing under the direction of the Holy Spirit; therefore, his writings could refer to world systems which operate today or in the future. From this perspective Revelations 18 could predict a future collapse of the commercial-economic systems of the world from the perspective of world leaders, merchants, and individual involved in commerce on the seas.

These verses demonstrated the inter-connections of politics and trade, with an immediate application to shipping. All countries are connected by shipping, e.g., the United States gets oil from the Middle East, clothing from China, and ships food to African countries and coal to Asia. The fall of naval commerce will have national and worldwide effects. Within each country, individual jobs and buying power will be cut. Taxable income will be reduced, national debt will increase, and banks will fail. Private industries, e.g., the health care industry which consumes about 15 percent of the U.S. gross national product, will be curtailed severely. Eventually, governments will collapse.

John prophesied that when commerce failed, there would be no cargoes of cinnamon and spice. Most of us could get along without spices; it is difficult to imagine why cinnamon was mentioned in a list of valuable cargo items. Yet, in the Biblical world, the cinnamon trade was huge. Tons of cinnamon used for rituals, medicine, and everyday purposes. Egyptians used cinnamon in embalming potions. Cinnamon was a key ingredient in the Tabernacle anointing oil (Exodus 30:23-25). Medically, cinnamon was used to reduce inflammation, promote menstruation, and stimulate the urinary tract. Along with other perfumes, cinnamon was used to perfume bed linens and clothing (Proverbs 7:17). Cinnamon was used to mask smells. In the first century Pliny wrote that the market price for an Egyptian pound (350 grams) of cinnamon was over 1000 denarius or about 2.5 years wage for a typical Hebrew worker.

Cinnamon 

Bark, Cheekwood Garden

The Bible cinnamon was Cinnamomum zeylanicum, also known as Cinnamomum verem. Cinnamon is an aromatic tree bark used as a spice. The cinnamon tree was native to Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) and the southeast coast of India. Today, all commercial cinnamon grows in plantations. The cinnamon tree does not grow naturally in Israel; however, in 2012 the Jerusalem Botanical Garden we saw small specimens in the Conservatory.

The cinnamon tree is a small, bushy, and evergreen. It grows 30-40 feet tall, often with wide spreading branches. Young branches, or shoots, are crimson often with dark green and orange spots. As bark matures, it turns pale brown (ash). Mature bark is rough to the touch because it is covered with raised dots, scales, and points. Cinnamon trees are harvested in their third year of growth. After two years, the tops of trees are pruned. The third year, small shoots appear. These shoots are stripped and the thin inner bark is peeled from the tree. During the peeling process, the inner bark curls into the “stick” shape associated with cinnamon.

Symbolism: Spice, Zest

Arguably, cinnamon is synonymous with spice; certainly cinnamon is the definitive spice. The archaic meaning of spice is a small portion or quantity, a dash; or something that gives zest, i.e., to food or life. In the end times, commerce will cease. An imported product, cinnamon will be unavailable for cookery and for perfumes that scent candles, potpourri, and individuals. This dash or bit of zest will be absent from our individual lives. Christians may or may not be in the world when the commerce-economic systems fails; however, to Christians having or not having cinnamon, luxury items, or even the basic necessities of life is not as important as having Christ. Christ is not just a small portion, or dash, of spice in Christian lives. Christ is omnipresent. For Christians, Christ is their world view.

Reflection: Is your life zestful?

I love Bible plants along with their symbolism. If you want to learn more about them, read my two books: 1) Rooted in God and 2) God as a Gardener. You can purchase them from my website: Carolyn Roth Ministry at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/

Copyright: November 8, 2014, Carolyn A. Roth.

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Myrrh, The Gift in Death

From FlowersinIsrael

From FlowersinIsrael

Myrrh is mentioned as a valuable trade item in Revelation 18:13.

John listed myrrh as a commodity no one would buy after Roman fell. The myrrh plant is one of the last plants listed in Revelation; yet reference to myrrh began early in Bible history. In Genesis (37:25), Joseph was sold to Ishmaelites who included myrrh in their trade caravans. Myrrh was a component of the anointing oil used in the Tabernacle (Exodus 30:23). Esther (2:12) completed a 12-month beauty treatment, which included myrrh, before she was taken to King Ahasuerus (Xerxes). Myrrh perfumed the robes of a king (Psalm 45:8) and the bed of an adulteress (Proverbs 7:17). Myrrh was catalogued seven times in Song of Songs to describe the Lover, the Maid (Bride), and Solomon’s gardens.

Christians associate myrrh with the birth of Jesus (Matthew 2:11). The wise men who traveled from the East to Bethlehem offered Christ gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. By tradition, gold symbolized Christ’s kingship, frankincense his deity, and myrrh his death.

Myrrh was  present at Christ’s burial. Following the crucifixion and death of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus wrapped Jesus’ body in linen perfumed with about 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes (John 19:39). Then, they laid Jesus’ body in a tomb carved in rock.

