Acacia, שִׁטָּה, Acacia

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English:

acacia

Hebrew:

שִׁטָּה (šiṭṭâ)

Scientific Name:

Acacia

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Biblical data

Introduction

The שִׁטָּה (šiṭṭâ) as a living plant is mentioned only once in the Hebrew Bible, in a list of seven trees that the deity will miraculously cause to grow in the wilderness (Isa 41:19). However, the plural form שִׁטִּים (šiṭṭîm), which refers to a material, occurs 27 times, always in construct with another word: עֲצֵי שִׁטִּים (ˁăṣê šiṭṭîm) “šiṭṭîm wood” (Exod 25:5, 10, 13, 23, 28; 26:15, 26; 27:1, 6; 30:1, 5; 35:7, 24; 36:20, 31; 37:1, 4, 10, 15, 25, 28; 38:1, 6; Deut 10:3), or, in three occurrences, עַמּוּדֵי שִׁטִּים (ˁammûdê šiṭṭîm) “šiṭṭîm posts” (Exod 26:32, 37; 36:36).

This term also appears on seven occasions as an element in various toponyms: הַשִּׁטִּים (haššiṭṭîm, Num 25:1; Josh 2:1; 3:1; Mic 6:5; see also Hos 5:2); אָבֵל הַשִּׁטִּים (ˀābēl haššiṭṭîm, Num 33:49); נַחַל הַשִּׁטִּים (naḥal haššiṭṭîm, Joel 4:18); and בֵּית הַשִּׁטָּה (bêt haššiṭṭâ, Judg 7:22).

Distribution within the Bible

The singular form שִׁטָּה (šiṭṭâ), referring to a kind of living tree, occurs once, in consolation prophecy (Isa 41:19).

The plural form שִׁטִּים (šiṭṭîm), referring to a kind of wood, occurs 27 times:
Twenty-six times in the descriptions of the tabernacle in the book of Exodus, which are ascribed to the Priestly source: Exod 25:5, 10, 13, 23, 28; 26:15, 26, 32, 37; 27:1, 6; 30:1, 5; 35:7, 24; 36:20, 31, 36; 37:1, 4, 10, 15, 25, 28; 38:1, 6.
Once in a narrative portion of a speech, ascribed to the Deuteronomic source: Deut 10:3. Here the sacred ark is said to be made of שִׁטִּים wood, although this source shows no awareness of the tabernacle’s existence.

Toponyms that include the word as an element occur seven times:
Three times in narrative: Num 25:1; Josh 2:1; Judg 7:22.
Once in a narrative itinerary: Num 33:49.
Twice in prophecy: Mic 6:5; Joel 4:18.

Parts, Elements, Features that Are Specified in the Bible

Verdure, as demonstrating rejuvenation of a landscape (Isa 41:19).

Wood, as material for carpentry (Exod 25:5, 10, 13, 23, 28; 26:15, 26, 32, 37; 27:1, 6; 30:1, 5; 35:7, 24; 36:20, 31, 36; 37:1, 4, 10, 15, 25, 28; 38:1, 6; Deut 10:3).

Function in Context

Figure, signifying verdure (Isa 41:19).

Realistic references to the tree’s wood (Exod 25:5, 10, 13, 23, 28; 26:15, 26, 32, 37; 27:1, 6; 30:1, 5; 35:7, 24; 36:20, 31, 36; 37:1, 4, 10, 15, 25, 28; 38:1, 6; Deut 10:3).

Pairs and Constructions

In a list of 7 types of tree demonstrating rejuvenation: ‏אֶרֶז שִׁטָּה וַהֲדַס וְעֵץ שָׁמֶן … בְּרוֹשׁ תִּדְהָר וּתְאַשּׁוּר (Isa 41:19).

In a list of 15 materials used to construct the tabernacle and its contents: ‏זָהָב וָכֶסֶף וּנְחֹשֶׁת וּתְכֵלֶת וְאַרְגָּמָן וְתוֹלַעַת שָׁנִי וְשֵׁשׁ וְעִזִּים וְעֹרֹת אֵילִם מְאָדָּמִים וְעֹרֹת תְּחָשִׁים וַעֲצֵי שִׁטִּים שֶׁמֶן … בְּשָׂמִים … אַבְנֵי־שֹׁהַם וְאַבְנֵי מִלֻּאִים (Exod 25:3–7). This is the only type of wood used in the tabernacle. Objects made of it include the “ark of the testimony” (Exod 25:10 // 37:1 and Deut 10:3) and its carrying poles (25:13 // 37:4); the table (25:23 // 37:10) and its carrying poles (25:28 // 37:15); the tabernacle frames (26:15 // 36:20) and their bolts (26:26 // 36:31); the posts for the tabernacle curtain (26:32 // 36:36) and its entrance screen (26:37); the bronze altar (27:1 // 38:1) and its carrying poles (27:6 // 38:6); and, finally, the golden altar (30:1 // 37:25) and its carrying poles (30:5 // 37:28). The type of wood used to construct the only other wooden objects in the tabernacle, the posts for the courtyard and for the courtyard entrance screen, is not explicitly mentioned.

