Vegetation, Plants and Trees: A Study of Botanical Biblical Hebrew

On the third day, right after the creation of the ‘earth and ‘seas,’ the vegetation was created:

“And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.  And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.” (Genesis 1:11-14)

The medieval Jewish Bible commentators were not exactly certain of the meaning found in the Hebrew Bible of these verses, because according to the original Hebrew, it is not clear what the term ‘vegetation’ entirely included.

In other words, the original Hebrew word for ‘vegetation’ is ‘Deshe’ {דשא}– which is a pretty rare word in the Hebrew Bible – and could refer to ALL of the plants that are growing from the land (as can be implied from the English translation) or it could refer to the ‘green grass’ only – since that is the initial meaning of this Hebrew word.

The second option could be that the Bible ‘Deshe’ has its particular meaning (‘green grass’) and the other two Hebrew terms ‘Esev’ {עשב} (‘plants’) and ‘Etz’ {עץ} (‘tree’) refer to the OTHER kinds of growing things in the plant world.

In order to better understand the source of this dispute, one must look deeper into the structure of the original Hebrew – in which EACH one of the THREE terms.  ‘Deshe'(‘green grass’ or ALL the plants), ‘Esev’ (‘plants’) and ‘Etz’ (‘tree’) each have their own special verbs that describe the unique action of the growing process, such as ‘plants yielding seed’  and ‘fruit trees bearing fruit.’

At this point you are probably asking: “So, what is the problem?” It is written specifically ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation’ – meaning the action is ‘sprout.’

Well, the problem is that Biblical (as well as Modern) Hebrew has the tendency to make different verbs out of nouns. In our case, in the original Hebrew, the verb ‘sprout’ appears as ‘Tadshe’ {תדשא} – which derives from the Hebrew noun ‘Deshe’ {דשא} and implies the act of ‘growing Deshe’ – in the imperative mood of Hebrew – but does not shed light on what this action is exactly and that leaves this issue as a Hebrew mystery…