TAMARISK (Heb. אֵשֶׁל, eshel). Several species of the genus Tamarix grow wild in Israel. The tree resembles the *cypress in that its leaves are very small and in one species are barely visible. Unlike the cypress, however, the tamarisk belongs to the Angiospermae, having seeds in a closed ovary. Since in Arabic the tamarisk is called athl, which corresponds to the biblical eshel, the tree planted in Beer-Sheba by Abraham (Gen. 21: 33), the eshel has so been identified. Saul judged the people beneath an eshel (i Sam. 22:6), and the bones of Saul and his sons were buried under this tree in Jabesh in Transjordan (i Sam. 31:13; in i Chron. 10:12 the reading is elah, a *terebinth). Some rabbis understood eshel to be a general name for a tall tree, and some took it to be the shittim trees from which the tabernacle was constructed (Yal., Song 985). The tamarisk trees of Israel grow in the warmer regions. Some, like the Tamarix jordanis which covers extensive stretches in the thickets of Jordan, grow near water, whereas the Tamarix tetragyna grows extensively in the swamp in the vicinity of the Dead Sea. Other species grow in the coastal lowlands and in the sandy stretches of the Negev. In the Sinai Desert grows the species Tamarix mannifera, upon which is found a sweet extract of insects that some believe to be the biblical *manna. It would appear that the biblical arar, mistakenly identified with the *juniper, is in fact the tamarisk growing in the desert or in salty soil, and it is called ʿ ar ʿ ar in Arabic. The name arar, from the root ערה meaning "empty" or "naked," fits the tamarisk for it has only tiny leaves covered with a gray coating of salt which exudes from them. Jeremiah compares a person who puts his trust in man and not in God to "an arar in the desert." The tree appears to be suffering and "shall not see when good cometh" (Jer. 17:6). In contrast to the pessimistic Jeremiah, the psalmist (Ps. 102:18) sees hope even for it, for "He hath regarded the prayer of the arar" ("destitute"). It has been suggested that this reference is to the brief period of the tree's flowering when it is covered with thousands of pinkish-white blossoms as if wrapped in atallit and praying for the improvement of the hard conditions of its life in the desert.
Loew, Flora, 3 (1924), 398ff.; H.N. and A.L. Moldenke, Plants of the Bible (1952), index; J. Feliks, Olam ha-Ẓome'aḥ ha-Mikra'i (19682), 82–83, 94–95.
tam·a·risk / ˈtaməˌrisk/ • n. an Old World shrub or small tree (genus Tamarix, family Tamaricaceae) with tiny scalelike leaves borne on slender branches, giving it a feathery appearance.