- HEMLOCK, the plant Conium maculatum, probably the Heb. ראש or רוש (rosh) of the Bible. Rosh is mentioned 11 times in the Bible, five together with la'anah ("wormwood"), as a simile for wickedness and for something evil and poisonous. The Authorized Version renders rosh as "gall," i.e., snake venom, but the Bible explicitly refers to it as a plant that puts out roots (Deut. 29:17) and flourishes in the fields (Hos. 10:4). Its poisonous fruits are called "grapes of rosh" (Deut. 32:32; which by transference was applied there to snake venom). It is a tall plant with which the elegist of the Book of Lamentations (3:5) sees himself surrounded and whose poison he fears. From this plant a poisonous potion was prepared (Jer. 8:14, 9:14). On occasion it was eaten, the psalmist (Ps. 69:21–22) describing the wicked surrounding him as coming to comfort him in his mourning and, instead of the mourner's meal, giving him rosh to eat. There is no exegetical or philological evidence by which to identify the scriptural rosh. A number of poisonous plants have been suggested for it as, for example, the colocynth. Among those deserving consideration, is the poppy (Papaver somniferum; see spices ), for whose round seeds the name rosh ("head") is apt, and from the juice of which opium is prepared. This is mentioned in the Jerusalem Talmud (Av. Zar. 2:2, 40d) as a dangerous substance. Others have identified rosh with the plant Hyoscyamus aureus, which contains a poisonous and intoxicating juice. In Aramaic it is called shikhrona ("intoxicator"), a term also found in Josephus (Ant. 3:172ff.). The latter compares the crown above the gold plate of the high priest (Ex. 28:36) to its calyx, describing this plant in all its detail, the first morphological description of a plant in ancient Jewish literature. Of all those proposed identifications the most reasonable is hemlock (Conium), a plant of the family of Umbelliferae, with a large inflorescence like an umbrella for which the name rosh ("head") is apt. It grows wild in fields and on the roadside in various parts of Israel. It contains a powerful poison. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: Loew, Flora, 2 (1924), 364–70; 3 (1924), 48; J. Feliks, Olam ha-Ẓome'ah ha-Mikra'i (19682), 197–201. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: I. Jacob and W. Jacob, in: ABD, 2:816; J. Tigay, JPS Torah Commentary Deuteronomy (1996), 398, n. 35. (Jehuda Feliks)
Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.