What is a Tappuach?

(Listed under Speculations)

16 Jul 2020 (modified 24 Apr 2022)

N.B. This page does not yet have a “Simplified English” version. Automated translations are based on the original English text. They may include significant errors.

The ‘Tappuach‘ (Hebrew תפוח) is directly referred to as a fruit or tree 6 times in the old Testament; starting from the time of Solomon; with 4 references in Solomon’s Song, one in Proverbs and one in Joel. However, it should also be noted that there are several place names dating from the time of the Exodus that may well be associated with this fruit: ‘Tappuach‘ (Joshua 12:17, 15:34, 16:8 & 17:8), ‘Beth-Tappuach‘ (House of ‘Tappuach‘, Joshua 15:53) and ‘En-Tappuach‘ (Spring of ‘Tappuach‘, Joshua 17:7). It is normally translated as ‘Apple.’ But, as the Jewish Encyclopedia concedes, ‘About the correctness of the translation of “tappuaḦ” there is a wide difference of opinion among botanists and linguists.’1

In 2012 I wrote a book, ‘Transformed by Love (The Story of the Song of Solomon),’ in which I included a translation of the Song, rendering this name as ‘apricot.’ But, in the process of preparing a fresh revision, I wondered if I had been too easily persuaded and should simply call it ‘tappuach,’ to reflect ongoing doubts about its true identity. Eventually I decided that I needed to re-assess the latest available evidence before deciding.

Why Not an Apple?

‘Apple’ has been the generally-understood meaning of ‘tappuach‘ in Hebrew since the Mishnaic period (10-220AD), when the oral traditions of the Pharisees from the time of the second (and final) temple were being formalised. But its meaning prior to this is seriously in doubt. The primary difficulties are:

  • What we call ‘apples’ are domesticated varieties derived from hybridization of the species, Malus Sieversii (which originated in more temperate regions of Central Asia) with several species of wild crabapple. It is the former, plus its modern, similarly-sized and shaped variants, that is known today as the ‘tappuach.’ But this is unsuited to Israel’s hot, dry climate. Although in modern times it has been possible to breed more heat tolerant varieties, there is no evidence of successful cultivation in Israel during the Old Testament period. Indeed, as late as 1867, Canon H.B. Tristram commented: “Neither can the ‘tappuach’ be the Apple; for though that fruit is cultivated with success in the higher parts of Lebanon, out of the boundaries of the Holy Land, yet it barely exists in the country itself. There are, indeed, a few trees in the gardens of Jaffa, but they do not thrive, and have a wretched, woody fruit; and perhaps there may be some at Askelon. But what English and American writers have called the ‘Apple’ is really the Quince. The climate is far too hot for our Apple tree.”2
  • Wild crabapples, which can be found in Israel, are much smaller and much less savoury, with a woody texture. But the Mishnaic scholars, who recorded Jewish oral traditions during the Second Temple period, referred to these using different names; though they did acknowledge them as being ‘similar,’ in some respects, to the ‘tappuach‘.
  • However, the Hebrew word itself is thought to derive either from a word meaning ‘to blow or scent’ or from one meaning ‘to swell or become round.’ As such, it could have been more of a descriptive term for any generally apple-like fruit. In particular, it is known that the equivalent Arabic term, ‘tyffach,’ was applied in such a sense to a variety of fruits.3 Likewise the English word ‘apple’ (and its equivalent in a number of other languages) was used up until the 17th century in the general sense of virtually any fruit except berries.
  • The apple is by no means the only fruit named in later Jewish writings, such as the Mishnah, where there is doubt as to their original Biblical names. Possible reasons for this confusion will be discussed later.

Characteristics of the Tappuach.

The following characteristics of the biblical tappuach may be adduced from the biblical references:

