Barley, שְׂעֹרָה, Hordeum vulgare

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English:

barley

Hebrew:

שְׂעֹרָה (śəˁōrâ)

Scientific Name:

Hordeum vulgare

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Biblical data

Introduction

The common noun שְׂעֹרָה (śəˁōrâ) occurs six times in the Hebrew Bible in the singular (Exod 9:31[x2]; Deut 8:8; Isa 28:25; Joel 1:11; Job 31:40) and 28 times in the plural, with the standard spelling שְׂעֹרִים (śəˁōrîm, Lev 27:16; Num 5:15; Judg 7:13; 2 Sam 14:30; 17:28; 21:9; 1 Kgs 5:8; 2 Kgs 4:42; 7:1, 16, 18; Jer 41:8; Ezek 4:9, 12; 13:19; 45:13; Hos 3:2[x2]; Ruth 1:22; 2:17, 23; 3:2, 15, 17; 1 Chr 11:13; 2 Chr 2:9, 14; 27:5). The plural is spelled plene as שְׂעוֹרִים (śəˁôrîm) in two of its four occurrences in Chronicles (1 Chr 11:13; 2 Chr 27:5). As with other plant terms, it seems that the singular form refers to the living plant itself, while the plural form refers to its usable product. The plural form, spelled defectively, also occurs once as a personal name (1 Chr 24:8).

שְׂעֹרָה is typically mentioned after wheat. However, when the temporal order of their harvests is in view, it is mentioned before wheat.

Distribution within the Bible

The singular form occurs:
3 times in prophetic oratory / prophecy: Deut 8:8; Isa 28:25; Joel 1:11.
Twice in narrative: Exod 9:31i–ii.
Once in wisdom literature: Job 31:40.

The plural form occurs:
20 times in narrative: Judg 7:13; 2 Sam 14:30; 17:28; 21:9; 1 Kgs 5:8; 2 Kgs 4:42; 7:1, 16, 18; Jer 41:8; Ruth 1:22; 2:17, 23; 3:2, 15, 17; 1 Chr 11:13; 2 Chr 2:9, 14; 2 Chr 27:5.
5 times in prophecy: Ezek 4:9, 12; 13:19; Hos 3:2i–ii.
3 times in law / cultic instructions: Lev 27:16; Num 5:15; Ezek 45:13.

Parts, Elements, Features that Are Specified in the Bible

Stages of processing and products: harvest (קְצִיר שְׂעֹרִים, 2 Sam 21:9; Ruth 1:22; קְצִיר־הַשְּׂעֹרִים, Ruth 2:23), winnowing at the threshing-floor (זֹרֶה אֶת־גֹּרֶן הַשְּׂעֹרִים, Ruth 3:2), handfuls (?) (שַׁעֲלֵי שְׂעֹרִים, Ezek 13:19), flour (קֶמַח שְׂעֹרִים, Num 5:15), bread (לֶחֶם שְׂעֹרִים, Judg 7:13; 2 Kgs 4:42), and round cake (עֻגַת שְׂעֹרִים, Ezek 4:12).

Standardized amounts: homer (חֹמֶר שְׂעֹרִים, Lev 27:16; Hos 3:2; חֹמֶר הַשְּׂעֹרִים, Ezek 45:13); two se’ah (סָאתַיִם שְׂעֹרִים, 2 Kgs 7:1, 16, 18); letekh (לֵתֶךְ שְׂעֹרִים, Hos 3:2); ephah (אֵיפָה שְׂעֹרִים, Ruth 2:17); six units (שֵׁשׁ־שְׂעֹרִים, Ruth 3:15; שֵׁשׁ־הַשְּׂעֹרִים, Ruth 3:17); twenty thousand kor (שְׂעֹרִים כֹּרִים עֶשְׂרִים אָלֶף, 2 Chr 2:9); ten thousand kor (‏כֹּרִים … שְׂעוֹרִים עֲשֶׂרֶת אֲלָפִים, 2 Chr 27:5).

Function in Context

Reference to its growth in the land of Israel (Deut 8:8). Realistic references to its prominence in trade from Israel / Judah to Tyre (1 Kgs 5:25; Ezek 27:17; 2 Chr 2:9).

Realistic reference to its use in determining land value in Israel: a plot that can be planted with a homer of it is worth 50 shekels of silver (Lev 27:16).

Realistic references to its susceptibility to destruction by hail (Exod 9:31), arson (2 Sam 14:30), and locusts (Joel 1:11).

Realistic references to שְׂעֹרִים as a commodity: as provision for refugees (2 Sam 17:27–29) and horses (1 Kgs 5:8), as hidden treasure (Jer 41:8), as an ingredient in bread (2 Kgs 4:42; Ezek 4:9), and as the typical contents of round cakes (Ezek 4:12). Two se’ah of it costs one shekel in a time of extreme plenty (2 Kgs 7:1, 16, 18).

