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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature


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Fig. 305—Papyrus

The Hebrew word gome, translated 'rush' and 'bulrush' in our Authorized Version (; ; ; ) should be rendered papyrus.

This plant is now well known: it belongs to the tribe of sedges, and is not a rush or bulrush, as in the Authorized Version. It may be seen growing to the height of six or eight feet, even in tubs, in the hothouses of this country, and is described by the ancients as growing in the shallow parts of the Nile. The root is fleshy, thick, and spreading; the stems triangular, eight or ten feet in height, of which two or so are usually under water, thick below but tapering towards the apex, and destitute of leaves; those of the base broad, straight, and sword-shaped, but much shorter than the stem. Cassiodorus, as quoted by Carpenter, graphically described it as it appears on the banks of the Nile, 'There rises to the view this forest without branches, this thicket without leaves, this harvest of the waters, this ornament of the marshes.'

The papyrus was well known to the ancients as a plant of the waters of Egypt. It was found in almost every part of Egypt inundated by the Nile, in the Delta, especially in the Sebennytic nome, and in the neighborhood of Memphis, etc. By some it was thought peculiar to Egypt; by others it was thought to be a native also of India, of the Euphrates near Babylon, of Syria, and of Sicily; and there is no reason why it should not grow in the waters of hot countries, as, for instance, near Babylon or in India.

A brief description of the uses of this plant, as given in the works of the ancients, is thus summed up by Parkinson in his Herbal, p. 1207: 'The plant, say the ancients, is sweete, and used by the Egyptians, before that bread of corne was known unto them, for their food, and in their time was chawed, and the sweetnesse sucked forth, the rest being spit out; the roote serveth them not only for fewell to burne, but to make many sorts of vessels to use, for it yielded much matter for the purpose. The stalke is profitable to many uses, as to make ships, and of the barke to weave, and make sailes, mats, carpets, some kinds of garments, and ropes also.' The construction of papyrus boats is mentioned by Theophrastus; and Plutarch says, 'Isis circumnavigated the marshes in a papyrus wherry for the purpose of collecting the pieces of Osiris's body.' From Heliodorus's account it appears that the Ethiopians made use of similar boats; for he relates that the Ethiopians passed in reed wherries over the Astaboras; and he adds that these reed wherries were swift sailing, being made of a light material, and not capable of carrying more than two or three men. Bruce relates that a similar kind of boat was made in Abyssinia even in his time, having a keel of acacia wood, to which the papyrus plants, first sewed together, are fastened, being gathered up before and behind, and the ends of the plants thus tied together. Representations of some Egyptian boats are given in the Pictorial Bible (ii. p. 135); where the editor remarks that when a boat is described as being of reeds or rushes or papyrus (as in Egypt), a covering of skin or bitumen is to be understood. That the papyrus was employed for making paper is also well known, and Wilkinson mentions that from ancient paper being found at Thebes and elsewhere, it is evident that this application of it was much anterior to the time of Alexander the Great.





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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Rush'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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