“I Am the Rose of Sharon:” But What Am I?

Well, not a Rosa rugosa or other rose. That much all the scholars and gardeners agree on. Otherwise? Ooooooh boy.

The King James (Authorized) Version of the Song of Solomon reads, “I am the Rose of Sharon and a lily of the valley. As a lily among the thorns, so is my beloved . . .” The Tanakh gives a different translation for the Hebrew “ḥăḇatzeleṯ “, instead using “crocus” or “flower of the fields.”

What do gardeners call “Rose of Sharon”? Well . . . it depends on who you ask.

Or perhaps this:

A tulip from the Levant? It is striking, that’s true. Fair use from:https://www.treknature.com/gallery/middle_east/israel/photo229404.htm

If you want to be literal about the lily part (but not the rose bit):

That’s from Wiki, a Pacratium maritimum “Paestum” or “sea daffodil” photographed by Stemontis. All scholars agree that the Rose of Sharon is not a rose-rose. Beyond that, well, it is beautiful, unusual, and found in the Middle East, where Solomon and his love would have seen it.

For an American Revolutionary-era song using the text, I present you William Billings. This is one of my favorite shape-note hymns, done very well.


19 thoughts on ““I Am the Rose of Sharon:” But What Am I?

  1. I’m used to the first image as “Rose of Sharon”, but would be willing to change my mind. I remember them as messy deciduous shrubs, seeds and flowers dropping everywhere.

  2. The Vulgate language is “flos campi,” the flower of the field/plain, contrasting with ” the lily of the valley.” So St. Jerome was basically interpreting it as a generic flatlands wildflower/weed.

    This went along with the Septuagint rendering of Sharon by its literal meaning, “plain.”

    Ego anthos tou pediou, krinon ton kailadon.

    The Hebrew word shows up in one other place – Isaiah 35:1.

    • So looking at three modern translations (NIV, ESV, NET) the first two stay with the KJV/authorized NET has

      I am a[a] meadow flower[b] from Sharon,[c]
      a lily[d] from the valleys.
      As suburban Banshee notes the Septuagint has plain (as in the geographic feature). The Septuagint is a translation traditionally authored by 70 scholars from somewhere in the 3-2nd centuries BCE done by Hebrew/jewish scholars for the jewish populations abroad who had stopped being able to read the Hebrew. Scholars often look at it when they hit an unfamiliar hebrew word (Like all the strange gems mentioned in Leviticus in the priestly garments). Sometimes NIV and ESV just punt back to KJV for a phrase just to avoid breaking up the poetic influence of that
      early English translation.

      The NET has this translation note (why I love it)

      tn Heb “meadow-saffron” or “crocus.” The noun חֲבַצֶּלֶת (khavatselet) traditionally has been translated “rose” (KJV, NKJV, ASV, NASB, RSV, NRSV, NIV, NJPS, NLT, CEV); however, recent translations suggest “crocus” (NIV margin, NJPS margin), “narcissus” (DBY) or simply “flower” (DRA, NAB). The LXX translated it with the generic term ἀνθος (anthos, “flower, blossom”). Early English translators knew that it referred to some kind of flower but were unsure exactly which type, so they arbitrarily chose “rose” because it was a well-known and beautiful flower. In the light of comparative Semitics, modern Hebrew lexicographers have settled on “asphodel,” “meadow-saffron,” “narcissus,” or “crocus” (BDB 287 s.v. חֲבַצֶּלֶת; HALOT 287 s.v. חֲבַצֶּלֶת; DCH 3:153 s.v. חֲבַצֶּלֶת). The Hebrew term is related to Syriac hamsalaita (“meadow saffron”) and Akkadian habasillatu (“flower-stalk, marsh plant, reed”). Lexicographers and botanists suggest that the Hebrew term refers to Ashodelos (lily family), Narcissus tazetta (narcissus or daffodil), or Colchicum autumnale (meadow-saffron or crocus). The location of this flower in Sharon suggests that a common wild flower would be more likely than a rose. The term appears elsewhere only in Isa 35:1 where it refers to some kind of desert flower—erroneously translated “rose” (KJV, NJPS) but probably “crocus” (NASB, NIV, NJPS margin). Appropriately, the rustic maiden who grew up in the simplicity of rural life compares herself to a simple, common flower of the field (M. H. Pope, Song of Songs [AB], 367).

      The LXX mentioned in that is the Septuagint (Seventy).

  3. I think I have figured out what I dislike about “praise and worship songs” and “praise choruses.” A lot of them sound unfinished, to my songwriter brain, besides being blah.

    • I bristle at the emotional manipulation and the lack of musical complexity. But a lot of people find them meaningful, so I just stay quiet.

      • My feeling is wait a few years. If you look at a hymnal from the late 19th/ early 20th century you’ll find that you probably recognize 20-30% of the hymns, probably less of the tunes. Time and use kindly sifted them for us. Time will do the same for “praise songs”. At least the “Jesus is my boyfriend” love ballad flavor of praise songs is dying out.Those were truly offensive and pointless.

    • Not my mug of joe either, though that may be that I don’t get to hear them often in person and, like opera, it’s just not the same on a recording. Plus I’m sure that I’ve lost some of my treble hearing. Not as much as most people of my age (I watched the Apollo moon landings) but enough to notice. In my mid 20’s I tested myself with lab gear. I had pitch up to 21 kHz in the left ear amd 19.5 in the right, with residual, non-pitch about a kHz higher in both. I need to try that again.

    • So that when the post-apocalyptic neo-aztecs gather amid their black piled stone to conduct their bloody and unspeakable rites, they can sing about their god being an awesome god without modification.

  4. I recall reading a novel in college in which there was a girl called Rosasharn, which I found out was actually Rose of Sharon. That was looooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong ago.

  5. Deaf over here, so I’ll bow to the others interpretation. Re the Rose, who knows… And yes, the first one is a Hibiscus. I can’t help but wonder if the Red Anemone is the ‘right’ flower. I’ve seen quite a few of them in the middle east including Israel.

    • Glory, glory, Hallelujah.
      Glory, glory, Hallelujah.
      Glory, glory, Hallelujah.

  6. That looks like a wreckovated church. Very sad! But the music is beautiful.

  7. So, amusing anecdote. While doing her night DJ routine over at Instapundit, Sarah Hoyt links to your July 2nd post discussing D&D and Lord of the Rings. I read through it and the comments – even drop one of my own – and then hit the July archive link in the sidebar to see if you’ve written anything else recently I might want to look at.

    And when I see the title to this post, I swear my brain reads it as “The Rose of Sauron.

    I’ll leave it those better versed in horticulture and Middle Earth lore to figure out where that line of thought leads.

    • Nothing I want to have to weed around, and even my big loppers aren’t long enough to prune a rose of Sauron safely. 😀

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