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Keywords: Senna, Cassia, Rubus, Bible plants

PAL Question:

I am looking for more information regarding Rubus sanctus, also known as the Burning Bush at Saint Catherine's Monastery in the Sinai. I am interested in this plant because my church group is just finishing up our study of the Book of Exodus. And I thought this plant might make a really nice and symbolic gift. I am beginning to understand that this plant may be rare, or possibly known by another name?

View Answer:

The problem with English common names for plants of the Bible is that you are at several removes from knowing which plant the original Hebrew text describes. There are some sources which state that "burning bush" refers to Rubus sanctus, but it is more likely that it refers to Senna alexandrina. The Hebrew word in Exodus is sneh, which is the same as the Arabic word for the Senna plant.

Plants of the Bible by Michael Zohary (Cambridge University Press, 1982) says that "the plant in question, specifically named 'sneh,'might well have been a real plant in the local flora. As there is no hint in the text that the sneh was a thorny bush, and there are no plants in Sinai or anywhere else that are not consumed when burnt, sneh may be identified linguistically only." He also suggests that the plant may have been Cassia senna, now renamed Senna alexandrina. There is no native Rubus in Sinai, Egypt, or southern Israel, and the bramble in the monastery garden at Santa Caterina is a cultivated specimen, planted by the monks "to strengthen the belief that the 'burning bush' has grown there since the revelation, so completely is sneh equated with brambles in the minds of scholars and Bible lovers.

While Senna alexandrina may be a bit difficult to obtain, there are other species of Senna more widely available. However, if you wish to grow the Rubus you saw (now referred to as Rubus ulmifolius ssp. sanctus) as a keepsake from your trip to the monastery, you should go ahead.

Season All Season
Date 2008-01-03
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June 24 2013 12:55:25