  • Joshua Place Names. If these are indeed references to the ‘tappuach,’ then it appears to have existed, and been known in Israel by that name, since before the time of the Exodus. However, using the name to designate specific places, suggests that their presence, at that time, was somewhat unusual.
  • Song 2:3. As the tappuach among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, his fruit was sweet to my taste.
    It stands out as exceptional amongst other trees. This may indicate that, during Solomon’s time it was something of a rarity: but sufficiently well known for the comparison to be readily understood. It is also noted for providing deep shade from the sun and having sweet-tasting fruit.
  • Song 2:5. Strengthen me with raisins, refresh me with tappuachs; For I am faint with love.
    When feeling faint, eating this fruit helps a person to feel rested and re-energised.
  • Song 7:8. I said, “I will climb up into the palm. I will take hold of its fruit.” Let your breasts be like clusters of the vine, the smell of your breath like tappuachs, Beloved.
    The fruit has an alluring smell.
  • Song 8:5. Who is this who comes up from the wilderness, leaning on her beloved? Under the tappuach I aroused you. There your mother conceived you. There she was in labor and bore you.
    It appears to have a special association with lovemaking, childbirth or other auspicious occasions.
  • Prov 25:11. A word fitly spoken is like tappuachs of gold in settings of silver.
    It appears to be golden in colour when at its best. Why ‘settings of silver’?
  • Joel 1:12. The vine has dried up, and the fig withered; the pomegranate, the palm also, and the tappuach, even all of the trees of the field are withered; for joy has withered away from the sons of men.
    By this time (some 200 years after Solomon) it appears to be a major and normally-dependable source of food and pleasure.

If not an Apple – What?

Apart from the Apple, three other main candidates have been suggested:

  • Citron. The modern Hebrew for citron is אֶתְרוֹג ‘etrog.’ It is distinguished from the tappuach in Mishnah Ma’asrot i.4. It has a pleasant citrus smell and had medicinal and insect-repellent uses: but is not considered suitable for eating raw. Indeed, one of its uses, when mixed with wine, was to induce vomiting if poison was swallowed. A very noteworthy feature is that the same tree can bear both flowers and fruits in completely different stages of development at virtually any season. Originally a native of India, it has been selectively bred into many forms, including lemons, limes and grapefruits and crossed with the mandarin (a Chinese native of the same genus) to produce oranges.
    The citron is nowhere explicitly identified in the Bible; and was said to have been introduced into the Mediterranean area by Alexander the Great, about 6 centuries after Solomon. But excavations of a Persian palace garden at Ramat Rachel, Jerusalem, records finding citron pollen embedded in plaster dating from the fifth to fourth centuries BC4.
    From the time of the second temple it has been traditionally taught that the citron was the ‘fruit (of the) tree hadar‘ that was to be used in the Sukkot celebrations of Lev 23:40. In ancient Hebrew, ‘hadar‘ meant ‘splendid’: although in modern usage it is understood as ‘citrus’. But when Neh 8:14-17 describes the revival of Sukkot (which apparently lapsed following the death of Moses and Joshua), the citron is noticeably absent from the account. It has also been suggested that it was the tree that bore the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. But as there is no other concrete proof of either claim botanists are generally of the opinion that it was first introduced into Israel as an exotic species by the Jewish captives returning from Babylon, or their Persian rulers, and subsequently adopted as an ideal example of a ‘fruit of a splendid tree.’ This makes the citron doubtful on grounds of both date and edibility.
  • Quince. The modern Hebrew for quince is פריש ‘parish.’ It is distinguished from the tappuach in Mishnah Ma’asrot, (appearing in i.3 rather than i.4) and from the crabapple in Mishna Oktzin i.6. It used to be thought that the quince was native to the Mediterranean area: but more recent research suggests that it originated from the area of Western Asia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Georgia, N. Iran and Afghanistan. It was associated with the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, whose cult can be traced back to the Sumerian cult of Inanna. However, this association appears to be based on a poem by Callamicus, written in the 3rd century BC. References in the Mishna are the earliest known evidence of its presence in Israel: but it flourishes there and may have become naturalised well before this time.
    When ripe, the quince has a golden-yellow colour and is very fragrant. Visually, it is very similar to an apple, though tending to be slightly pear-shaped, and from a distance the two are easily confused. But the taste is very sour; and, like the citron, it is not considered suitable for eating raw. However it does make good jellies and preserves, and another meaning of its name is ‘spreadable.’ Apart from its taste when raw, the quince looks like a promising candidate. In an 1890 article the Rev. W. Houghton argued strongly for this, suggesting that the description of ‘tappuach‘ as ‘sweet to the taste’ may rather imply sweetness in an Eastern sense, “probably not only on account of the acid juice of the fruit, but because of its associations with friendship and love.”5 Houghton also mentions a claim that the quince was ‘introduced from Crete into Greece and Italy about the middle of the seventh and sixth century B.C.)’: but without citing his source. However, even if correct, it does not tell us if the quince was in Israel during the time of Solomon, several hundred years earlier.
  • Apricot. In modern Hebrew an apricot is known as משמש ‘mishmish‘ – a name derived from Chaldean; although the Jewish Encyclopaedia calls it ‘appanuth.’ This is now accepted as originating from Central Asia, bordering on China: but was previously thought to have originated from Armenia, where apricot seeds have been found in excavations predating the Bronze Age. They are abundant in modern Israel: but their date of first introduction is not known. However, Alexander the Great (356–323 BC) is credited with introducing them to Greece as “Armenian Plums”; which has led many to conclude that they did not reach Israel until after the time of Solomon. But as to the rest, let me quote again from Canon Tristram6
    ‘The Apricot is known to be a native of the neighbouring country of Armenia, and therefore probably introduced as early as the Vine, which was originally from the same regions, and is certainly not a native of Palestine. But everywhere the Apricot is common. Perhaps it is, with the single exception of the Fig, the most abundant fruit of the country … and yields a crop of prodigious abundance. Many times have we pitched our tents in its shade, and spread our carpets secure from the rays of the sun… There can scarcely be a more deliciously-perfumed fruit than the Apricot; and what fruit can better fit the epithet of Solomon, “apples of gold in pictures of silver,” than this golden fruit, as its branches bend under the weight in their setting of bright, yet pale foliage?’
    The apricot also has other attributes in its favour. The fruit is rich in natural sugar, making it sweet-tasting and an excellent energy food (Song 2:3,5). The Song of Solomon appears to be set in the springtime: and the apricot is one of the earliest fruits, ripening in late spring (the English name, ‘apricot’ comes from the Latin, ‘praecocia,’ meaning, “early-ripen”). And the apricot harvest is not only early – it also used to be notoriously brief; with many apricots turning mushy within a day of picking. This gave rise to an Arabic expression, ‘bukra fih l-mishmish‘ (‘tomorrow in the apricots’); which basically means, “Forget it! It won’t happen!” Thus, the converse symbolism of ripe apricots is that of an auspicious opportunity, not to be missed; lending potential additional significance to the references in Song 2:3 & 8:5.

