Song of Solomon 2: The Rose of Sharon & The Flowers of Ancient Israel

1 I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.

2 As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.

3 As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.

4 He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.

5 Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples: for I am sick of love.

6 His left hand is under my head, and his right hand doth embrace me.

7 I charge you, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes, and by the hinds of the field, that ye stir not up, nor awake my love, till he please.

8 The voice of my beloved! behold, he cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills.

9 My beloved is like a roe or a young hart: behold, he standeth behind our wall, he looketh forth at the windows, shewing himself through the lattice.

One plant commonly called “Rose of Sharon” in the US is Hibiscus syriacus, here seen in bloom.
Rose of Sharon is a common name that has been applied to several different species of flowering plants that are valued in different parts of the world. It is also a biblical expression, though the identity of the plant referred to is unclear and is disputed among biblical scholars. In neither case does it refer to actual roses, although one of the species it refers to in modern usage is a member of Rosaceae.

The deciduous flowering shrub known as the Rose of Sharon is a member of the mallow family which is distinct from the Rosaceae family. The name’s colloquial application has been used as an example of the lack of precision of common names, which can potentially cause confusion. “Rose of Sharon” has become a frequently used catch phrase in poetry and lyrics.

10 My beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.

11 For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone;

12 The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land;

13 The fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.

14 O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs, let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy

voice, and thy countenance is comely.

15 Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.

16 My beloved is mine, and I am his: he feedeth among the lilies.

17 Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, turn, my beloved, and be thou like a roe or a young hart upon the mountains of Bether.

Oldest grave flowers ever found unearthed in Israel
An ancient burial pit dating to nearly 14,000 years ago contained impressions from stems and flowers of aromatic plants such as mint and sage.

The new find “is the oldest example of putting flowers and fresh plants in the grave before burying the dead,” said study co-author Dani Nadel, an archaeologist at the University of Haifa in Israel.

Though the exact purpose of these plants remains a mystery, the findings, detailed Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shed light on some of the rituals used by one of the earliest human cultures living in fixed settlements.

Ancient tombs
The burial pits, the first true gravesites in the world, were excavated nearly a half a century ago from Raqefet Cave in Mount Carmel, Israel. The people who made the tombs were part of a Natufian culture that flourished in the Near East beginning about 15,000 years ago. The region contains graves for hundreds of skeletons, including a burial of an ancient shaman woman.

The Natufians were the first people who transitioned from a nomadic, hunter-gathering lifestyle to a more sedentary one. They formed fixed settlements, built heavy furniture, domesticated the wolf, and began to experiment with domesticating wheat and barley, Nadel told LiveScience. Soon after, humans evolved the first villages, developed agriculture and went on to found some of the first empires in the world.

The Flowers of Ancient Israel

 Floral imagery was widely used in ancient Israel, in the decoration of the temple and lampstands (Ex 25:37; 1 Kgs 6:7), as well as in the prophetic and poetic writings.  The identification of various flowers in ancient Israel has been complicated by the following factors:

Many newer plant species have been introduced into the region during the last few centuries.

From the time of the church fathers, the practice of naming plants after Biblical names has served as a way of keeping Scripture alive in everyday life.  Thus, flowers that did not exist in ancient Israel might still bear Biblical names.  For example, Hibiscus syriacus has been called “the rose of Sharon,” even though it is native to Eastern Asia and was more recently introduced into the region now known as Palestine.

Information is scanty.  Frequently plant’s only identification might be its Biblical name, with no accompanying description.  Oral tradition might provide the only clue in identifying a particular flower.

The rose of Sharon (2:1) has been variously identified as narcissus, anemone or even red tulip.  The lily of the valley (v. 1) has been equated to chamomile, crowfoot, various species of lily, narcissus, sea daffodil and lotus.  Flowers in ancient Israel served mainly ornamental purposes, and it’s likely that their beauty was the primary focus of the Song’s writer.  Although precise identification of the various flowers would be helpful, it’s not essential for interpreting the text.