(Heb. rothem), called by the Arabs retem, and known as Spanish broom; ranked under the genus genista. It is a desert shrub, and abounds in many parts of Palestine. In the account of his journey from Akabah to Jerusalem, Dr. Robinson says: "This is the largest and most conspicuous shrub of these deserts, growing thickly in the water-courses and valleys. Our Arabs always selected the place of encampment, if possible, in a spot where it grew, in order to be sheltered by it at night from the wind; and during the day, when they often went on in advance of the camels, we found them not unfrequently sitting or sleeping under a bush of retem to shelter them from the sun. It was in this very desert, a day's journey from Beersheba, that the prophet Elijah lay down and slept beneath the same shrub" ( 1 Kings 19:4 1 Kings 19:5 ). It afforded material for fuel, and also in cases of extremity for human food ( Psalms 120:4 ; Job 30:4 ). One of the encampments in the wilderness of Paran is called Rithmah, i.e., "place of broom" ( Numbers 33:18 ).
"The Bedawin of Sinai still burn this very plant into a charcoal which throws out the most intense heat."
( 1 Kings 19:4 1 Kings 19:5 ; Job 30:4 ; Psalms 120:4 ) a sort of broom, Genista monosperma, G. raetam of Forskal, answering to the Arabic rethem . It is very abundant in the desert of Sinai, and affords shade and protection, in both heat and storm, to travellers. The rethem is a leguminous plant, and bears a white flower. It is found also in Spain. It is an erect shrub, with no main trunk, but many wand-like, slender branches, and is sometimes twelve feet high. Its use is very great in stopping the sand. --ED.)
This is quite certainly the Arabic ratam (Retama retem, Natural Order, Leguminosae), a variety of broom which is one of the most characteristic shrubs of the deserts of Southern Palestine and southward to Egypt. Though the shade it affords is but scanty, in the absence of other shrubs it is frequently used by desert travelers as a refuge from the sun's scorching rays (compare 1 Kings 19:4). The root yields good charcoal, giving out much heat (Psalms 120:4). For people to be reduced to chew it for nourishment betokens the lowest depth of starvation (Job 30:4). Indeed so hopeless is this root as a source of food that many commentators believe that the accepted text is in error, and by altering a single letter, substituting the Hebrew letter, cheth, ("ch") for he ("h"), they get a reading, which has been adopted in the Revised Version margin, "to warm them" instead of "their meat," which certainly is much more probable.
E. W. G. Masterman
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