The Thorny Issue of Date

Both the Quince and the Apricot look like good candidates. The Apricot definitely has the advantage in general appearance and flavour: but on the issue of whether or not they were known in Israel during the time of Solomon, we cannot claim concrete proof for either; so we must proceed on the basis of probabilities.

Mishna Citations

By dismissing ‘apple’ as the intended translation of ‘tappuach‘ in the Old Testament (whilst at the same time acknowledging this as its modern Hebrew meaning) we are necessarily acknowledging the possibility that references to ‘tappuach‘ in the Mishna may potentially mean either ‘apple’ or whatever fruit we think may be the original bearer of that name. The sources singled out for examination are Mishna Ma’azrot (Tithes), which discusses rules regarding tithes to be paid to the Levites, Mishnah Oktzin (Stems), which discusses criteria defining the impurity of stalks and stems and Mishnah Kilayim (Of Two Sorts), which specifies certain animals, plants and materials that were not permitted to be hybridized, grafted or intermingled. The Mishna were formulated in oral form during the Mishnaic or Tannaitic period (between 10 and 220 AD) in order to clarify and preserve rabbinic traditions dating from the Second Temple period (536 BC – 70 AD) and were committed to writing between 190 and 230 AD.

Particular attention should be paid to situations where names of fruit are being deliberately compared, contrasted or used in close proximity, together with any other clues as to the shape or form of the fruit being discussed. Also, what does the appearance or non-appearance of the name at that position in the Mishna tell us about its significance in that period?

Quince פריש ‘parish.’

The modern Hebrew ‘parish,’ is explicitly named in Mishnah Ma’asrot, where it is listed in i.3 as being considered liable to tithing when its skin becomes smooth. (An immature quince normally has a fuzzy skin.) The problem is that the tappuach is listed in the very next verse (i.4) as being liable to tithing whether gathered in the early or late stages of ripening. This seems highly improbable if tappuach and parish were one and the same fruit! The parish is also mentioned in Mishna Oktzin i.6; where it’s stem is regarded similarly to those of pears and crabapples (which is anatomically correct for the quince): but the tappuach is not listed. So if the quince is not a tappuach then both the above references are easily explained. But note that, if apples were common in Israel at this time and tappuach was their common name, then it becomes harder to justify its non-inclusion in the list of fruits with similar stems that are listed in Mishna Oktzin i.6.

