The plants of the bibles have long been of historic interest despite the many translation problems. The Hebrew bible was written in Hebrew and Aramaic, translated into Greek in the second century bce, and then constantly translated into all the languages of the world, but the precise species originally referred to is unknown in a number of cases. In 1556, the plants of the bible were specifically dealt with in a book by Levinus Lemmes, and subsequently treated in a number of other works. In 1952, the indefatigable husband and wife team of Harold N. and Alma L. Moldenke compiled a treatise entitled Plants of the Bible (Fig. 1A) that includes key mentions of plants by chapter and verse, and assigned binomials, from 53 books of the Hebrew Bible and 27 of the Christian Bible (Authorized Version). This is a valuable source book for any study of biblical horticultural. The Moldenkes (Moldenke and Moldenke, 1952) refer to 230 species from Acacia nilotica to Zostera marina. They also provide chapter and verse for general references for which no particular plant can be identified, such as fruit (most common), herb, thicket, tree, grass, and forest. The Moldenkes cite “only the most important or interesting verses” (Moldenke and Moldenke, 1952), but nevertheless, the number of chapters cited gives some idea of the prominence of each fruit (Table 1); grape is clearly the most significant fruit of the bible.
One of the best sources of information on biblical fruits is the impressive work of Asaph Goor and Max Nurock (1968) entitled The Fruits of the Holy Land (Fig. 1B). This work not only covers the canonical texts of the Hebrew and Christian bibles, but also includes postbiblical Jewish commentaries including the Mishna (ca. 300 ce) and Talmud (ca. 600 ce). Fruits covered include grape, olive, fig, date, pomegranate, almond (the chief biblical fruits); citron (not specifically mentioned except in the noncanonical Book of Jubilees of the first century ce); walnut (mentioned once in the Hebrew bible); carob (mentioned twice in the Christian bible); apple (mentioned three times in the Song of Songs, and a few times elsewhere, although the attribution is questionable because the Hebrew word tappuah may not refer to Malus); and pear, peach, apricot, plum, and banana (not mentioned in the canonical bibles).
A number of plants as well as horticultural and agricultural practices are mentioned in various verses of the Qur'an (Koran), the sacred book of Islam. References to fruits from this source were obtained from a translation of the Holy Qur'an by Shakir (1983). Fruits of the Qur'an include grape, olive, date, fig, and pomegranate.
In this paper, the main biblical fruits—grape, olive, date, fig, pomegranate, and almond—are considered. The origin of these fruits is briefly discussed (Janick, 2005), and references from the bibles that are rich in horticultural imagery are included.