Emmer, כֻּסֶּמֶת, Triticum dicoccumBack to Flora
emmer, emmer wheat, farro
The common noun כֻּסֶּמֶת occurs twice in the Hebrew Bible in its singular form (Exod 9:32; Isa 28:25) and once in the plural form כֻסְּמִים (Ezek 4:9). 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. It is likely that the noun is related to the qal verb כסם, which occurs twice in Ezek 44:20 in connection to hair; the Biblical Hebrew term for barley, שְּׂעֹרָה, is related to שֵֹֺׂעָר “hair.”
Distribution within the Bible
The singular form occurs once in narrative (Exod 9:32) and once in prophecy (Isa 28:25). The sole occurrence of the plural form is in prophecy (Ezek 4:9).
Parts, Elements, Features that Are Specified in the Bible
Function in Context
Realistic reference to its relative lateness of growth: the flax (פִּשְׁתָּה) and barley (שְּׂעֹרָה) of Egypt are destroyed in a hailstorm because they are fully formed, while the wheat (חִטָּה) and the כֻּסֶּמֶת survive because they are אֲפִילֹת, “late in the season” (Exod 9:31–32).
Realistic reference to its use as an ingredient in bread (לָחֶם, Ezek 4:9). The geographical setting is “the land of the Chaldeans” (Ezek 1:3), or southern Mesopotamia.
Pairs and Constructions
Last in a list of six ingredients to make bread, preceded by wheat, barley, beans, lentils, and millet: חִטִּין וּשְׂעֹרִים וּפוֹל וַעֲדָשִׁים וְדֹחַן וְכֻסְּמִים. The fact that nothing like this list of ingredients appears elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible in relation to bread suggests that this is probably not ordinary bread.
Preceded by nigella, cumin, wheat, and barley as examples of items that can be planted: הֲלוֹא֙ אִם־שִׁוָּ֣ה פָנֶ֔יהָ וְהֵפִ֥יץ קֶ֖צַח וְכַמֹּ֣ן יִזְרֹ֑ק וְשָׂ֨ם חִטָּ֤ה שׂוֹרָה֙ וּשְׂעֹרָ֣ה נִסְמָ֔ן וְכֻסֶּ֖מֶת גְּבֻלָתֽוֹ (Isa 28:25).
History of Identification
Identification History Table
= the same as, or a variety of, ζειά (LSJ); see below
|O: כוּנָתַיָא / כוניתא
= spelt or emmer (CAL)
= spelt (CAL, citing only this occurrence)
= a type of legume (CAL)
= spelt or emmer (CAL)
= a sort of grain, spelt (LS)
= Triticum monococcum or Triticum dicoccum (LSJ)
= vetch (LS)
|Ezek 4:9||כֻסְּמִים||ὄλυραν||כוּנָתִין / כותנין||kwntˀ||viciam||fitches||spelt||emmer|
The Septuagint renders the term as ζειά or ὀλύρα, and the Vulgate on Exod 9:32 renders it as far. The Peshitta and most Targumim use kwntˀ. All of these terms denote variants of wheat.
In contrast, the Vulgate on Isa 28:25 and Ezek 4:9 has vicia, while the Samaritan Targum on Exod 9:32 uses קטניתה. Both of these terms denote types of legumes.
In the tradition of identifying כֻּסֶּמֶת / כֻסְּמִים as a variant of wheat, the term has often been translated into English as “spelt.” However, most modern specialists reject this identification and favor an identification with a different variant of wheat: emmer.
 Löw 1924–34, 1:767–76; Feliks 1967, 29–30; Feliks 1968, 149–51; Kislev 1973, 86; Zohary 1982, 74–75; Amar 2012, 134–37.
Amar, Zohar. 2012. צמחי המקרא. Jerusalem: Rubin Mass.
Feliks, Yehuda. 1967. כלאי זרעים והרכבה. Tel Aviv: Dvir.
_____. 1968. עולם הצומח המקראי. Ramat-Gan: Masada.
Kislev, Mordechai. 1973. “לזיהוי החיטה והכוסמת.” Lĕšonénu: A Journal for the Study of the Hebrew Language and Cognate Subjects 37(2/3): 83–95; 37(4): 243–52.
Löw, Immanuel. 1924–34. Die Flora der Juden. Vienna and Leipzig: Löwit and Kohut.
Zohary, Michael. 1982. Plants of the Bible. London: Cambridge University Press.