Tag Archives: Henbane

Poisonous weed in the Bible


(Black henbane)

Bible Reference: Hosea 10.5.

Hosea was a prophet in the Northern Kingdom, composed of the ten northern tribes of Israel that separated from Judah. Almost immediately these Northern Kingdom tribes began to worship idols. Hosea attempted to win them from their idolatry. Despite his words and those of other prophets, most individuals and kings of the Northern Kingdom ignored fair dealings outlined by Moses. Many acted dishonestly. Consequently, Hosea told them:

“They make many promises, take false oaths and make agreement; therefore, lawsuits spring up like poisonous weeds in a plowed field” (Hosea 10.5 NIV).

In Holy Lands, there are several other plants that are poisonous and grow in cultivated fields.  Israeli botanist, Michael Zohary, identified species of Hyoscyamus as poisonous plants. Hyoscyamus grows in very dry areas, such as in plowed fields in most of Israel.  In Israel, the most common henbane is golden henbane (H. aureus), which grows from between rocks on the Western Wall (Wailing Wall).

Hyoscyamus is a  small genus of flowering plants in the nightshade family, Solanaceae. The henbane plant is toxic to mankind if consumed, breathed, or contacted. The plant is deemed so poisonous that the smell of flowers can cause dizziness. If consumed in large quantities, henbane plants may cause extremely high blood pressure, coma, and convulsions. Because breathing the flower causes hallucinations, some cultures use henbane as a recreational drug.

(golden henbane)

When farmers see the henbane in a plowed field, they remove plants immediately. Because the henbane has characteristics of parsley, parsnips, and wild carrots, children have eaten it.

Henbane has a long taproot; consequently, surface plowing, as was done in ancient Israel, couldn’t remove the entire taproot. Attempting to pull the henbane didn’t always have a positive result. Henbane tops break off when pulled from dry soil, but roots remain in the soil and regrow. Eradicating the poisonous henbane weed from a field was difficult in ancient Israel. Today, westernized gardeners and farmers rely on herbicides to kill the henbane plant.

Just as henbane continued to grow in a plowed field and had the potential to poison livestock and man, the effects of false promises and oaths haunted and eventually destroyed the Northern Kingdom.  In shorter than fifty years (c. 721 BC) after Hosea’s prophecy, the Northern Kingdom fell to the Assyrian army.

Reflection: The Hebrew word for henbane is shikkeron (shikrona). One definition of shikkeron is “intoxication.” Was there a message in naming the henbane “intoxication” that descendants of  Israelite immigrants into Canaan should have contemplated and applied to their lives in this “new world?” What message should we living in the United States take from a Bible plant named shikkeron?

Copyright 12/18/19: Carolyn A. Roth

Please visit my website for more information on plants in the Bible: http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com

Joshua & the Henbane

Hyoscyamus aureus

Read Joshua chapter 15.

While in Israel and Jordan, I became aware of the number of regions and cities that were named after plants. As a result, I am adding an additional plant – the golden henbane to the list of Plants and the Promised Land.  The Hebrew word for henbane is shikkeron (or less often shikrona).  Shikkeron is identified in the Bible only in the book of Joshua (Joshua 15:11).

The distribution of the Promised Land on the west side of the Jordan was determined by lot. The tribe of Judah received the first allocation of land. The size of each tribe’s territory was according to the tribe’s population. The largest tribe among the 12 tribes of Israel, Judah numbered over 76,000 warriors. God set the boundaries for the Promised Land lands that each tribe was to conquer and retain.

When Joshua described the borders of Judah, the detailed description of the northern border (Joshua 14:5 -11), included that it “went to the northern slope of Ekron, turned toward (or bent around) to Shikkeron, passed along to Mount Baalah and reached Jabneel.” The northern boundary ended at the Mediterranean Sea on the east.  Shikkeron was not identified as one of the towns or cities that Judah was to occupy (Judah 15: 20 – 63); consequently, it may have been a small village or an identifiable site rather than a town.  A map of Judah showed that Shikkeron was located on an arc that connected two hills (Ekron and Baalah) which were about 6 – 8 miles apart.

God wanted Shikkeron to be part of Judah rather than the tribe of Dan which was allocated land on the northwest border of Judah (Joshua 19:40–48). The Books of Joshua and Judges revealed that the Danites had difficulty taking possession of their territory from the Amorites (Joshua 19:47; Judges 1: 34). Eventually, many Danites abandoned their assigned land northwest of Judah. They moved to the far northern portion of Canaan near the tributaries of the Jordan River (Judges Chapter 18).  There they rapidly turned to idolatry. Overall it was better for Shikkeron to belong to Judah than to Dan. Judah maintained itself as an intact kingdom for  approximate 900 years.

Golden Henbane

Five species of Hyoscyamus grow in Israel; however, the Shikkeron sited in Joshua 15:11 referred to Hyoscyamus aureus, known as yellow or golden henbane.  Henbane is thought to have originated in the Mediterranean regions of Asia Minor. Henbane is wide-spread in Israel. When we were in Jerusalem, we saw clumps of henbane growing out from between stone cracks on the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem. Henbane is a non-woody perennial that can grow 2 – 3 feet tall.  Both stems and leaves are gray-green and covered with sticky hairs. Flowers are yellow with a darker (almost black) throat). Henbane self-sows and can be grown in uncultivated areas of a garden. When propagating, sow seeds as soon as they are ripe as henbane seeds lose their viability rapidly. Maturing henbane produce a long taproot; consequently established plants do not respond well to attempts to move them from place to place.

Symbolism: Obedience

Although the Book of Joshua detailed (chapters 13 – 21) tribal boundaries and identified towns within each boundary, today it is almost impossible to trace the exact boundaries of tribal lands. Many of us who read Joshua just skim these chapters, asking why this degree of detail was included in a book as important as the Bible.  I think God was giving His people an example of obedience when He said that mighty Judah should occupy and retain a site as small as Shikkeron.  If Judah was obedient to God in the small details, likely Judah would be obedient in larger activities.

God expects obedience from His people. When Joshua became leader of the Israelites, God told him to a) be strong and courageous and b) to obey all the laws that Moses gave to Joshua (Joshua 1: 7). In turn, Joshua told the Israelites to obey God, to walk in His ways, and to serve Him (Joshua 22:5). As I read the descriptions (Joshua, Judges, and Ruth) of the Israelites conquering and occupying the Promised Land, one fact was clear: obedience was central to Israel’s success.  When the Israelites disregarded and disobeyed God’s commandments and laws, their enemies overcame them. The result was destruction in Israelite lands and loss of Israelite lives.

Obedience is not an ancient Israelite concept that today’s Christian can ignore. There are about 124 verses in the New International Version Study Bible (2002) that contain the word obey or one of its derivatives. These verses are divided almost equally between the Old (n = 61) and New (N = 63) Testaments.  In the New Testament Christ told his followers that if they want to enter life, they need to obey the commandments (Matthew 19:17) and “if anyone loves me (Christ) he will obey my teaching” (John 14:23).

Thought:  God’s people are called to obey His Word; but, surely we get a pass for disobeying specifics of God’s Word when we don’t know them.  I mean, well, gosh, I can’t know everything, can I? Whose fault is it if I don’t know what God wants me to do?  Shouldn’t the preacher — or even my parents –have told me how to do things right? It’s not my fault……..is it?

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 June 11, 2011, Carolyn A. Roth; all rights reserved.