Element in toponyms:
הַשִּׁטִּים (haššiṭṭîm) “the šiṭṭîm” is in the vicinity of Moab in Transjordan (Num 25:1; Josh 2:1; 3:1; Mic 6:5; see also Hos 5:2). אָבֵל הַשִּׁטִּים (ˀābēl haššiṭṭîm) “brook of the šiṭṭîm” is in the same region (Num 33:49). Both toponyms may refer to the same place, to be identified with Tell el-Ḥammam (HALOT).
נַחַל הַשִּׁטִּים (naḥal haššiṭṭîm) “wadi of the šiṭṭîm” is apparently adjacent to Jerusalem (Joel 4:18); to be identified with Wādi en-nār (HALOT).
בֵּית הַשִּׁטָּה (bêt haššiṭṭâ) “place of the šiṭṭâ” is apparently in the north of the land of Israel (Judg 7:22). It has been uncertainly identified with the Arab town of Shatta in the Galilee,[1] and the nearby kibbutz Beit HaShita, between Afula and Beit She’an, is named after it.

End Notes

[1] Elitzur 2009, 125.

Bibliography

Elitzur, Yoel. 2012. שמות מקומות קדומים בארץ ישראל : השתמרותם וגלגוליהם. Jerusalem: Ben-Zvi Institute.

