Caperberry

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CAPERBERRY, CAPER-BERRY, a low trailing shrub found throughout the Mediterranean coastal region. The flower bud has been used since antiquity as a spice, and many classical authors indicate that the berry or small white blossom was commonly used as an aphrodisiac and a condiment. The plant is identified as Capparis spinosa and is known in classical Heb. as אֲבִיּוֹנָ֑ה, which appears only in Ecclesiastes 12:5. The context is the graphic description of old age given by the “preacher” in which various natural associations are used for fig. effect. The text undoubtedly uses “caperberry” in the sense of its enhancement of sexual desire which in the declining years of man’s life fails. The KJV followed by the RSV incorrectly reads “desire” while the JPS correctly reads “caperberry.”

Bibliography

Löw, I. Die Flora der Juden I (1924), 322-331.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

The translation "the caperberry shall fail" (the Revised Version (British and American) "burst") instead of "desire shall fail" (the King James Version) has the support of the Septuagint and of some Talmudic writers (see G. F. Moore, JBL, X, 55-64), but it is doubtful.

The caperberry is the fruit of the thorny caper, Capparis spinosa (Natural Order Capparidaceae), a common Palestine plant with pretty white flowers and brightly colored stamens. Largely on account of its habit of growing out of crevasses in old walls it has been identified by some with the HYSSOP (which see). The familiar "capers" of commerce are the young buds, but the berries were the parts most used in ancient times; their repute as excitants of sexual desire is ancient and widespread. Various parts of this plant are still used for medical purposes by the modern peasants of Palestine.

E. W. G. Masterman