Plants of the Bible: Laurel

In ancient times, the materials used to create common objects are not the same as today. People had to work with what was abundant and accessible. Natural materials, such as leaves, trees, and rocks played a role in a lot of everyday objects. Some had special meaning, such as a connection to an ancient god or Biblical figure. In this article, you will learn more about laurel.

In the New Testament, you will encounter two types of crowns that were placed upon the heads of Biblical figures. The first was made out of precious metal, and was the kind of headpiece you’d expect a member of royalty to wear. The second was a laurel wreath that was given to the winner of an ancient competition. The laurel crown was woven from the leaves and young branches of the shrub or small tree. The leaves are described as leathery. The plant also offers an aromatic oil. The flowers that grow on the plant are small and green. These appear during the springtime. In October or November, shiny black fruits with a fleshy outside emerge.

Growing in forest regions of the Mediterranean region, laurel is one of the few plants mentioned solely in the New Testament. The writers of the New Testament who were well versed in Greek culture were quite familiar with the symbolism behind this kind of prize. For example, Paul the Apostle was greatly influenced by the Greeks. The laurel wreath of the Greek games is implied in three epistles.

According to the New International Version (II Timothy 2: 5), there is a mention of a ‘victor’s crown’ , “Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules.”

In I Peter 5:4 (from the New American Standard Bible), a non-fading crown is compared to one that fades, which would be one made out of laurel: “And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” James later suggests that those that persevere wear the laurel crown.

The ancient Greeks saw the laurel as being sacred to one of their gods, Apollo. The sprigs of the plant were transformed into a crown to honor the best poets or heroes of the land. The noble reputation of the laurel continues to play a role in our language and literary references. The term is seen in words of distinction, such as “laureate” and “baccalaureate.” “Laureate” is typically used to reference someone of great esteem within the arts or military. A baccalaureate is used to refer to a bachelor’s degree in education. The word laureate is also used to refer to varying levels of achievement.