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In modern botanical taxonomy, trees and vines are clearly distinguished, and most people wouldn't confuse them if shown examples. However, in antiquity, it seems like the word "vine" usually refers to grape vines, which taxonomically are part of a subset of vines called liana that have woody stems. This implies that ancient people thought of vines as woody plants and possibly grouped them with trees in their minds since both are woody and branch in a kind of fractal way. Vineyards and orchards, then, would be like two variations on the same theme rather than the distinct things I think many modern people would consider them.

In the Old Testament, it's clear that "tree" primarily refers to something we would recognize with a woody center trunk that you can cut down and turn into wood for building things. However, I think perhaps they had also a more expansive concept of tree than Linnaeus, which we would now consider a subset of vines, were a subset of or kind of tree. Support for this idea in the OT comes from verses where vines and trees seem to be either confused or grouped together.

For example, Joel 2:22 seems to call the grapevine a kind of tree.

Do not be afraid, O beasts of the field, for the open pastures have turned green, the trees bear their fruit, and the fig tree and vine yield their best.

Similarly, in Judges 9 (the parable of Jotham, Judges 9:7-15), vines and brambles (another woody, fractal plant) seem to be grouped together with figs and olives as kinds of trees.

I've briefly searched the Internet on this topic but haven't found anything enlightening. (Maybe I'm using the wrong search terms.) Can anyone shed more light on this topic to either support or dismiss the idea that grapevines were considered kinds of trees in OT times, at least in Hebrew sources?

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    – Dottard
    Jan 25 at 9:49
  • I've also looked through this before and pondered the question, especially in light of Psalm 1. Some of the best grape vines are on slopes such as the Rhine river and also in Burgundy about half way up the hills where limestone is present. The allegorical concept of spiritual prosperity and fruit bearing fits in nicely with Galatians 5.
    – Jess
    Jan 25 at 23:41

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The Hebrew classification is obviously different from that of Linnaeus - the two do not even have to correspond!

The operative word in both Joel 2:22 and Judges 9:8 is עֵץ (ets) and suggests anything of wood, whether a tree, or any other woody material. This will include vines and other plants that have a woody stem.

That is, the word for "tree" is much broader than in English. Thus, there is no suggestion of any botanical classification problem, it is just the broad meaning of the word in Hebrew.

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