Contributor: Dr. Raanan Eichler, Biblical scholar, Postdoc 2016

History of Identification

Identification History Table

Hebrew Greek Aramaic Syriac Latin Arabic English
Reference MT LXX Revisions Targumim Peshitta Vulgate Jewish Christian KJV NRSV NJPS
Isa 41:9 שִׁטָּה πύξος
= box-tree (Buxus sempervirens)
שִטִין ˀškr
= box-tree
spina
= thorn
the shittah tree the acacia Acacias
Num 25:1 הַשִּׁטִּים Σαττιν
(transliteration)
O: שִטִין
PJ: שיטים
N, S: שטים
FTV: שיטין
sṭym
(transliteration)
Setthim
(transliteration)
Shittim Shittim Shittim
Josh 2:1 הַשִּׁטִּים Σαττιν שִטִין sṭym Setthim Shittim Shittim Shittim
Josh 3:1 הַשִּׁטִּים Σαττιν שִטִין sṭym Setthim Shittim Shittim Shittim
Mic 6:5 הַשִּׁטִּים τῶν σχοίνων = the rushes, the reeds מֵישַר שִטִין sṭym Setthim Shittim Shittim Shittim
Num 33:49 אָבֵל הַשִּׁטִּים Βελσαττιμ
(transliteration)
O: מֵישַר שִטִין
PJ: מישר שיטין
N: אבל שיטין
S: אבל שטים
ˀbl d sṭym Belsattim
(transliteration)
Abelshittim Abel-shittim Abel-shittim
Joel 4:18 נַחַל הַשִּׁטִּים χειμάρρουν τῶν σχοίνων מֵישַר שִטִין nḥlˀ d sṭym torrentem Spinarum
= thorn
the valley of Shittim Wadi Shittim the Wadi of the Acacias
Judg 7:22 בֵּית הַשִּׁטָּה Βαιθασεττα
(transliteration)
בֵית שִטָה byt šbṭˀ (read בית השבטה?) Bethseta
(transliteration)
Bethshittah Beth-shittah Beth-shittah
Exod 25:5 שִׁטִּים ἄσηπτος = undecaying O: שִטִין
PJ: שיטין
N: שטין
S: שטים
ˀškrˁ
= box-tree
setthim
(transliteration)
shittim acacia acacia
Exod 25:10 שִׁטִּים ἄσηπτος O: שִטִין
PJ: שיטא
N: שטין
S: שטים
ˀškrˁ setthim shittim acacia acacia
Exod 25:13 שִׁטִּים ἄσηπτος O: שִטִין
PJ: שיטא
N: שטין
S: שטים
ˀškrˁ setthim shittim acacia acacia
Exod 25:23 שִׁטִּים O: שִטִין
PJ: שיטא
N: שטין
S: שטים
ˀškrˁ setthim shittim acacia acacia
Exod 25:28 שִׁטִּים ἄσηπτος O: שִטִין
PJ: שיטא
N: שטין
S: שטים
ˀškrˁ setthim shittim acacia acacia
Exod 26:15 שִׁטִּים ἄσηπτος O: שִטִין
PJ: שיטא
N: שטין
S: שטים
ˀškrˁ setthim shittim acacia acacia
Exod 26:26 שִׁטִּים ἄσηπτος O: שִטִין
PJ: שיטא
N: שטין
S: שטים
ˀškrˁ setthim shittim acacia acacia
Exod 26:32 שִׁטִּים ἄσηπτος O: שִטִין
PJ: שיטא
N: שטין
S: שטים
ˀškrˁ setthim shittim acacia acacia
Exod 26:37 שִׁטִּים 0 O: שִטִין
PJ: שיטא
N: שטין
S: שטים
ˀškrˁ setthim shittim acacia acacia
Exod 27:1 שִׁטִּים ἄσηπτος O: שִטִין
PJ: שיטא
N: שטין
S: שטים
ˀškrˁ setthim shittim acacia acacia
Exod 27:6 שִׁטִּים ἄσηπτος O: שִטִין
PJ: שיטא
N: שטין
S: שטים
ˀškrˁ setthim shittim acacia acacia
Exod 30:1 שִׁטִּים ἄσηπτος O: שִטִין
PJ: שיטא
N: שטין
ˀškrˁ setthim shittim acacia acacia
Exod 30:5 שִׁטִּים ἄσηπτος O: שִטִין
PJ: שיטא
N: שטין
ˀškrˁ setthim shittim acacia acacia
Exod 35:7 שִׁטִּים ἄσηπτος O: שִטִין
PJ: שיטא
N: שטין
S: שטים
ˀškrˁ setthim shittim acacia acacia
Exod 35:24 שִׁטִּים ἄσηπτος O: שִטִין
PJ: שיטא
N: שטין
S: שטים
ˀškrˁ setthim shittim acacia acacia
Exod 36:20 שִׁטִּים 0 O: שִטִין
PJ: שיטא
N: שטין
S: שטים
ˀškrˁ setthim shittim acacia acacia
Exod 36:31 שִׁטִּים 0 O: שִטִין
PJ: שיטא
N: שטין / שיט’
S: שטים
ˀškrˁ setthim shittim acacia acacia
Exod 36:36 שִׁטִּים ἄσηπτος O: שִטִין
PJ: שיטא
N: שטין
S: שטים
ˀškrˁ setthim shittim acacia acacia
Exod 37:1 שִׁטִּים 0 O: שִטִין
PJ: שיטא
N:  שטין / שיטין
S: שטים
ˀškrˁ setthim shittim acacia acacia
Exod 37:4 שִׁטִּים ἄσηπτος O: שִטִין
PJ: שיטא
N: שטין
S: שטים
ˀškrˁ setthim shittim acacia acacia
Exod 37:10 שִׁטִּים O: שִטִין
PJ: שיטא
N: שטין
S: שטים
ˀškrˁ setthim shittim acacia acacia
Exod 37:15 שִׁטִּים 0 O: שִטִין
PJ: שיטא
N: שטין
S: שטים
ˀškrˁ setthim shittim acacia acacia
Exod 37:25 שִׁטִּים 0 O: שִטִין
PJ: שיטא
N: שטין
S: שטים
ˀškrˁ setthim shittim acacia acacia
Exod 37:28 שִׁטִּים 0 O: שִטִין
PJ: שיטא
N: שטין
S: שטים
ˀškrˁ setthim shittim acacia acacia
Exod 38:1 שִׁטִּים 0 O: שִטִין
PJ: שיטא
N: שטין
S: שטים
ˀškrˁ setthim shittim acacia acacia
Exod 38:6 שִׁטִּים 0 O: שִטִין
PJ: שיטא
N: שטין
S: שטים
ˀškrˁ setthim shittim acacia acacia
Deut 10:3 שִׁטִּים ἄσηπτος O: שִטִין
PJ: שיטא
N: שיטין
S: שטים
ˀškrˁ setthim shittim acacia acacia

Discussion

The Septuagint translates שִׁטָּה in Isa 41:19 as πύξος “boxwood” (Buxus sempervirens), and the toponymic element הַשִּׁטִּים in Joel 4:18 and Mic 6:5 as ὁι σχοῖνοι “the Rushes.” The term שִׁטִּים is consistently rendered as ἄσηπτος “undecaying,” which is elsewhere used by the Septuagint only in Isa 40:20 as a translation of לֹא־יִרְקַב. This peculiar translation is made possible through midrashic logic by the phrase עֲצֵי שִׁטִּים עֹמְדִים (Exod 26:15 // 36:20), with עֹמְדִים construed to mean “enduring” or “durable” (see b. Yoma 72a; b. Sukkah 45b). The adjective ἄσηπτος is used by Theophrastus (Historia plantarum 4.2.8), a Greek writer who preceded the composition of the Septuagint, to describe the “black” (μέλαινα) species of acacia (ἄκανθα, literally “thorny plant”). It may be that the author of the Septuagint knew that שִׁטִּים refers to acacia, and chose to emphasize a known positive quality of the wood rather than its genus lest he prompt readers to think of acacia wood’s lowly status.

