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Israel Environment & Nature: Cypress

CYPRESS, the tree Cupressus sempervirens of which two varieties are known, the horizontal Cupressus sempervirens horizontalis and the vertical Cupressus sempervirens pyramidalis.

The former grows wild in the high mountains of Gilead and the slopes of Lebanon. Scholars differ as to the biblical name for the cypress. In modern Hebrew it is identified with berosh, but the identification appears to be erroneous since the biblical berosh has been identified with the juniper . It is almost certain that both the gopher and te'ashur of the Bible are the cypress. (1) Gopher: It was from this wood that Noah was commanded to build the ark (Gen. 6:14). Of all the suggestions put forward to identify this tree, the cypress seems the most likely, and its Greek name κοπάρισος appears to be related to the Semitic gopher. The wood is proofed against rot and is suitable for the building of seaworthy craft. Ships in ancient times were constructed mainly of cypress. (2) Te'ashur (AV " *box tree") is mentioned by Isaiah among the trees that will blossom on the way of the redeemed in the wilderness (Isa 41:19), and will be employed in the construction of the Temple (ibid. 60:13). Ezekiel, describing the ships of the Tyrians, states that they were made of bat-ashurim from the isles of the Kittites (Ezek. 27:6). Both Rashi (basing himself on the Targum) and Kimḥi read it as one word preceded by a preposition bite'ashurim ("with cypress wood brought from the island of Cyprus"). The cypress grows on that island, and some are of the opinion that the name of this island is actually derived from it. Te'ashur is apparently derived from "yashar" ("upright") because of the erect nature of the C.s. pyramydalis. The horizontal species resembles the cedar, and it would appear that the references in rabbinical literature to cedars growing in Israel are to the horizontal cypress. The cypress is not indigenous to Israel but is grown as an ornamental tree and as a windbreak in orchards. It is also planted in pine forests. The picturesque mixture of pine and cypress can be found in the forest at Sha'ar ha-Gai and at Ein Karem near Jerusalem.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.