To discover the true name of the fruit, the references given above must be read carefully. It will be seen that the fruit was sweet, attractive, had a pleasing fragrance, was gold in color, had silvery leaves (or possibly this should read “silvery flower petals”), while its juice had rejuvenating properties. The tree which bore this fruit was tall and large enough to give plenty of good shade.
It is difficult to understand, therefore, why so many past writers, including, have identified the fruit as an apple. Apples are not indigenous to Pal., and the description given does not fit the rather small acid apples that were grown in other parts in those days.
It could have been an orange (Citrus sinensis), but again this is not indigenous though it grew in Biblical days in India and China, for in
It might have been the citron (Citrus medica), but it is very acid and could not be described, therefore, as “sweet.”
Those who say the fruit was a quince (Cydonia oblonga) are surely wrong, because though the quince is apple-shaped and golden, it is very acrid. The Arabs, however, enjoy the quince’s fragrance, which they say restores their strength.
The only fruit that fits the complete picture is the apricot (Prunus Armeniaca). This grew in Pal. in OT days; the fruits are golden and nicely perfumed, the leaves are pale, and in Cyprus apricots are called “golden apples.” The apricot will grow to a height of thirty ft., and so gives good shade. The flowers are white with a pink tinge, and the pale leaves have their undersurfaces covered with down—hence “silvery.”
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
ap’-l tre, (tappuach): A fruit tree and fruit mentioned chiefly in Cant, concerning the true nature of which there has been much dispute.
In all the above references the true apple, Pyrus malus, suits the conditions satisfactorily. The apple tree affords good shade, the fruit is sweet, the perfume is a very special favorite with the people of the East. Sick persons in Palestine delight to hold an apple in their hands, simply for the smell. (Compare Arabian Nights, "Prince Hassan and the Paribanou.") Further the Arabic for apple tuffah is without doubt identical with the Hebrew tappuach. The apple was well known, too, in ancient times; it was, for example, extensively cultivated by the Romans.
The one serious objection is that apples do not easily reach perfection in Palestine; the climate is too dry and hot; farther north in the Lebanon they flourish. At the same time it is possible to exaggerate this objection, for with careful grafting and cultivation exceedingly good apples may be produced in the mountain regions. Apple trees there need special care and renewal of the grafts, but there is no impossibility that at the time of the writing of Canticles skilled gardeners should have been able to produce sweet and perfumed apples in Palestine. Small but very sweet and fragrant apples are now grown at Gaza. Good apples are now plentiful in the market at Jerusalem, but they are chiefly importations from the North.
On account of the above difficulty three other fruits have been suggested by various writers. Two doubtless have been brought forward with a view to
The third of the fruits is the quince, Cydonia vulgaris (Natural Order Rosaceae), and this had more serious claims. It flourishes in Palestine and has been long indigenous there. Indeed it is probable that even if tappuach was a name for apple, it originally included also the closely allied quince. The greatest difficulty is its harsh and bitter taste. Further the Mishna distinguishes the tappuach from the quince, which is called parish, and from the crab apple or chazor (Kohler in Jewish Encyclopedia, II, 23). The quince along with the apple was sacred to Aphrodite, the goddess of love.
On the whole there does not appear to be any sufficient reason for rejecting the translation of theand the (British and American); the Biblical references suit it; the identity of the Hebrew and Arabic words favor it and there is no insuperable objection on scientific grounds. The word tappuach appears in two place names, BETH-TAPPUAH and TAPPUAH (which see).