The Peshitta consistently translates the word as ˀškrˁ “boxwood,” like the Septuagint on Isa 41:9, except in the toponyms, where it opts for transliteration.

The Targumim consistently use שטה, which is identical to the Hebrew and thus gives us no information about how the translators understood the term.

The Vulgate usually transliterates the word, but in Isa 41:9 and Joel 4:18 translates it as spina “thorn,” which may allude to the acacia, a thorny tree.

The talmudic sages asserted that שִׁטִּים actually refers to a type of אֶרֶז “cedar” by exploiting the conjunction of the two terms in Isa 41:9: אֶתֵּן בַּמִּדְבָּר אֶרֶז שִׁטָּה (Leqah Tov on Exod 25:10; Tanh. [Buber] Terumah 10; cf. b. Ros. Has. 23a // b. B. Bat. 80b; Song Rab. on Song 3:9; Num. Rab. 12:4). Philo had effectively adopted the same stance by asserting that the tabernacle was made of cedar wood (On the Life of Moses 2.77, 90). This assertion appears to be midrashic and motivated by the exegetes’ unease at the apparent inadequacy of acacia wood for use in the construction of sacred objects such as the ark and the tabernacle.[1] In other biblical accounts, Lebanon cedar is consistently considered the quality wood par excellence (Isa 9:9; Jer 32:14–15; Song 1:17; 8:9).[2]

Today, Biblical Hebrew שִׁטָּה, apparently a loanword from Egyptian šnḏ.t and related to Akkadian šamṭu / šanṭu / samṭu and Arabic sanṭ, is unanimously understood as signifying the acacia (Acacia) tree.[3] But disagreement remains as to which species of acacia are in view (see below).

End Notes

[1] In the same vein, the sages also suggested that the choice of שִׁטִּים wood anticipated the future sin of the Israelites at the location named הַשִּׁטִּים (Num 25) and was meant to expiate it in advance (Exod. Rab. 50:3; Tanh. [Buber] Wayaqhel 9; Leqah Tov on Exod 26:15). In a punning variant of this idea, the שִׁטִּים wood expiated the sin of the golden calf (Exod 32), which constituted a שטות “folly” (Tanh. [Warsaw] Terumah 10).
[2] Accordingly, Lebanon cedar is used so extensively in the Temple of Solomon (1 Kgs 5:20; 1 Chr 22:4) — for the paneling and roof beams (1 Kgs 6:9, 10, 15, 16, 18; 7:3, 7), the courtyard (6:36; 7:12) and the inner altar (6:20) — that this edifice is actually called “a cedar palace” (2 Sam 7:7 // 1 Chr 17:6). The Second Temple is also built of Lebanon cedar (Ezra 3:7), as are the palaces of David (2 Sam 5:11 // 1 Chr 14:1; 2 Sam 7:2 // 1 Chr 17:1; 2 Chr 2:2) and Solomon (1 Kgs 7:2, 11). Another prized wood is בְּרוֹשׁ, juniper, which is occasionally mentioned together with Lebanon cedar (Ezek 27:5; Song 1:17) and is correspondingly used in the Temple of Solomon alongside it (1 Kgs 5:22; 2 Chr 2:7) for the flooring (1 Kgs 6:15), doors (6:34), and, according to the Chronicler, paneling (2 Chr 3:5).
[3] BDB; Löw 1924–34, 2:377–91; HALOT; Feliks 1968, 96–98; Feliks 1997, 236–42; Zohary 1982, 116; Zevit 1992; Amar 2012, 151–52; Kislev 2013; Kislev 2016.

Bibliography

Amar, Zohar. 2012. צמחי המקרא. Jerusalem: Rubin Mass.
Feliks, Yehuda. 1968. עולם הצומח המקראי. Ramat-Gan: Masada.
Feliks, Yehuda. 1997. עצי בשמים יער ונוי. Jerusalem: Rubin Mass.
Kislev, Mordechai E. 2013. “לזיהוי עצי המשכן.” BDD: Journal of Torah and Scholarship 28: 97–111.
_____. 2016. “שני מיני שיטה שימשו לבניית המשכן וכליו.” Online: http://www1.biu.ac.il/Parasha/Tetzave/Kislev.
Löw, Immanuel. 1924–34. Die Flora der Juden. 4 vols. Vienna and Leipzig: Löwit and Kohut.
Zevit, Ziony. 1992. “Timber for the Tabernacle: Text, Tradition and Realia.” Eretz-Israel 23 (Avraham Biran Volume): 136*–43*.
Zohary, Michael. 1982. Plants of the Bible. London: Cambridge University Press.

Contributor: Dr. Raanan Eichler, Biblical scholar, Postdoc 2016

Biological Information