Different species of plants were used to make myrrh in different countries. The myrrh described in the Old Testament was likely a different plant from the New Testament myrrh. Most myrrh in Imperial Rome came from the Commiphora myrrha plant; however, in Israel the plant used to make myrrh was the Commiphora abyssinica plant. Arguably, John thought of Judean myrrh when he referred to myrrh in Revelation.

The Plant Myrrh

The Israelite myrrh plant is the Commiphora abyssinica, which has several other names, to include Commiphora habessinica, myrrh tree, Arabian myrrh, and Yeman myrrh. The Hebrew word for myrrh is môr or môwr which means bitter, possibly because myrrh has a bitter taste (Strong, 2010). The Israeli myrrh was indigenous to Ethiopia or possibly Southern Arabia and Yemen. As early as 1900 B.C. caravans carried myrrh to Egypt where it was used in the embalming process. Around 1876-1880 B.C., Jacob described myrrh as one of the best products of Canaan and directed his sons to take myrrh to Egypt to trade for grain (Genesis 43:11-14). In present day Israel, the myrrh tree grows in the Biblical Landscape Reserve (Neot Kedumim).

The myrrh plant is a shrub or small tree that grows 20 feet tall with a trunk that can be as tall as 13 feet. In Israel, myrrh trees grow as a woody perennial. Although often referred to as a spice, myrrh is the dried resin from the myrrh tree. When the resin is harvested, lateral cuts are made on the trunk or branches. An aromatic gum resin exudes from the wounds. When the resin is exposed to the air, the gum hardens forming irregular shaped yellow or brown globules. The globules smell pleasant but have a bitter taste.

We saw myrrh in the bazaar in the old city of Jerusalem. The myrrh was in sharp-edged, marble-size pieces. Myrrh continues to be used today as sweet smelling incense for religious celebrations.

Myrrh, Old City Jerusalem Market - Copy

Symbolism: Gifts and Death

By tradition, myrrh symbolized both death and gifts. Jesus dead body was wrapped in linen and myrrh. The wise men gave the gift of myrrh to the baby Jesus. According to the writer of Hebrews, the original gifts, animals, food, drink, that Israelites brought to the Tabernacle and Temples were not able to clear the conscience of worshipers (Hebrews 9:9-10). Although the gifts met Tabernacle and Temple regulations, they were only external regulations applied until the new order came.

The new order was Jesus being sacrificed on the cross for sins. Christ gave his life as a gift for humankind. In turn, the gift that Christ wants from each of us is that we belief in him as risen Savior. When we belief in Christ as Savior, we accept God’s gift of his son and Christ’s gift of his life.

Reflection: What do you do when you receive a gift? Have you ever been embarrassed by a gift and not wanted to claim it? What is your response to the ultimate gift from God — his Son?

I love Bible plants along with their symbolism. If you want to learn more about them, read my two books: 1) Rooted in God and 2) God as a Gardener. You can purchase them from my website: Carolyn Roth Ministry at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/

Copyright: January 4, 2015. Carolyn A. Roth. All rights reserved.

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Cinnamon, a Valuable Commodity

Bark, Cheekwood Garden

In Revelation chapter 18, cinnamon is mentioned as a valuable spice.

When John wrote Revelation, he prophesied the end of Rome and the Roman Empire. At the same time, John was writing under the direction of the Holy Spirit; therefore, his writings could refer to world systems which operate today or in the future. From this perspective Revelations 18 could predict a future collapse of the commercial-economic systems of the world from the perspective of world leaders, merchants, and individual involved in commerce on the seas.

These verses demonstrated the inter-connections of politics and trade, with an immediate application to shipping. All countries are connected by shipping, e.g., the United States gets oil from the Middle East, clothing from China, and ships food to African countries and coal to Asia. The fall of naval commerce will have national and worldwide effects. Within each country, individual jobs and buying power will be cut. Taxable income will be reduced, national debt will increase, and banks will fail. Private industries, e.g., the health care industry which consumes about 15 percent of the U.S. gross national product, will be curtailed severely. Eventually, governments will collapse.

John prophesied that when commerce failed, there would be no cargoes of cinnamon and spice. Most of us could get along without spices; it is difficult to imagine why cinnamon was mentioned in a list of valuable cargo items. Yet, in the Biblical world, the cinnamon trade was huge. Tons of cinnamon used for rituals, medicine, and everyday purposes. Egyptians used cinnamon in embalming potions. Cinnamon was a key ingredient in the Tabernacle anointing oil (Exodus 30:23-25). Medically, cinnamon was used to reduce inflammation, promote menstruation, and stimulate the urinary tract. Along with other perfumes, cinnamon was used to perfume bed linens and clothing (Proverbs 7:17). Cinnamon was used to mask smells. In the first century Pliny wrote that the market price for an Egyptian pound (350 grams) of cinnamon was over 1000 denarius or about 2.5 years wage for a typical Hebrew worker.

