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REED (Heb. qāneh, ’ăghammîm, ’ādhû, Gr. kalamos). A reed stalk was used as a measuring rod. In Babylonia six cubits made a reed or qāneh. Among the Israelites a reed came to denote a fixed length of six long cubits (Ezek.40.5; Ezek.41.8). In Rev.11.1; Rev.21.15-Rev.21.16, a reed is used to measure the temple and the Holy City.

The “giant reed” is the bulrush or Persian reed of Pal., found in the Jordan Valley and around the Dead Sea. This Arundo donax can grow to the height of eighteen ft. carrying at its tip a white plume. The stem at the base of the reed may have a diameter of three inches. These thick, strong stems were used as canes or walking sticks, hence the reference in Ezekiel 29:6 and 2 Kings 18:21, where the Emperor Sennacherib referred to Egypt as the staff of a bruised reed.

The reference in 2 Kings also to the piercing of a hand refers to the fact that the hard stem of the reed can break up into sharp, thin slivers with points which can easily make holes in a man’s flesh.

Whether the cane or rod used to convey the sponge to our Lord’s mouth was the Arundo donax is not important. There are experts who consider that the necessarily long stem used was that of the Dhura or Durra, sometimes called the Jerusalem corn. The true Durra is the Egyp. rice corn, which can grow to a height of sixteen ft. Its stout stems are filled with a thick, dry pith which is never sweet. The plant grows well without irrigation.

In Weymouth’s tr. the word “cane” is used instead of “reed” in Matthew 27:48 and Mark 15:36. The cane might be Arundo or Sorghum.

Pens in Biblical days were made from reeds; thus, in 3 John 13—“I would rather not write with pen and ink” refers to a reed pen, as do the pens mentioned in 3 Maccabees 4:20. These pens would write on papyrus. The ink might be lamp black stirred into gall juice. Reed pens can be made from the tall grass, Phragmites communis, a perennial allied to the Arundo. A special knife obviously was used for making the nib of the reed pen, as we read in Jeremiah 36:23 “the king would cut them off with a penknife.”

The common reed (Phragmites communis), found in the Holy Land, has stems which can grow twelve ft. in height. The stems are much valued for thatching in Britain.

The papyrus reed (Cypherus papyrus) grew down the Nile in the shallower parts, and produced huge main, thick horizontal roots, often twenty ft. long, out of which grew shorter roots for anchorage purposes. Whole plants were dug up, the roots being used for tool handles, and the stems being made into sandals, ropes, mats and baskets. The pith of the stems could be eaten, either cooked or raw while this could be extracted to make paper (see Bulrush).

The fact that the pith could be eaten or made into paper makes sense of Ezekiel 3—“Son of man, eat what is offered to you; eat this scroll...and he gave me the scroll to eat...and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey.”

The word “reed” is used also in connection with measuring (Ezek 40:3 and 5).

A reed equals about six cubits. The cubit is reckoned to be the measurement from the elbow to the end of the middle finger, i.e. one ft. six inches. In Ezekiel 40:5, a measuring reed is six cubits long, i.e. nine ft.

The brook Kanah (Josh 16:8; 17:9) was really a brook between the countries of Ephraim and Manasseh. “Kanah” means “reed” or “possession.” Probably the brook was so called because of the thousands of reeds which grew there. The plant referred to is the reed mace or cattail, i.e. the normal “flags” growing by the river brink. See Cane.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


(1) achu, translated "reed-grass" (Ge 41:2,18; Job 8:11 margin). See Flag.

(2) ’ebheh, translated "swift," margin "reed" (Job 9:26). The "ships of reed" are the light skiffs made of plaited reeds used on the Nile; compare "vessels of papyrus" (Isa 18:2).

(3) ’aghammim, translated "reeds," margin "marshes," Hebrew "pools" (Jer 51:32); elsewhere "pools" (Ex 7:19; 8:5; Isa 14:23, etc.). See Pool.

(4) `aroth; achi, translated "meadows," the King James Version "paper reeds" (Isa 19:7). See Meadow.

It is clear that qaneh and its Greek equivalent kalamos mean many things. Some refer to different uses to which a reed is put, e.g. a cross-beam of a balance, a walking-stick, a measuring rod, and a pen (see above), but apart from this qaneh is a word used for at least two essentially different things:

(1) an ordinary reed, and

(2) some sweet-smelling substance.

(1) The most common reed in Palestine is the Arundo donax (Natural Order Gramineae), known in Arabic as qacabfarasi, "Persian reed." It grows in immense quantities in the Jordan valley along the river and its tributaries and at the oases near the Dead Sea, notably around `Ain Feshkhah at the northwest corner. It is a lofty reed, often 20 ft. high, of a beautiful fresh green in summer when all else is dead and dry, and of a fine appearance from a distance in the spring months when it is in full bloom and the beautiful silky panicles crown the top of every reed. The "covert of the reed" (Job 40:21) shelters a large amount of animal and bird life. This reed will answer to almost all the requirements of the above references.


E. W. G. Masterman