lil'-i (shushan (1Ki 7:19), shoshannah (2Ch 4:5; Song 2:1 f; Ho 14:5); plural (Song 2:16; 4:5; 5:13; 6:2 f; Song 7:2; Ecclesiasticus 39:14; 50:8); krinon (Mt 6:28; Lu 12:27)): The Hebrew is probably a loan word from the Egyptian the original s-sh-n denoting the lotus-flower, Nymphaea lotus. This was probably the model of the architectural ornament, translated "lily-work," which appeared upon the capitals of the columns in the temple porch (1Ki 7:19), upon the top of the pillars (1Ki 7:22) and upon the turned-back rim of the "molten sea" (1Ki 7:26).
Botanically the word shoshannah, like the similar modern Arabic Susan, included in all probability a great many flowers, and was used in a way at least as wide as the popular use of the English word "lily." The expression "lily of the valleys" (Song 2:1) has nothing to do with the plant of that name; the flowers referred to appear to have been associated with the rank herbage of the valley bottoms (Song 4:5); the expression "His lips are as lilies" (Song 5:13) might imply a scarlet flower, but more probably in oriental imagery signifies a sweet-scented flower; the sweet scent of the lily is referred to in Ecclesiasticus 39:14, and in 50:8 we read of "lilies by the rivers of water." The beauty of the blossom is implied in Ho 14:5, where Yahweh promises that repentant Israel shall "blossom as the lily." A "heap of wheat set about with lilies" (Song 7:2) probably refers to the smoothed-out piles of newly threshed wheat on the threshing-floors decorated by a circlet of flowers.
The reference of our Lord to the "lilies of the field" is probably, like the Old Testament references, quite a general one.
The Hebrew and the Greek very likely include not only any members of the great order Liliaceae, growing in Palestine, e.g. asphodel, squill, hyacinth, ornithogalum ("Star of Bethlehem"), fritillaria, tulip and colocynth, but also the more showy irises ("Tabor lilies" "purple irises," etc.) and the beautiful gladioli of the Natural Order. Irideae and the familiar narcissi of the Natural Order Amaryllideae.
In later Jewish literature the lily is very frequently referred to symbolically, and a lotus or lily was commonly pictured on several Jewish coins.
E. W. G. Masterman