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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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is the first and largest of the vegetable kind, consisting of a single trunk, out of which spring forth branches and leaves. Heat is so essential to the growth of trees, that we see them grow larger and smaller in a sort of gradation as the climates in which they stand are more or less hot. The hottest countries yield, in general, the largest and tallest trees, and those, also, in much greater beauty and variety than the colder do; and even those plants which are common to both arrive at a much greater bulk in the southern than in the northern climates; nay, there are some regions so bleak and chill, that they raise no vegetables at all to any considerable height. Greenland, Iceland, and similar places, afford no trees at all; and the shrubs which grow in them are always little and low. In the warmer climates, where trees grow to a moderate size, any accidental diminution of the common heat is found very greatly to impede vegetation; and even in England the cold summers we sometimes have give us an evident proof of this in the scarcity of produce from all our large fruit trees. Heat, whatever be the producing cause, acts as well upon vegetation one way as another. Thus the heat of manure, and the artificial heat of coal fires in stoves, are found to supply the place of the sun. Great numbers of the eastern trees, in their native soil, flower twice in a year, and some flower and bear ripe fruit all the year round; and it is observed of these last, that they are at once the most frequent and the most useful to the inhabitants; their fruits, which always hang on them in readiness, containing cool juices, which are good in fevers, and other of the common diseases of hot countries. The umbrageous foliage, with which the God of providence has generally furnished all trees in warm climates, affords a most refreshing and grateful shade to those who seek relief from the direct and hurtful rays of a tropical sun.

The Land of Promise cannot boast, like many other countries, of extensive woods; but considerable thickets of trees and of reeds sometimes arise to diversify and adorn the scene. Between the Lake Samochonites and the sea of Tiberias, the river Jordan is almost concealed by shady trees from the view of the traveller. When the waters of the Jordan are low, the Lake Samochonites is only a marsh, for the most part dry and overgrown with shrubs and reeds. In these thickets, among other ferocious animals, the wild boar seeks a covert from the burning rays of the sun. Large herds of them are sometimes to be seen on the banks of the river, near the sea of Tiberias, lying among the reeds, or feeding under the trees. Such moist and shady places are in all countries the favourite haunts of these fierce and dangerous animals. Those marshy coverts are styled woods in the sacred Scriptures; for the wild boar of the wood is the name which that creature receives from the royal psalmist: "The boar out of the wood doth waste it; and the wild beast of the field doth devour it," Psalms 80:13 . The wood of Ephraim, where the battle was fought between the forces of Absalom and the servants of David, was probably a place of the same kind; for the sacred historian observes, that the wood devoured more people that day than the sword, 2 Samuel 18:8 . Some have supposed the meaning of this passage to be, that the soldiers of Absalom were destroyed by the wild beasts of the wood; but it can scarcely be supposed, that in the reign of David, when the Holy Land was crowded with inhabitants, the wild beasts could be so numerous in one of the woods as to cause such a destruction. But, supposing the wood of Ephraim to have been a morass covered with trees and bushes, like the haunts of the wild boar near the banks of Jordan, the difficulty is easily removed. It is certain that such a place has more than once proved fatal to contending armies, partly by suffocating those who in the hurry of flight inadvertently venture over places incapable of supporting them, and partly by retarding them till their pursuers come up and cut them to pieces. In this manner a greater number of men than fell in the heat of battle may be destroyed. It is probable, however, that nothing more is intended by the sacred historian, than the mention of a fact familiar to military men in all ages, and whatever kind of weapons were then employed in warfare,—that forests, especially such thick and impassable forests as are common in warm countries, constitute the very worst ground along which a discomfited army can be compelled to retreat. Their orderly ranks are broken; the direction which each warrior for his own safety must take is uncertain; and while one tumultuous mass is making a pass for itself through intervening brushwood and closely matted jungle, and another is hurrying along a different path and encountering similar or perhaps greater impediments, the cool and deliberate pursuers, whether archers or sharp shooters, enjoy an immense advantage in being able to choose their own points of annoyance, and by flank or cross attacks to kill their retreating foes, with scarcely any risk to themselves, but with immense carnage to the routed army.

Several critics imagine that by עצ חדר , rendered "goodly trees,"

Leviticus 23:40 , the citron tree is intended. עצ עבת , rendered "thick trees" in the same verse, and in Nehemiah 8:15 ; Ezekiel 20:28 , is the myrtle, according to the rabbins, the Chaldee paraphrase, Syriac version, and Deodatus. The word אשל , translated "grove" in Genesis 21:33 , has been variously translated. Parkhurst renders it an oak, and says, that from this word may be derived the name of the famous asylum, opened by Romulus between two groves of oak at Rome. On the other hand, Celsius, Michaelis, and Dr. Geddes render it the tamarisk, which is a lofty and beautiful tree, and grows abundantly in Egypt and Arabia. The same word in 1 Samuel 22:6 ; 1 Samuel 31:13 , is rendered "a tree." It must be noted too, that in the first of these places, the common version is equally obscure and contradictory, by making ramah a proper name: it signifies hillock or bank. Of the trees that produced precious balsams there was one in particular that long flourished in Judea, having been supposed to have been an object of great attention to Solomon, which was afterward transplanted to Matarea, in Egypt, where it continued till about two hundred and fifty years ago, according to Maillet, who gives a description of it, drawn, it is supposed, from the Arabian authors, in which he says, "This shrub had two very differently coloured barks, the one red, the other perfectly green; that they tasted strongly like incense and turpentine, and when bruised between the fingers they smelt very nearly like cardamoms. This balsam, which was extremely precious and celebrated, and was used by the Coptic church in their chrism, was produced by a very low shrub; and it is said, that all those shrubs that produced balsams are every where low, and do not exceed two or three cubits in height."

Descriptions of the principal trees and shrubs mentioned in Holy Writ, the reader will find noticed in distinct articles under their several denominations.

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Tree'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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