SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – The term Bible Belt is used to describe the prevalence of Christian practices in southern states, but the origin of the term might be as much about agriculture as it is about the bible itself.
Settling in a particular region of the United States because it had great agricultural potential was not unusual in the 1800s.
One particular swath of land across central Louisiana was significant to religious zealot Bernhard Müller. Who established a colony near Natchitoches, La., to fulfill his dream of living in the same latitude as Jerusalem, Israel.
But after the Count’s untimely death, the remaining colonists were moved by the Louisiana Legislature. Those early settlers were sent to the woods near present-day Minden, La., where they established what is referred to as The Germantown Colony.
The colonists brought an array of equipment, knowledge, and skill with them when they migrated to the south from Pennsylvania.
In Germantown, they grew olives, cotton, mulberries, and a host of other fruits and vegetables. They wove silk on a loom that history lovers can see on display at the Ford Museum in Homer.
No longer living in latitude with Jerusalem after their move from near Natchitoches to northwest Louisiana, the surviving colonists were in latitude with lands once occupied by the children of Zebulun referred to in the book of Joshua.
What, exactly, are latitude and longitude?
Latitude measures east and west directions on planet earth, whereas longitude measures north and south.
When two areas on the same latitude have relatively the same temperatures and rainfall averages, they may be able to exchange vegetation.
Sharing the same latitude equates to two locations in different regions of the earth having the same number of daylight and moonlight hours in a 24-hour period. Temperatures for two locations with the same latitude may be relatively the same, too, even if they’re on opposite sides of the world. That is considering the altitude and other environmental factors that may affect weather systems.
What happens when we exchange plants between latitudes?
Plant exchanges may be successful between some locations that share the same latitudes. In fact, the historical concept of exchanging food crops, ideas, diseases, and populations between the New World and the Old World is referred to as the Columbian Exchange.
The Columbian Exchange began a new era for the world. Corn, cassava, potatoes, peanuts, and squash native to the Americas were sent to the Old World, as were chili peppers, potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, pumpkins, pineapples, tobacco, and countless other plants.
In return, bananas and sorghum, millets and yams, sugar, coffee, and rye were brought to the New World from the Old World–as were barley and onions, lettuce, pears, rice, wheat and oats, turnips, cabbage, peaches, broccoli, citrus fruits and an endless list of edibles and ornamentals that can never truly be tallied.
Exciting new dishes began to take form, advancing culinary arts across the plains and high seas.
Today Italy is known for rich, tomato-based pasta dishes and Irish recipes are often heavy-laden with potatoes, but the tomato and the potato are both native to the New World.
In the American south, generations passed, and the region began known for its “southern” cooking. In reality, many of the culinary creations were actually a hybridization of Old World and New World recipes.
The way southerners cook has everything to do with what has historically been grown in the region, and what southerners can grow has everything to do with latitude.
Examining plants in the Bible
Judith Dinsmore examines plants in the Bible. She writes that Israel is a subtropical region between temperate and tropical zones and describes it as having hot and dry summers followed by cool, rainy winters.
So does the American south.
Dinsmore’s book In the Garden: An Illustrated Guide to the Plants of the Bible explains what conditions are like in Israel compared to growing zones in the United States.
“The United States Department of Agriculture’s Plant Hardiness Zone Map separates the bulk of the continental states into zones 3-9,” Dinsmore writes. “If we were to use the USDA’s zoning on Israel, it would come in at zone 8a.”
Much of the Ark-La-Tex is located in USDA plant hardiness zone 8a.
Which Bible Belt came first?
The earliest known publication of the term Bible Belt is credited to American writer Henry L. Mencken. An article published in The Chicago Tribune in 1924 made the first recorded reference to the term with Mencken writing: “The old game, I suspect, is beginning to play out in the Bible Belt.”
Did the early religious transplants to NWLA realize that there was an invisible belt that connected them to the holy land?
A fairly thin belt of land stretching across the southern United States shares the same latitude and climate as Israel, giving those who live in this specific growing zone the ability to plant pomegranates, olive groves, figs, and other plants found in the Bible.
Do plants found in the Bible grow in the Ark-La-Tex?
Plant references throughout the Bible can be found growing throughout the region.
- Luke 19: Zachaeus climbs a sycamore tree to see Jesus
- Song of Solomon 2: references the rose of Sharon, lilies of the valley
- Proverbs 16: references honeycombs
- Deuteronomy 8: references wheat, barley, vines, fig trees, pomegranates, olives, and honey
- Ezekiel 17: references a willow tree planted with the help of an eagle
- 2 Samuel 7: King David’s house of cedar trees
If any of these plant species sound familiar, it is because they can also be found in the Ark-La-Tex. Thanks in part to early inhabitants who cultivated the land.
The Bible Belt, and the roots of that term run much deeper than political or social commentary and religion about the Deep South.
The Bible Belt is also a rich zone of agricultural growth.
Now grab a map (or google earth) to see how cities in NWLA and SWAR are aligned with biblical landmarks.
Shreveport, La. and the Sea of Galilee share longitudinal coordinates as do Minden, La. and the Dead Sea. If not for borders and waterways, you could take a straight trip from Magnolia Ark. to old Damascus by traveling due east.