But Mishnah Kilayim i. 4 presents bit of a puzzle – apparently describing a tappuach as similar to a crabapple; yet required to be kept separate from them. A quince looks like a large, slightly pear-shaped apple; so there are definite similarities between them and crabapples: but the caution against admixture would make better sense if ‘tappuach‘ were translated here as ‘apple,’ since quinces neither hybridize nor graft with apples anyway.7 So, bearing in mind that cultivated apples probably were available in some neighbouring countries by this time and that some shifts of terminology might occur in different contexts, it may be reasonable to argue that ‘tappuach‘ should be translated as ‘apple’ in this instance.

What we can confirm however, from the anatomical details given, is that the Quince was well known to the rabbis at this time.

Apricot משמש ‘mishmish

On the other hand, what is significant about the apricot is that it is not referenced by its modern name of ‘mishmish‘ in any of the above Mishnahs. There are 3 possible explanations:

  1. It was unknown to the Rabbis of that period. If so, it cannot be the tappuach.
  2. It was known; but it was considered to have been adequately covered by the specific examples and more general statements in the remainder of these texts. This may be possible: but if it were a common fruit in Israel, it seems quite surprising.
  3. It is mentioned; but by its original name – the tappuach. If that were the case, is there a satisfactory explanation for the appearance of this name in Mishnah Ma’asrot i.4 but not in Mishna Oktzin i.6? Yes, there is: apricots can be gathered even if seriously over-ripe and sun-dried for long-term storage; thus justifying the ‘early or late’ stipulation. And apricots do not have a stem when harvested; which explains its omission from Mishna Oktzin.

But again Mishnah Kilayim i. 4 presents a problem – apricots and crabapples are distinctly different. So, in this case we would be obliged to again accept that ‘tappuach‘ was an early example of its modern meaning, or else that the reference to the ‘crabapple’ is itself incorrectly translated. This could be the case; since the word used for ‘crabapple’ does not correspond to modern Hebrew usage; instead appearing to be a diminutive of Aramaic, meaning ‘little apple.’

Weighing the Alternatives

Accepting either alternative forces us to confront the likelihood that common names for fruits were changing during this period. With the introduction of both previously unknown fruits and new cultivars becoming more common during this period of increasing international trade, such name changes are a real possibility. However having two different names used for the quince in two successive verses seems much less probable than having old and new meanings for ‘tappuach’ in two different books. So, despite confirming its existence in that period, the case for the quince appears to have been weakened. On the other hand, that for the apricot is potentially made stronger – if it can be shown that there is good reason to believe that it was known in Israel during the time of Solomon and could have still been known to the rabbis by its original name.

How and When Did the Apricot Reach Israel?

Even though apricots are known to have existed long before Solomon in Armenia, about 800 miles to the north-east, access was difficult. Israel’s main trading routes lay along the Fertile Crescent linking Egypt with Mesopotamia. But Armenia lay within the mountain ranges to the North, between the Black and Caspian Seas. To the north of these seas the wide expanses of the Steppes stretched between the north-western shore of the Black Sea and the Pacific, in northern China. These were occupied by wandering nomadic tribes and formed a natural path for East-West trade, referred to as the ‘Steppe Route‘. But the mountainous regions of Armenia and the Caucuses were a deterrent to North-South trade; so that Armenia appears to have had scant relations with Israel in the centuries before or after Solomon’s reign. Why, then, would anyone want to trade apricots with Israel?

Dried Apricots – the Nomad’s Lunch Box

As briefly touched on in our discussion of the Mishna, apricots had one special property that made them particularly useful to the nomadic traders; they could easily be dried in the sun, reducing their weight and producing a highly concentrated, tasty and durable energy food.8 This made them ideal for carrying as personal rations on any long journey. This feature of the apricot would necessarily have been discovered and exploited very early in its cultivation – or even before. As already mentioned, apricot season is early and brief. Gluts are common; with the ground becoming covered with masses of fallen fruits. In the shade, they quickly end up as a trampled mush: but on the sunward side of the tree, as ready-made dried apricots. And, of course, this property was not only of value to travellers; it made them useful as winter stores. So it is not difficult to see how a nomadic trader might ‘sweet talk’ people into trading a handful of apricot stones with a promise of bountiful harvests to come. So this fruit could easily have been dispersed along the nomad’s trade routes – particularly in the vicinity of their favourite watering places; potentially giving rise to the tappuach-related place names previously mentioned.

