Burning Bush

views updated May 21 2018


BURNING BUSH , the seneh, which is connected with God's revelation to Moses and of which it is stated that "The bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed" (Ex. 3:1–4). Various identifications have been proposed for the plant. One suggestion is that it is a variety of thorn-bush which grows extensively in desert wadis, namely, the wild jujube (Zizyphus spina-Christi) known in Arabic as in Egyptian as nabs. An ancient inscription found in the Sinai Desert reads: "The god Safdu who dwells in the nabs," an expression analogous to the biblical Divine epithet "Dweller in the bush" (Deut. 33:16). Others identify the seneh with a variety of acacia widely found in Sinai or with a parasite plant that lives on it; the climber, Loranthus acaciae, is covered by red flowers and fruit, and from a distance creates the illusion of being on fire. Others see a similarity between the biblical word and the plant known in Arabic as sana, the desert plant Cassia obovata, which grows very low and might appear too humble a vehicle for the revelation. However, the opening of an incantation prescribed in the Talmud suggests that the seneh is a rather low tree. It reads: "O seneh, it is not because you are the tallest of the trees that the Holy One, blessed by He, caused His Divine Presence to rest upon you, but because you are the lowliest of all the trees" (Shab. 67a). Yet others, on the basis of the traditions of the monastery of St. Catherine in Sinai, identify it with the shrub Colutea istria which has bright yellow flowers and distended pods, or with the bramble, or blackberry (Rubus sanguineus (sanctus)). The latter identification is supported by rabbinic literature in which the bramble is referred to as seneh and its fruit, first red and later black, as innevei seneh ("the berries of the seneh"; tj, Ma'as. 1:3, 48d). In their many homilies in Midrash Rabbah on the revelation of God in the seneh, the sages had the bramble in mind, and sought to explain why God had chosen to reveal Himself to Moses in this particular plant. The homilies cited here are those that contain some description of it. The bramble grows on wadi banks (also in Sinai) and in moist fields, hence the homiletical interpretation: "Even as the seneh grows both in a garden and by a river, so Israel has a share in this world and in the world to come." "Even as this seneh flourishes wherever there is water, so Israel flourishes only by virtue of the Torah which is called water." The bramble has no central stem but instead produces long, thin branches with spiked thorns and is therefore used as a hedge: "Even as this seneh is used as a hedge for gardens, so is Israel [a hedge] for the world." The thorns of the bramble are unusual in that "they all bend downward" so that whoever picks the sweet black fruit "puts his hand into it and feels nothing but when he withdraws his hand it gets scratched. Even so when Israel went down to Egypt no one knew them, but when they went out, they went out with signs and wonders." Similarly, a bird "gets into it and feels nothing but when it goes out, its wings are scratched." The bramble has pink flowers that resemble small roses and hence "the seneh produces thorns and produces roses." Its leaves consist of between three to five leaflets and the fact that "the seneh has five leaves" was used in an allusion to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and Aaron. (The sources of the above Midrashim are Ex. R. 2:5 and Song R. 1:6.) These descriptions confirm the sages' identification of the seneh associated with God's revelation to Moses with the bramble. This is the earliest and most authentic tradition.


Dalman, in: zdpv, 27 (1904), 169; Haupt, in: zdmg, 63 (1909), 508f.; Loew, Flora, 3 (1924), 175–88; J. Feliks, Olam ha-Ẓome'aḥ ha-Mikra'i (1957), 110–2, 317. add. bibliography: W. Propp, Exodus 1–18 (ab; 1998), 199.

[Jehuda Feliks]

Burning bush

views updated May 11 2018

Burning bush. The plant from which occurred God's revelation to Moses in Exodus 3. 1–4. 17. During the Middle Ages, the burning bush became a Christian symbol for Mary, as e.g. in Chaucer, Prologue to the Prioress’ Tale.

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