Used metaphorically as an example of desirable growth, in an idiomatic curse of getting the undesirable growth of בָּאְשָׁה instead of שְׂעֹרִים (Job 31:40).

Pairs and Constructions

Second in the list of the so-called seven species of the land of Israel, preceded by wheat, followed by grapevine, fig, and pomegranate, and then by olive and honey: ‏אֶ֤רֶץ חִטָּה֙ וּשְׂעֹרָ֔ה וְגֶ֥פֶן וּתְאֵנָ֖ה וְרִמּ֑וֹן אֶֽרֶץ־זֵ֥ית שֶׁ֖מֶן וּדְבָֽשׁ (Deut 8:8).

Second in a list of items traded by King Solomon of Israel to King Hiram of Tyre, preceded by wheat, followed by wine and oil (2 Chr 2:9, 14; oil is placed before wine in v. 14).

Second in a series of crops destroyed by locusts, preceded by wheat denoted together with it as “harvest of the field” (קְצִיר שָׂדֶה), and followed by grapevine, fig, pomegranate, date palm, and apple, which are collectively called “trees of the field” (עֲצֵי הַשָּׂדֶה) (Joel 1:11–12).

Second edible item in a list of provisions for refugees, preceded by wheat and followed by flour, roasted grain, beans, lentils, roasted grain [sic], honey, cream, sheep / goats, and cow cheese (?): מִשְׁכָּ֤ב וְסַפּוֹת֙ וּכְלִ֣י יוֹצֵ֔ר וְחִטִּ֥ים וּשְׂעֹרִ֖ים וְקֶ֣מַח וְקָלִ֑י וּפ֥וֹל וַעֲדָשִׁ֖ים וְקָלִֽי׃ וּדְבַ֣שׁ וְחֶמְאָ֗ה וְצֹאן֙ וּשְׁפ֣וֹת בָּקָ֔ר (2 Sam 17:28–29). Second in a list of hidden treasures, preceded by wheat and followed by oil and honey: חִטִּים וּשְׂעֹרִים וְשֶׁמֶן וּדְבָשׁ (Jer 41:8).

Second in a list of ingredients to make bread, preceded by wheat and followed by beans, lentils, millet, and emmer: חִטִּין וּשְׂעֹרִים וּפוֹל וַעֲדָשִׁים וְדֹחַן וְכֻסְּמִים (Ezek 4:9). The geographical setting here is Babylonia. The fact that nothing like this list of ingredients appears elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible in relation to bread suggests that this is not ordinary bread.

Paired with flax (פִּשְׁתָּה) and contrasted with wheat (חִטָּה) and emmer (כֻּסֶּמֶת) in terms of its growth schedule (Exod 9:31–32). Its harvest precedes the wheat harvest (Ruth 2:23).

Collocated with nigella (קֶצַח), cumin (כַמֹּן), wheat (חִטָּה), and emmer (כֻסֶּמֶת) as examples of items that can be planted (Isa 28:25).

Preceded by wheat in the context of cultic instructions (Ezek 45:13). Preceded by silver and wheat in list of tribute given by the Ammonites to King Jotham of Judah (2 Chr 27:5).