Two Dispersion Routes

In recent years much use has been made of DNA analysis in order to unravel the genetic and geographic history of plant and animal species. A May 2020 study9 of the worldwide distribution of apricot varieties produced very strong evidence that, following the introduction of the apricot to what the study calls the ‘Irano-Caucasian’ region (which includes Armenia), its further dispersion westwards from there followed two distinctly different routes. One of these initially ran south to Egypt and then west, along the southern Mediterranean coast of North Africa; the other ran towards Turkey, Greece and on westwards around the northern Mediterranean coast of Europe. This latter route is consistent with the historical reports of the introduction of the apricot to Greece by Alexander the Great and the preceding development of the Persian ‘Royal Road‘ trading route. But what of the south-western diffusion route, which would have passed through Israel? Viewing the dispersion map from the above study, it seems unlikely that these two dispersions had the same point of origin in both place and time, as the genetic make-up of the populations is significantly different. So when and why did the south-western diffusion occur?

The Horse Trade

The horse is believed to have first been domesticated on the Steppes of Central Asia. But it is commonly suggested that the Hyksos, who became rulers of Egypt during what is known as the Second Intermediate period, originated from the Levant (Syria) and brought the horse and chariot to Egypt as an instrument of war. At the time of the Jewish Exodus from Egypt, the Bible speaks of the horse-drawn chariots of Egypt being trapped and swamped during their pursuit of Israel (Exodus 15:1-4); and also to some of the Canaanite tribes being too powerful for the Israelites because they had ‘chariots of iron’ (Joshua 17:16-18; Judges 1:19).

Even at a relatively early period, the numbers of horses involved in the various competing armies was substantial. (In Judges 4:3 we are told that the king of Canaan’s army included 900 chariots.) But where were these being obtained from? A 2012 genetic study10 concludes that there were probably multiple domestication events in the Steppe region: but also that domesticated stallions were frequently being mated with wild mares. The study authors suggest that this latter practice may have been due to initially poor conception rates for domesticated mares. Thus, there is a high probability that, during this period, there could have been a frequent trade in horses from the Steppes southwards, through Armenia and Canaan, towards Egypt.

However, by the time of Solomon, we read:

The horses which Solomon had were brought out of Egypt; and the king’s merchants received them in droves, each drove at a price. A chariot came up and went out of Egypt for six hundred shekels of silver, and a horse for one hundred fifty; and so for all the kings of the Hittites, and for the kings of Syria, did they bring them out by their means. (1Kings 10:28-29)

So by this stage Solomon was apparently operating a profitable trade in horses and chariots coming out of Egypt and into Syria. This indicates that a successful, self-sustaining breeding process was now operating in Egypt. Consequently, it is probable that the southward flow of horses from the Steppes would have diminished; and with it the incentive for North-South trade with Armenia. Thus, the most probable period for the beginning of the southward apricot dispersion would be before the Jewish Exodus from Egypt. Chronologically, this ties in well with the mention of ‘tappuach‘ in place names from the book of Joshua.

Interestingly, I subsequently found that Rev. Houghton, whilst arguing strongly for the Quince, nonetheless conceded that the Apricot was also a strong potential contender; and that it could have been introduced by horse traders from Togarmah, in the ‘far north’ (Ezekiel 27:14 & 38:6).11 However, he appears to have been swayed in favour of the Quince by the claim that it was a Mediterranean native and had been ‘introduced from Crete into Greece and Italy about the middle of the seventh and sixth century B.C.)’

How and When Could the Name Change?

The modern Hebrew name, משמש ‘mishmish’, is almost identical to the Chaldean word, ‘mɨʃmɨʃʃa‘ (IPA spelling)12. Consequently, the switch from ‘tappuach‘ to ‘mishmish‘ is easily explained. When the Babylonian invasion finally ended the Judaean monarchy, there was a mass deportation of Judaean captives into Chaldea; where they remained for 70 years before finally being allowed to return. Thus, for two full generations the people would have had to buy and sell in the local markets using the Chaldean name, ‘mishmish‘; so by the time of the return to Israel there would be very few that had ever routinely used the original Hebrew name. Thus the fact that this is now the accepted Hebrew name is entirely unsurprising.

