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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

THORNS. —Palestine is unusually rich in acanthous plants. As many as 50 genera and 200 species occur in Palestine and Syria, ‘besides a multitude clothed with scabrous, strigose, or stinging hairs, and another multitude with prickly fruits’ (Post in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible iv. 753). In the OT references to thorns are numerous, and many different words are used to express them. But the vocabulary, though full, is very indefinite, many of the terms employed being as vague and general as our own English word ‘thorns.’ We have the reflex of this uncertain terminology in Authorized and Revised Versions, which renders almost indiscriminately by ‘thistle,’ ‘thorn,’ or ‘bramble,’ a single Hebrew word. In the NT three terms occur, viz. ἄκανθα, τρίβολος, and σκόλοψ. The last-named is found only in  2 Corinthians 12:7 ‘There was given to me a thorn (σκόλοψ) in the flesh,’ but in this instance the rendering should rather be ‘stake’ or ‘pale.’ The second (τρίβολος) has already been explained (see Thistles). It remains that we should consider ἄκανθα ( Matthew 7:16;  Matthew 13:7;  Matthew 13:22,  Mark 4:7;  Mark 4:18,  Luke 6:44;  Luke 8:7;  Luke 8:14,  John 19:2,  Hebrews 6:8), which is invariably translated ‘thorns.’ Strictly speaking, this term denotes Acanthus spinosus , a Showy perennial with deeply indented and spiny leaves, and bearing white flowers tinged with pink. In the NT, however, it is a quite general term for all thorny or prickly plants, and is applied to bushes and weeds alike. Among the most common are thorny Astragali, which abound in the higher mountainous regions, and many species of Acacia, Eryngium, Rhamnus, Rubus, Solanum, etc. Some of them, such as Poterium spinosum and Rhamnus punctata , are found in all parts of the country. In our Third Gospel mention is made of the bramble (βάτος,  Luke 6:44). This may quite possibly be the common bramble ( Rubus fruticosus ), which is found in many parts of Palestine. It is noteworthy, however, that, except in this one passage, βάτος is always rendered ‘bush,’ and is used only of the ‘burning bush’ of Moses ( Mark 12:26,  Luke 20:37 etc.). The corresponding Heb. word (מְנֶה) is similarly restricted in its use. As the bramble is not found on Horeb (Sinai), it has been thought by some that the ‘bush’ was a kind of acacia. For the crown of thorns which was set in mockery on the head of Christ ( John 19:2), see Crown of Thorns.

Much might easily be said regarding the symbolism of thorns in the Scriptures. But it may be sufficient merely to note that they were regarded as the direct consequence of human sin, and so became the natural symbols of sin and the sufferings in which it issues ( Genesis 3:18,  Numbers 33:55,  Proverbs 22:5 etc.). In the light of this symbolism there is an apt pathos and beauty in the fact that Christ was crowned with thorns (see Cox, An Expositor’s Note Book , 349 ff.; and Earl Lytton, Fables in Song , i.).

Hugh Duncan.

Smith's Bible Dictionary [2]

Thorns. Thorns and Thistles. There appear to be eighteen or twenty Hebrew words, which point to different kinds of prickly or thorny shrubs. These words are variously rendered in the Authorized Version by "thorns," "briers," "thistles," etc. Palestine abounded in a great variety of such plants.

("Travellers call the Holy Land 'a land of thorns.' Giant thistles, growing to the height of a man on horseback, frequently spread over regions, once rich and fruitful, as they do on the pampas of South America; and many of the most interesting historic spats and ruins are rendered, almost inaccessible, by thickets of fiercely-armed buckthorns. Entire fields are covered with the troublesome creeping stems of the spinous Ononis , while the bare hillsides are studded with the dangerous capsules of the Puliuris and Tribulus . Roses of the most prickly kinds, abound on the lower slopes of Hermon; while the sub-tropical valleys of Judea are choked up in many places by the thorny Lycium ." - Biblical Things not generally Known).

Crown of thorns. - The crown which was put, in derision, upon our Lord's head, before his crucifixion, is by some supposed to have been the Rhamnus , or Spina Christi ; but, although abundant in the neighborhood of Jerusalem, it cannot be the plant intended, because its thorns are so strong and large, that it could not have been woven into a wreath. The large-leaved Acanthus , (bear's-foot), is totally unsuited for the purpose.

Had the acacia been intended, as some suppose, the phrase would have been ex akanthes . Obviously some small, flexile, thorny shrub is meant; perhaps Cappares spinosae . Hasselquist, ("Travels," p. 260), says that the thorn used was the Arabian, nabk . "It was very suitable for their purpose, as it has many sharp thorns, which inflict painful wounds; and its flexible, pliant and round branches might easily be plaited in the form of a crown." It also resembles the rich dark crown green of the triumphal ivy-wreath, which would give additional pungency, to its ironical purpose.

American Tract Society Bible Dictionary [3]