From Crown to Cooking
Two types of crowns are mentioned in the New Testament. The first is a regal crown of precious metal, what we would normally think of as a crown. The second is the laurel wreath, presented to the winner of the ancient games. The symbolism of this prize would be well known to New Testament writers acquainted with Greek culture(1). A kind of vegetable tiara, it was woven from the leaves and young branches of the laurel, Laurus nobilis. A literal translation of the Latin name is the noble laurel, a very apt description of this shrub or small tree common in forest communities throughout the Mediterranean region. Laurel is one of the few plants mentioned solely in the New Testament.
Paul the apostle was strongly influenced by Greek culture. He implies the laurel wreath of the Greek games in three epistles(2). The image is especially clear in II Timothy 2: 5 where a "victor's crown" is mentioned. Similarly, in I Peter 5:4 a non-fading crown is contrasted with a fading, i.e., laurel, crown. James suggests a laurel crown for those who persevere(3).
Laurel is a shrub or small tree with evergreen, leathery leaves. Like its relative sassafras, laurel is perfused with an aromatic oil. Flowers are greenish, small and appear in the spring. Shiny black fleshy fruits are produced in October or November.
The noble image of the evergreen laurel lives on in our language with such words as "laurel, laureate, baccalaureate" and related terms of accomplishment. Today, in an American home the crowning use of the laurel is still for its leaves, known as bay leaves-not for an honor but to give an aromatic flavor to Mediterranean dishes.
1. For example, see: Baumann, H. 1993, The Greek Plant World in Myth, Art and Literature. Translated by W. T. and E. R. Stearn. Portland: Timber Press.
2. Philippians 4:1, 1 Thessalonians 2:19, 2 Timothy 2:5, and 2 Timothy 4:8.
3. James 1:12
WREATHS Read the essay by Professor Irwin on the use of wreaths in New Testament times. Wreaths