What does require a little more explanation is why the name ‘mishmish‘ does not appear in the Mishna and the original meaning of ‘tappuach‘ appears to have been forgotten. Here, we have two conflicting pressures. One would think that, when the Rabbis were defining food laws during the second temple period, they would have wanted, for the sake of clarity, to use the common vocabulary of their day. But on the other hand, those of the elder generation that were zealous to preserve the faith and scriptures of their fathers would probably still remember the original meaning of the scriptural references to the ‘tappuach‘ and might want to encourage a return to the traditional nomenclature.

Even so, one might have expected that, as time went on and memories faded, something would have been said to clarify the discrepancy. But the years between the return of the exiles and Herod’s temple were turbulent times; including Alexander’s conquests, the persecutions of Antiochus Epiphanes, the Maccabean revolt and the rise of Rome, to mention a few highlights. Also, it should be noted that the use of the term ‘apple’ to describe what appear to be apricots has caused very few problems over the last 2 millenia. Even without knowing exactly what a ‘tappuach‘ is, it is still quite easy to understand the principles of tithing and uncleanness of stems from the examples given. So maybe this forgetfulness is excusable after all.

Furthermore, the exploits of Alexander and the Romans led to increased international trade; with foreign fruits and new varieties becoming more common. Inevitably, this would have resulted in pressures towards standardisation of nomenclature, not only for newly-discovered fruits and varieties, but also existing ones being described in a variety of languages. We have already noted the entymological similarity between the Arabic ‘tyffach‘ and ‘tappuach‘; plus the fact that ‘tyffach‘ was originally used as a descriptive term for a variety of different fruits before finally becoming applied more specifically to the apple. The Arabs were noted as traders: thus it is very likely that the common meaning of ‘tappuach‘ would have mutated alongside that of ‘tyffach‘ during this period.

Did ‘mishmish’ Mean ‘Dried Apricots’?

Finally, I am inclined to conjecture that there may be another reason why ‘mishmish‘ does not replace ‘tappuach‘ in the Mishnas: its original meaning may have been a more technical term, referring specifically to overripe or dried apricots. If this hypothesis proved correct, there would be no justification for replacing ‘tappuach‘ with ‘mishmish.’

I vividly remember one of my first visits to Eastern Europe, many years ago. I cannot recall whether it was in Russia or Ukraine: but it was apricot season. The streets I was walking were lined with apricot trees for shade: but the roads and walkways were so littered with a mush of squashed, fallen apricots that I had to be constantly watching the ground to avoid getting the mess all over my shoes! In ancient times, apricots were typically harvested in bulk by simply shaking the branches and collecting the windfalls. We have noted that fresh apricots generally started to turn mushy within a day of picking; so the very best were eaten quickly, close to where they had grown. But the rest – a few under-ripe, but many bruised and over-ripe – were collected and dried to be preserved or shipped to market. The method of preparing these for drying varies. Smaller specimens may be dried first, and ‘pitted’ (de-stoned) afterwards. Larger specimens were usually cut open and pitted before drying. Squashed ones were probably dried anyway; and in some cases may have been squeezed into thin slabs or cakes for ease of handling. It would have been apricots such as these that would likely have been the standard market fare for poorer city dwellers; whereas the regulations in the Mishna deal with the liability to tithing when the apricots are first collected from the tree.

In the Arabic language there were in fact two terms for apricots: ‘mushamash‘ and ‘al-barquq.’ The latter name was a later adoption, starting with the Latin ‘praecocia‘ and thence via Greece to Egypt, North Africa, Spain and France (pronunciation and spelling changing all the while), before being adopted as the English name, ‘apricot.’ During this period the apricot was viewed as an exotic fruit rather than a basic foodstuff: thus it is quite possible that ‘al-barquq‘ referred to the fresh fruit, rather than the dried. (The Jewish Encyclopaedia also makes mention of another name for the apricot: ‘appanuth;’ though its origin and usage is not explained.)

It may also be possible that there is an etymological connection between ‘mishmish‘ or ‘mushamash‘ and our words, ‘mishmash’, ‘mash’ and ‘mush.’ According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary the first known use of mishmash in its modern sense was in the 15th century. Its etymology is described as “Middle English & Yiddish; Middle English mysse masche, perhaps reduplication of mash mash; Yiddish mish-mash, perhaps reduplication of mishn to mix.” Could the term instead have come through people likening a mushy mixture to that created by fallen apricots?


