In This Article Flora and Fauna of the Hebrew Bible

  • Introduction
  • General Overview
  • Animals and Plants in the Life in Ancient Israel
  • Monographs and Articles on Specific Biblical Books that Deal Extensively with Flora and Fauna
  • Flora and Fauna in Metaphors
  • Flora and Fauna in Archaeology
  • Contemporary Floras, Faunas, and Field Guides
  • On Specific Species
  • Guides to Specific Geographic Regions
  • Ecological Readings
  • Floras and Faunas Either Outdated or Aimed at a General Audience (Non-Specialist)

Biblical Studies Flora and Fauna of the Hebrew Bible
by
Mari Joerstad
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 July 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0269

Introduction

The flora and fauna of the Hebrew Bible has long fascinated scholars and lay readers alike. From illustrated volumes aimed at children, to the detailed tables and charts of archaeozoology and archaeobotany, the plants and animals of the Bible fascinate because of their many ties to daily life. What did people in ancient Israel eat? How did they garden? What wildflowers and trees grew around their homes? Which animals did they encounter in the desert? Animals and plants also feature centrally in some of the most memorable stories of the Bible: Noah’s ark, Balaam’s ass, Isaiah’s vineyard, Jonah in the belly of the fish, the Song’s lush gardens, God’s menagerie in Job—the list goes on. Because flora and fauna touch on topics historical, archaeological, literary, and symbolic, the study of the Bible’s flora and fauna is by necessity many-pronged. It requires multiple methodologies, as well as attention to a host of topics, including but not limited to law and purity regulations, agriculture and husbandry, metaphor theory, fables and parables, history of domestication, and so on. The recent growth in interest in ecological readings of the Bible has added a new, normative dimension to the study of flora and fauna in the Bible. While many early (and contemporary) studies focus on identification and classification of mentioned species in the Bible, ecological readings instead look at the quality of relationships between humans and their plants and animals, God’s relationship to non-human creatures, as well as relationships among non-human creatures. Scholars in the ecological vein often attempt either to derive ecological guidelines for present-day practice from the text or to critique the text’s lack of attention to responsible human conduct toward the natural world.

General Overview

Among faunas, Schwartz 2000 is a recent and comprehensive overview of animals in the Bible; Cansdale 1970 is older, but includes more context for individual entries by grouping them into common-sense categories and providing introductory information for each category. Whitekettle 2001 explores the taxonomic thinking of Ancient Israel. Among floras, Zohary 1982 and Musselman 2007 and Musselman 2012 are organized much like contemporary field guides, with entries and pictures for each species. Hepper 1992 includes discussion of biblical texts in which specific plants are mentioned. Gilbert 1995 gives a short overview of the flora and fauna of the ancient Near East. Bodenheimer 1960 draws on archaeology to inform his overview of Middle Eastern fauna. Schochet 1984 reviews animals in Jewish tradition from biblical to modern sources.

  • Bodenheimer, F. S. Animal and Man in Bible Lands. Leiden, The Netherlands: E.J. Brill, 1960.

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    Overview of fauna in Middle East and surrounding areas from prehistory through the Iron Age. Includes sections on animals in the Hebrew Bible (3.7–9).

  • Cansdale, George. All the Animals of the Bible Lands. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1970.

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    After three introductory chapters on geography, human uses of land, and domestication, the remaining chapters are organized by categories of animals (e.g., beasts of burden, beasts of the chase, cats, birds of prey, etc.).

  • Gilbert, Allan S. “The Flora and the Fauna of the Ancient Near East.” In Civilizations of the Ancient Near East. Edited by Jack M. Sasson, 153–174. Vol. 1. New York: Scribner’s, 1995.

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    A short overview of the flora and fauna of the ancient Near East.

  • Hepper, F. Nigel. Baker Encyclopedia of Bible Plants: Flowers and Trees, Fruits and Vegetables, Ecology. Leicester, UK: InterVarsity, 1992.

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    Part 1 covers wild plants, Part 2 cultivated and gathered plants. Each chapter is thematic (for example “Thorns and Thistles, Fire and Fuel”) with specific species listed after an introductory discussions of issues related to each theme.

  • Musselman, Lytton John. Figs, Dates, Laurel, and Myrrh: Plants of the Bible and the Quran. Portland, OR: Timber, 2007.

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    Entries organized alphabetically by the English names of plants discuss the ecological and cultural factors that led to the inclusion of various plants in the Bible and the Qurʾan, and include descriptions of the plants themselves, including their form, smell, and use. Photographs accompany each entry.

  • Musselman, Lytton John. A Dictionary of Bible Plants. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

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    An alphabetical listing (by English name) of all plants mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, and Apocrypha. Each entry discusses uses of plants in materials, technology, and food production, and is accompanied by a photograph of the plant. Especially useful for updated identifications and discussions of difficult passages and identifications.

  • Schochet, Elijah Judah. Animal Life in Jewish Tradition: Attitudes and Relationships. New York: Ktav, 1984.

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    Traces uses and attitudes toward animals through biblical, rabbinic, medieval, and modern Jewish traditions.

  • Schwartz, Donald Ray. Noah’s Ark: An Annotated Encyclopedia of Every Animal Species in the Hebrew Bible. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 2000.

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    Entries are organized according to the order in which they are mentioned in the Bible. Each entry describes the animal species, their significance in biblical times, and select mentions in rabbinic and other commentaries. Entries include lists of mentions in the Hebrew Bible.

  • Whitekettle, Richard. “Where the Wild Things Are: Primary Level Taxa in Israelite Zoological Thought.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 93 (2001): 17–37.

    DOI: 10.1177/030908920102509303E-mail Citation »

    An exploration of ancient Israel’s zoological classification system.

  • Zohary, Michael. Plants of the Bible: A Complete Handbook. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

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    After an opening chapter on topography, climate zones, agriculture, trade, etc., the individual entries in the book, each of which describes a specific plant, are organized by plant categories (e.g., Fruit Trees, Field Crops & Garden Plants, Wild Herbs, etc.) Each entry discusses the uses and symbolism of the plant, and its physical appearance and its habitat. The entries are accompanied by biblical verses in which the plant is mentioned and photographs.

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