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Rose of Sharon and Lily of the Valley

We sing of these flowers in hymns but do we know what they actually look like?

“Behold, you are handsome, my beloved! Yes, pleasant! Also our bed is green. The beams of our houses are cedar, And our rafters of fir. I am the rose of Sharon, And the lily of the valleys (Song 1:16-17, 2:1).

FYI the rose of Sharon is not a rose. That much is certain, but as to what species it is, scholars can’t even agree on that. The widely held belief is that it is a common flower.

“The Hebrew word sharon means “a plain or a level place.” The Plain of Sharon is the coastal plain between the mountains of central Israel and the Mediterranean Sea, north of Joppa to Mt. Carmel… This area was proverbially fertile and known for its flowers. The “rose of Sharon” is found in the Song of Solomon 2:1. Therefore, we can surmise that the rose of Sharon flower is named for the district of Sharon.

Webster’s says that the “rose of Sharon” is a hardy plant of the mallow family with the name “Hibiscus Syriacus” and has white, red, pink, or purplish flowers. However, the Rose of Sharon mentioned in the Song of Solomon is a crocus-like flower and the source of saffron. The Hebrew word habaselet as used in Song of Solomon 2:1 is translated twice as “rose,” once here in the Song of Solomon and once in Isaiah 35:1. The translators may indeed have used the word rose to refer to the meaning of the Hebrew word, which is a flower similar to what we now know as a crocus or a bulb flower like a tulip.” (Source: www.gotquestion.org)

Lilies are mentioned several times throughout the bible but “lily of the valleys” only once in Song of Solomon. According to some commentaries, the Hebrew phrase “shoshannat-ha-amaqim” in the original text (literally “lily of the valleys“) does not refer to this plant. I am reproducing the photo just so you know what it looks like. (Fun trivia: the lily of the valley was used for Kate Middleton’s bridal bouquet. According to Queen Victoria’s language of flowers, it symbolises trustworthiness).

By Lydia Teh

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