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LILY:

Rendering in the Bible of the Hebrew word (I Kings vii. 19) or (II Chron. iv. 5; Cant. ii. 1; Hosea xiv. 5), which is probably a loanword from the Egyptian "s-sh-sh-sh-n" = "lotus"; the white lily, Lilium candidum Linn., growing wild in the Lebanon and other regions of northern Palestine. In a figurative sense the word "shoshan" is used of the capitals of the pillars and of the molten sea in the Temple (I Kings vii. 19, 26), and in the Mishnah of a nail-head and the knob on the Etrog; in the Targum it connotes "flower" in general.Sometimes, however, Targumic diction, followed by the Zohar, gives "shoshan" the meaning of "rose."

Described by Ibn Ezra.

The first account of the lily is given by Ibn Ezra in his commentary on the Song of Solomon (comp. Salfeld, "Das Hohelied Salomo's bei den Jüdischen Erklärern des Mittelalters," 1879, p. 68), and is one of the few descriptions of plants in Jewish literature. It runs thus: "It is a white flower of sweet but narcotic perfume, and it receives its name because the flower has, in every case, six [] petals, within which are six long filaments." The Midrash alludes once to the abundance of its sap, and David Ḳimḥi says that it has no roots. Abravanel says that dew makes the lily bloom, but rain destroys it. The heart of this flower is directed upward, even though it be among thorns, thus symbolizing the trust in God which should be felt by Israel amid all afflictions (Lev. R. xxiii. 1; Cant. R. ii. 2). The Zohar speaks of the thirteen leaves of the lily which surround the flower as the thirteen attributes of God which encompass Israel. This number is evidently derived from the description of Ibn Ezra with its six petals, six stamens, and one pistil. In the "Tiḳḳunim" (xxv., end; xxvi., beginning) the theme is varied, the "shoshannah" being taken as denoting both the lily and the rose. The lilies among which the beloved feeds (Cant. ii. 16) are the morning and evening Shema'; the five leaves of the rose are the first five words of the Shema'; and the thirteen leaves of the lily the numerical equivalent of "eḥad," the last word.

The identifications of the "lily-of-the-valleys" (ib. ii. 1) and the "royal lily" of the Syriac translation of Ecclus. (Sirach) xxxix. 14 and the Mishnah (Kil. v. 8; "Tiḳḳunim," iii. 78, l. 2) are uncertain, although the latter has been regarded plausibly as a species of Fritillaria.

The lily as the chief of flowers seems to have been represented on the shekels and half-shekels ascribed to Simon the Hasmonean; and was common on coats of arms in medieval Spain and in modern times.

Typical Application.

About this flower a rich and abundant symbolism has gathered. The faces of the righteous are as the lily, and exist only for redemption as the lily for perfume; so that the later cabalists employ the flower as a symbol of the resurrection (Gamaliel di Monselice on Pirḳe Shirah, ed. Mantua, p. 96a). Yet most of all the lily typifies Israel. As it withers in the sunlight, but blooms beneath the dew, so Israel withers away except God becomes as dew for her (Hos. xiv. 5), and she is renowned among the nations as the lily among the flowers. The lily among thorns is likened to Rebekah, who remained pure amid evil surroundings (Bacher, "Ag. Pal. Amor." ii. 243), and to the sons of Korah (Ps. xlv. 1 [A. V., heading]). While it was as difficult to save the Israelites from the Egyptians as a lily from the thorns (Bacher, l.c. ii. 76), yet they remained faithful among those that worshiped strange gods, as the lilies keep their beauty despite gashes and wounds (Targ., Cant. ii. 1). The title of Ps. lxxx. is supposed by Aḥa of Lydda to refer to the lily; and the passage in Ps. cxxx. 1, "Out of the depths," is explained by him as an allusion to the lily-of-the-valley. The phrase "set about with lilies" (Cant. vii. 2) is applied by the Haggadah to the words of the Law; but it is more usually regarded as alluding to the seventy elders of the Sanhedrin. In a funeral oration R. Simeon b. Laḳish (Bacher, l.c. i. 401) interprets Cant. vi. 2 thus: "My beloved" is God, who has descended into "his garden," the world, to the "beds of spices," Israel, to feed in "the gardens," the nations of the world, and to gather the "lilies," the righteous whom he removes by death from the midst of them. Similar allegorical interpretations are common, even as late as Enoch Zundel Luria in the middle of the nineteenth century. The symbolism of the lily has passed from the Jews to the Christians, so that the angel of the Annunciation is conventionally represented as bearing lilies without filaments.

Bibliography:
  • Fonck, Streifzüge Durch die Biblische Flora, pp. 53 et seq., Freiburg-im-Breisgau, 1900.
E. G. H. I. Lö.
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