 

Cinnamon   Cinnamonum zeylanicum, cinnamon

The Bible cinnamon was Cinnamomum zeylanicum, also known as Cinnamomum verem. Cinnamon is an aromatic tree bark used as a spice. The cinnamon tree was native to Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) and the southeast coast of India. Today, all commercial cinnamon grows in plantations. The cinnamon tree does not grow naturally in Israel; however, in 2012 the Jerusalem Botanical Garden we saw small specimens in the Conservatory.

The cinnamon tree is a small, bushy, and evergreen. It grows 30-40 feet tall, often with wide spreading branches. Young branches, or shoots, are crimson often with dark green and orange spots. As bark matures, it turns pale brown (ash). Mature bark is rough to the touch because it is covered with raised dots, scales, and points. Cinnamon trees are harvested in their third year of growth. After two years, the tops of trees are pruned. The third year, small shoots appear. These shoots are stripped and the thin inner bark is peeled from the tree. During the peeling process, the inner bark curls into the “stick” shape associated with cinnamon.

Symbolism: Spice, Zest

Arguably, cinnamon is synonymous with spice; certainly cinnamon is the definitive spice. The archaic meaning of spice is a small portion or quantity, a dash; or something that gives zest, i.e., to food or life. In the end times, commerce will cease. An imported product, cinnamon will be unavailable for cookery and for perfumes that scent candles, potpourri, and individuals. This dash or bit of zest will be absent from our individual lives. Christians may or may not be in the world when the commerce-economic systems fails; however, to Christians having or not having cinnamon, luxury items, or even the basic necessities of life is not as important as having Christ. Christ is not just a small portion, or dash, of spice in Christian lives. Christ is omnipresent. For Christians, Christ is their world view.

Reflection: Is your life zestful?

I love Bible plants along with their symbolism. If you want to learn more about them, read my two books: 1) Rooted in God and 2) God as a Gardener. You can purchase them from my website: Carolyn Roth Ministry at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/

Copyright: November 8, 2014, Carolyn A. Roth.

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Citron Wood, A Luxury Item

Citron wood fruit

Reference: Revelation 18:11-17

John wrote Revelation near the end of the first century. At that time, the Roman Empire was the dominant geographic-political entity, stretching from Britain, through Europe, and into the Middle East. In Revelation 18, John prophesied the end of Rome and the Roman Empire; however, the Roman Empire did not end for about another 375 years. In 476 A.D., Rome fell when the last western emperor, Romulus Augustus, was deposed by the Hun general, Odoacer, who then ruled Italy.

Revelation Chapter 18 contains three laments; one by the kings of the earth (Revelation 18:9-10), one by the merchants of the earth (Revelation 18:11-17), and another by sea captains, sailors and all who earned their living from the sea (Revelation 18:18-20). The merchants of the earth are crying out because Romans (and its Empire) no longer buy their cargoes. These cargoes include precious metals and stones, linen and cloths, every sort of citron wood and articles of every kind made of ivory and costly wood, spices and food products, horses and carriages, and slaves.

During the Roman Republic, elite members of society were known for their sumptuous banquets. The best banquet tables were made of citron wood because the wood did not stain when wine and other food was spilled on them. The Roman philosopher and statesman Cicero (106 B.C.-43 B.C.) recorded that a citron wood table could cost as much as 1.3 million sesterces. To put this amount of money into a New Testament framework, this citron banquet table was valued at an amount equivalent to 20 Jewish workers each laboring 45 years (assume: 1/4 of a denarius equaled 1 sesterce and a typical Jewish laborer earned  1 denarii per day).

Citron Wood

Citron wood comes from the Tetraclinis articulata tree which most of us call the sandarac gum tree, thyine wood, or the thuya. T. articulata is the sole species in this genus of plants. It was native to the western Mediterranean region particularly southern Spain, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Malta. The expansion of agricultural activity, over grazing, urbanization, exploitation, and fires have reduced the number of sandarac trees. In Israel, the sandarac grows in Galilee and the northern valleys, central hills (Carmel) and in the entire Negev desert area. It can grow in rock fissures and rocky slopes. T. articulata is an evergreen coniferous tree in the cypress family.

Symbolism: Luxury

In the Roman Empire, citron wood was a luxury item. A luxury item is an indulgence that provides pleasure, satisfaction, or ease. To wealthy Romans, a citron wood banquet table provided all three of these. These wealthy Romans and their decadent ways were the same individuals that persecuted early Christians, laughing when Christians were killed in the Coliseum. Their self- indulgence  led to the downfall of Rome.

Reflection: Do you pay more attention to: acquiring luxury items or walking in the Spirit?

I love Bible plants along with their symbolism. If you want to learn more about them, read my two books: 1) Rooted in God and 2) God as a Gardener. You can purchase them from my website: Carolyn Roth Ministry at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/

Copyright: October 28, 2014, Carolyn A. Roth

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