A Dictionary of Bible Plants
by Dr. Lytton John Musselman
reviewed by Marsh Hudson-Knapp
a ground-breaking milestone in the definition and exploration of plants in the Bible
In the Beginning!
The phone rang and a stranger working for a book publisher was on the line. He was offering to pay me $90 to give him a report on the likely success of a new dictionary of Bible plants, to be written by Lytton Musselman. I was so excited that I could have danced to hear that Lytton was ready to publish the accounts of his many years of traveling around the world to investigate biblical plants in their present natural settings! I told him so. Of course, if I had wanted the $90 I should have kept quiet! He thanked me and I never heard from him again.
the first American book on Bible plants, by Thaddeus Harris.
Now you may not have spent the last 30 years reading about Bible plants, but let me tell you, a lot of very thoughtful people have written about plants in the Bible. Alan Swenson has written numerous books about Bible plants and promoted the growth of Bible gardens on radio and TV, on ocean cruises, and everywhere he can. Another botanist like Lytton, Professor Michael Zohary from Hebrew University in Jerusalem, wrote in 1982 what to me has been the ultimate authority for Biblical plant selection. But honestly, I had no idea of the long, diverse, and scientifically astute history of writings about the plants in the Bible that stretch back to three hundred years before Jesus! What a delight to read Lytton's carefully researched Review of Bible Plant Literature in the present volume!
Faidherbia alba or Acacia from the Dictionary
Here's the Meat!
Finally, I had arrived at the plant by plant dictionary, starting with A, for Acacia. For each plant that Lytton feels confident to identify from the text of the Bible, we explore why he has concluded that this is an actual plant from the Bible. Lytton offers the scientific name of the plant or plants he presents. Then, to help us do our own research if we want, he lists the translitterated Hebrew and Greek words from the Bible text that name what he will contends to be the Biblical plant. Next, Lytton lists every reference in the Bible that refers to this particular plant. This gets to be very tricky, but Lytton tells his hunting story well, and the meticulous care he has exercised to reach his conclusions disappears behind a story well told, yet carefully referenced.
Lytton in Iraqi Kurdistan where he was accompanied by an armed guard on each trip. The flowers he is holding and those in the soldiers lapel are Narcissus tazetta.
Every step of the way we see Lytton's wise mind at work creating this ground-breaking milestone in the definition and exploration of plants of the Bible. Professor Zohary's Plants of the Bible has always been my ultimate authority as I have sought to identify Bible plants. I found his studies of plant names in the range of Middle Eastern languages, and his personal experience as a life-long botanist in the Middle East, convincing resources in my search to identfy the REAL Bible plant. Lyttton draws on that wisom, and then leaps outside the box to live with the people and plants of Bible lands today.
I just completed my adventure reading The Dictionary... It will be my regular companion as I continue to try to sort out, "What plants belong in OUR Biblical Garden?" "What stories will I tell our visitors, our children, our adults about the figs and flax, the leeks and lentils, that will once again bring the ancient story of the Bible to life in this present moment and place?" The Bible is so much more that a tale! It is a living story, alive in the natural world around us, and beating in the hearts of the people we meet every day, including ourselves! Like the best Bible commentary helps us to leap into the Bible, Lytton's Dictionary invites us through the superficial impressions of Bible plants drawn from a quick reading of an English translation of the Bible, into an encounter with the real McCoy, the unique, rich life of one of God's astounding creations in the diverse universe of God's natural world. I hope that Lytton's book will assist you on that journey! It will be my new bible on Bible plants for years to come!
The Rev. Marsh Hudson-Knapp is the co-founder of the Biblical Gardens at the First Congregational Church of Fair Haven, VT, U.C.C., webmaster of a Biblical Garden website, and author of several publications about Biblical Gardens including the Selection Guide for Planning Your Biblical Garden. email@example.com