There are various suggestions as to the plant referred to by the Hebrew term. In Arabic the cognate word at times is used for the buckthorn (any of the variety of thorny shrubs classified under the botanical name of Rhamnus) and this identification is supported by the Greek Septuagint and Latin Vulgate renderings of the Hebrew word. The buckthorn of Palestine is a straggling bush, growing from two to six feet (.6 to 1.8 meters) high, its twigs lined with sharp, strong prickles. Though frequent in the lower warmer regions of the country, it is also found in mountainous regions, as at Jerusalem. Another suggestion is the Rubus sanctus or Palestine blackberry, a bushlike plant with long arching stems, armed with prickles and thorns. The third plant recommended is the boxthorn or Lycium europaeum, a thorny shrub growing three to six feet (.9 to 1.8 meters) high, blossoming with small violet flowers and bearing small, round, edible red berries.
The bramble appears most prominently in the account of Judges 9:8-15 in which the olive tree, the fig tree and the vine are contrasted with the lowly bramble. As the rest of the chapter makes evident, the valuable plants represent those worthy persons, such as Gideon’s seventy sons, who did not seek the position of kingship over their fellow Israelites, while the bramble, useful only for fuel, represents the kingship of Abimelech, the murderer of all the sons of Gideon, his brothers, except one. (Judg. 9:1-6, 16-20) Jotham’s suggestion that the other figurative “trees” seek refuge in the shadow of the bramble was doubtless ironical, as the low-growing bramble obviously could not provide shadow for trees, especially the stately cedars mentioned.
The warning was given by Jotham that fire might come out of the bramble “and consume the cedars of Lebanon,” perhaps alluding to the ease with which the dry and leafless plant might catch fire during the hot summer months. Psalm 58:9 also shows the use of brambles for fuel, and these are still used by Arabs for that purpose.
The Hebrew word ʼa·tadhʹ also appears as the name of a place at Genesis 50:10.—See BRIERS, BRIER HEDGE; THORN.