When all four fruits are compared with the Biblical texts in terms of their physical characteristics and cultural associations, the apricot comes out as a near-perfect fit. Apples do badly in that climate. Both citron and quince fail the taste test and are not good for eating raw. Examination of references in the Mishna also casts further doubt on the claims of the quince.

As far as dating evidence is concerned, there is no irrefutable proof that any of these fruits were in Israel at the time of Solomon; though there is very good evidence that the citron, quince and apricot were all present at least from the time of the return of the Jewish exiles from Babylon. However, recent genetic analyses give good grounds for supposing that apricots could have been brought into Israel from Armenia before the time of Solomon, as food rations for nomadic horse traders from the Steppes.

Further scientific and archaeological research may yet provide more evidence, especially confirming earlier dates of introduction: but it should be noted that it is much more difficult to prove that a fruit was not present at a certain time than that it was. There are techniques for estimating probable dates for the emergence of particular variants based on the rate of natural mutation: but this is much harder to do when human selection is involved. Consequently, it will not be easy to overthrow the foregoing arguments, although some details (especially the definition of ‘mishmish’ as dried apricots) may be called into question.

Thus, I would propose that the term ‘tappuach,’ though nowadays applied to the apple, was originally the Hebrew name for the apricot. And, for now at least, I rest my case.

Kevin King, 16/7/2020


  1. 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia Vol.2 pg.23. Article on ‘Apple’ by Morris Jastrow, Jr., Kaufmann Kohler, Frank H. Knowlton. (Public domain). Unedited full-text online version ©2002-2011, JewishEncyclopedia.com. All rights reserved) ↩
  2. ‘The Natural History of the Bible,’ by H.B. Tristram M.A., 1883 7th edn. pg.334. (Public domain).↩
  3. ‘The corresponding Arabic word, tyffach, signifies not only apples, but also generally all similar fruites, as oranges, lemons, quinces, peaches, apricots, etc. and it is a common comparison to say of any thing, “it is as fragrant as a tyffach.” The Hebrew word may, perhaps, have been used in the same general sense.’ ‘Calmett’s Dictionary of the Holy Bible,’ Augustin Calmet, Crocker and Brewster, 1837, pg. 83.(Public domain). ↩
  4. HORTSCIENCE VOL. 52(6) JUNE 2017 pg.817. ‘The Citrus Route Revealed: From Southeast Asia into the Mediterranean’ by Dafna Langgut PDF version downloadable from Academia.Edu ↩
  5. ‘The Tree and Fruit Represented by the Tappuach of the Holy Scriptures’ by Rev W. Houghton, Proceedings of Society of Biblical Archeology,” vol.12 pp.42-48 ↩
  6. Ibid. 2, pg.335. (Public domain). ↩
  7. “Natural, fertile intergeneric hybrids occur between most of the Pomoidea but not in any combination with Malus; the other genera can also be successfully grafted upon each other but Malus is not compatible with the rest. For instance, a quince tree can be easily grafted with scions of pear, hawthorn, … but it has not been possible to permanently unite an apple limb to such a tree.” ‘Plant Breeding in New Zealand’ by G.S. Wratt, H.C. Smith. 1983, pg. 83. pub. Butterworth-Heinemann, ISBN 0409701378 (©1983 Dept. of Scientific & Industrial Research, Wellington, N.Z.) ↩
  8. Air-dried apricots do deteriorate with age, turning brown, then black and losing some of their nutritional value: but nevertheless remain edible for many months, depending upon storage conditions. Modern dried apricots are treated with sulphur dioxide to preserve their colouration and are subject to much stricter shelf-life regulation. ↩
  9. Frontiers in Plant Sciences, May 2020 Vol. 11, Article 638. ‘Genetic Structure of a Worldwide Germplasm Collection of Prunus armeniaca L. Reveals Three Major Diffusion Routes for Varieties Coming From the Species’ Center of Origin’ by Bourguiba et al. Open Access. Downloadable from frontiersin.org ↩
  10. PNAS, May 22nd 2012, Vol. 109, No.21. ‘Reconstructing the origin and spread of horse domestication in the Eurasian steppe’ by Warmuth et al. Copyright ©2020 National Academy of Sciences. Online ISSN 1091-6490. Downloadable from pnas.org ↩
  11. Ibid. 5, pp 48.↩
  12. ‘A Description of Modern Chaldean’ by Solomon I. Sara, ©1974, Mouton, pg 55. Vol. 213 of Janua linguarum, Series minor.↩

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