(כֻּסֶּמֶת, kussemeth), occurs in three places of Scripture (Ex 9:32; Isa 28:25; and "fitches" in Eze 4:9); but its true meaning still remains uncertain. It was one of the cultivated grains both of Egypt and of Syria, and one of those employed as an article of diet. It was also sown along with wheat, or, at least, its crop was in the same state of forwardness; for we learn from Ex 9:32 that in the seventh plague the hailstorm smote the barley which was in the ear, and the flax which was bolled; but that the wheat and the kussemeth were not smitten, for they were not grown up. Respecting the wheat and the barley, we know that they are often sown and come to maturity in different months. Thus Forskal says, "Barley ripens in February, but wheat stands till the end of March" (Flora AEgypt. p. 43). The events above referred to probably took place in February (see Kitto, Pict. Bible, ad loc.). That kussemeth was cultivated in Palestine we learn from Isa 28:25, where it is mentioned along with ketsah (nigella) and oumin, wheat and barley; and sown, according to some translators, "on the extreme border (גּבֻלָה) of the fields," as a kind of fence for other descriptions of corn. SEE AGRICULTURE. This is quite an Oriental practice, and may be seen in the case of flax and other crops in India at the present day. The rye is a grain of cold climates, and is not cultivated even in the south of Europe. Korte declares (Travels, p. 168) that no rye grows in Egypt; and Shaw states (p. 351) that rye is little known in Barbary and Egypt (Rosenmüller, p. 76). That the kussemeth was employed for making bread by the Hebrews we know from Eze 4:9, where the prophet is directed to "take wheat, and barley, and beans, and lentils, and millet, and kussemeth, and put them in a vessel, and make bread thereof." Though it is very unlikely that kussemeth can mean rye, it is not easy to say what cultivated grain it denotes. The principal kinds of grain, it is to be observed, are mentioned in the same passages with the kussemeth. Celsius has, as usual, with great labor and learning, collected together the different translations which have been given of this difficult word. In the Arabic translation of Ex 9:32, it is rendered julban: "cicercula, non circula, ut perperam legitur in versione Latina." By other Arabian writers it is considered to mean pease, and also beans. Many translate it vicia, or vetches, as in the A.V. of Ex 9:32; for according to Maimonides (ad tract. Shabb. 20, 3), carshinin is a kind of legume, which in the Arabic is called kirsana, but in the sacred language kussemeth. Both julban and kirsana mean species of pulse, but it is not easy to ascertain the specific kinds. The majority, however, instead of a legume, consider kussemeth to indicate one of the cereal grains, as the rye (secale), or the oat (avena), neither of which it is likely to have been. These have probably been selected because commentators usually adduce such grains as they themselves are acquainted with, or have heard of as commonly cultivated. Celsius, however, informs us that in the Syriac and Chaldee versions kussemeth is translated kunta; far in the Latin Vulg.; fan adoreum, Guisio, tract. Peah, 8, 5, and tract. Chilaim, 1, 1; ζεά in the Sept., Isaiah 28. Aquila, Symmachus, and others render it spelta. So Ben-Melech, on Exodus 9 and Ezekiel 4, says "kyssemeth, vulg. spelta," and the Sept. has ὄλυρα. Upon this Celsius remarks, "All these — that is, kunta, far, ador, ζεά, spelta, and ὄλυρα — are one and the same thing." This he proves satisfactorily by quotations from the ancient authors (Hierobot. 2, 100). Dr. Harris states (Nat. Hist. of the Bible, s.v.) that the word kussemeth seems to be derived from כָּסִ ם, "to have long hairs;" and that hence a bearded grain must be intended; which confirms the probability of spelt being the true meaning. Gesenius derives it from כָּסם, "to shear, to poll," and translates it, "a species of grain like wheat, with a smooth or bald ear, as if shorn." Dioscorides has stated (2, 111) that there are two kinds of ζειά, one simple, and the other called dicoccos. Sprengel concludes that this is, without doubt, the Triticum spelta of botanists; that the olyra was a variety, which Host has called T. zea; and also that the simple kind is the T.
monococcon. That these grains were cultivated in Egypt and Syria, and that they were esteemed as food in those countries, may also be satisfactorily proved. Thus Herodotus states that the Egyptians employ olyra, which others call zea, as an article of Dict. Pliny (Hist. Nat. 18, 8) mentions it as found both in Egypt and in Syria, as it is in more modern times (Dapper, Descriptio Asioe, p. 130; Johannes Phocas, De Locis Syr. et Paloestinoe, p. 34; Cels. loc. cit. p. 100). That it was highly esteemed by the ancients is evident from Dioscorides describing it as more nourishing than barley, and grateful in taste. Pliny also (18, 11) and Salmasius prefer it, in some respects, to wheat. The goodness of this grain is also implied from the name of semen having been especially applied to it (C. Bauhin, Pinox, p. 22).
Triticum spelta, or spelt, is in many respects so closely allied to the common wheats as to have been thought by some old authors to be the original stock of the cultivated kinds; but for this there is no foundation, as the kind cultivated for ages in Europe does not differ from specimens collected in a wild state. These were found by a French botanist, Michaux, in Persia, on a mountain four days' journey to the north of Hamadan. It is cultivated in many parts of Germany, in Switzerland, in the south of France, and in Italy. It is commonly sown in spring, and collected in July and August. There are three kinds of spelt, viz. T. spelta, T. dicoccum (rice wheat), and T. monococcum In its general appearance the more frequent form of spelt differs little from common bearded wheat (T. vulgare). It is equally nutritious, and in its habits more hardy. It grows on a coarser soil, and requires less care in its cultivation. There is an awnless variety, which is "perhaps the most naked of all the cerealia:" so that, betwixt the smooth sort and the bearded, spelt should conciliate even the etymologists. See Tristram, Nat. Hist. of the Bible, p. 479. SEE CEREALS.