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 Targum Peshitta Vulgate Jewish Christian KJV NRSV NJPS
Exod 9:31i שְּׂעֹרָה κριθὴ
= barley
O: סעַרֵי = barley
PJ: סרתא
N: שערייה
S: סעריה
sˁrˀ
= barley
hordeum
= barley
barley barley barley
Exod 9:31ii שְּׂעֹרָה κριθὴ O: סְעָרַיָא
PJ: סרתא
N: שערייה
GTD: סְעָרַיָּא
S: סעריה
sˁrˀ hordeum barley barley barley
Deut 8:8 שְׂעֹרָה κριθῆς O: סעָרִין
PJ: שערין
N: שערין
S: סערה
sˁrˀ hordei barley barley barley
Isa 28:25 שְׂעֹרָה κριθὴν סְעָרִין sˁrˀ hordeum barley barley barley
Joel 1:11 שְׂעֹרָה κριθῆς סְעָרִין sˁrˀ hordeo barley barley barley
Job 31:40 שְׂעֹרָה κριθῆς סערתא sˁrt hordeo barley barley barley
Lev 27:16 שְׂעֹרִים κριθῶν O: סְעָרִין / סעורין
PJ: סעורין
N: שערין
FTV: שערין
S: סערים
sˁryn hordei barley barley barley
Num 5:15 שְׂעֹרִים κρίθινον
= made of or from barley
O: סְעָרִין
PJ: שערי
N: שערין
S: סערים
sˁrˀ hordiaciae barley barley barley
Judg 7:13 שְׂעֹרִים κριθίνου סְעָרִין sˁrˀ ex hordeo barley barley barley
2 Sam 14:30 שְׂעֹרִים κριθαὶ סְעָרִין sˁrˀ hordei barley barley barley
2 Sam 17:28 שְׂעֹרִים κριθὰς סעָרִין sˁrˀ hordeum barley barley barley
2 Sam 21:9 שְׂעֹרִים κριθῶν סְעָרִין sˁrˀ hordei barley barley barley
1 Kgs 5:8 שְׂעֹרִים κριθὰς שעָרַיָא / סעוֹרַיָא sˁrˀ hordeum barley barley barley
2 Kgs 4:42 שְׂעֹרִים κριθίνους סְעָרִין sˁrˀ hordiacios barley barley barley
2 Kgs 7:1 שְׂעֹרִים κριθῶν סְעָרִין sˁryn hordei barley barley barley
2 Kgs 7:16 שְׂעֹרִים κριθῶν סְעָרִין sˁryn hordei barley barley barley
2 Kgs 7:18 שְׂעֹרִים κριθῆς סְעָרִין sˁryn hordei barley barley barley
Jer 41:8 שְׂעֹרִים κριθαί סעָרִין sˁrˀ hordei barley barley barley
Ezek 4:9 שְׂעֹרִים κριθὰς סעָרִין sˁrˀ hordeum barley barley barley
Ezek 4:12 שְׂעֹרִים κρίθινον סְעָרִין sˁrˀ hordiacium barley barley barley
Ezek 13:19 שְׂעֹרִים κριθῶν סְעָרִין sˁrˀ hordei barley barley barley
Ezek 45:13 שְּׂעֹרִים κριθῶν סְעָרִין sˁrˀ hordei barley barley barley
Hos 3:2i שְׂעֹרִים κριθῶν סְעָרִין 0 hordei barley barley barley
Hos 3:2ii שְׂעֹרִים οἴνου
= wine
(translator read יין)
0 sˁrˀ hordei barley 0 barley
Ruth 1:22 שְׂעֹרִים κριθῶν שׂערין sˁrˀ hordea barley barley barley
Ruth 2:17 שְׂעֹרִים κριθῶν שׂערין sˁrˀ hordei barley barley barley
Ruth 2:23 שְּׂעֹרִים κριθῶν שׂערין sˁrˀ hordea barley barley barley
Ruth 3:2 שְּׂעֹרִים κριθῶν שׂערין sˁrˀ hordei barley barley barley
Ruth 3:15 שְׂעֹרִים κριθῶν שׂערי[ן] sˁrˀ hordei barley barley barley
Ruth 3:17 שְּׂעֹרִים κριθῶν סערין sˁrˀ hordei barley barley barley
1 Chr 11:13 שְׂעוֹרִים κριθῶν סערין sˁrˀ hordeo barley barley barley
2 Chr 2:9 שְׂעֹרִים κριθῶν שערין sˁrˀ hordei barley barley barley
2 Chr 2:14 שְּׂעֹרִים κριθὴν שערין sˁrˀ hordeum barley barley barley
2 Chr 27:5 שְׂעוֹרִים κριθῶν שערין sˁrˀ hordei barley barley barley

Discussion

The term is consistently identified as barley by the Septuagint (κριθὴ), the Vulgate (hordeum), the Peshitta (sˁrˀ), and the Targumim (סערין / שערין). The identification as barley is unanimously accepted by modern scholars.[1]

The biblical hapax legomenon שׂוֹרָה (Isa 28:25), which is collocated with plant terms including שְׂעֹרָה (see above under “Pairs and Constructions”), is interpreted as denoting two-row barley by Feliks, based on the eighth-century BCE Aramaic Panamuwa inscription and on a Talmudic comment ascribed to R. Shmuel b. Nahmani (y. Hallah 57b).[2] But most ancients and moderns have not interpreted this word as a name of a plant at all.[3]

End Notes

[1] Löw 1924–34, 1:707–23; Feliks 1967, 17; Feliks 1968, 146–48; Zohary 1982, 76; Amar 2012, 117.
[2] Feliks 1968, 152–53.
[3] See discussion in Amar 2012, 258–59.

Bibliography

Amar, Zohar. 2012. צמחי המקרא. Jerusalem: Rubin Mass.
Feliks, Yehuda. 1967. כלאי זרעים והרכבה. Tel Aviv: Dvir.
_____. 1968. עולם הצומח המקראי. Ramat-Gan: Masada. Hebrew.
Löw, Immanuel. 1924–34. Die Flora der Juden. 4 vols. Vienna and Leipzig: Löwit and Kohut.
Zohary, Michael. 1982. Plants of the Bible. London: Cambridge University Press.

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

Biological Information