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Pomegranates

Jewish high priest wearing a hoshen, and Levit...

Jewish high priest wearing a hoshen, and Levites in ancient Judah. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You shall make the robe of the ephod all of blue…and upon its hem you shall make pomegranates of blue, purple, and scarlet, all around its hem, and bells of gold between them all around: a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, upon the hem of the robe all around (Exodus 28:31-34).

When the tabernacle was built in the wilderness and Bezalel was selected to make the priestly garments, had he ever seen a pomegranate or held one in his hand? He might have—it’s possible. Pomegranates grew wild in Persia as early as 3000 to 2200 BC. Pomegranates were imported into Egypt from Mesopotamia for wealthy Egyptians.  Archeologists have found pomegranates and drawings of pomegranates in Egyptian tombs, confirming the Egyptian belief that the fruit symbolized prosperity and a prosperous afterlife.[1]

We remember the fish, which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic (Numbers 11:5).

It’s possible, on the other hand, Bezalel never saw or tasted pomegranates. They were not among the foods the Israelites remember eating in Egypt. Slaves lived on a simple diet of fish, vegetables and melon, and pomegranates were a labor-intensive delicacy. If he had no first hand experience with the fruit, Bezalel must have fashioned Aaron’s robe from a pattern God gave Moses. The tiny poms on the robe’s hem were woven from scarlet, blue and purple linen threads—colors that contribute to a complexity of red—shades ranging from pink, to rose, to magenta—commonly seen in the pomegranates grown in the United States. The fruit’s gorgeous colors, its pleasing roundness, and its early appearance in eastern Iran have led some scholars to speculate: Was the pomegranate the tempting fruit in the Garden of Eden?[2]  The Bible doesn’t say.

Whether the Israelites were familiar with pomegranates when they were slaves, we don’t know. But scriptures confirm they knew about pomegranates by the time they entered Canaan (Numbers 13:23).

Then they [spies] came to the Valley of Eshcol, and there cut down a branch with one cluster of grapes; they carried it between two of them on a pole. They also brought some of the pomegranates and figs.

Scriptures show that after settling in Canaan the Israelites cultivated pomegranates: pomegranate trees were common, the juice was an important drink and the fruit was a popular decorative motif. Saul sat under a pomegranate tree surrounded by his army (1 Sam. 14:2). Solomon used pomegranate imagery in his love poem (Song of Solomon 4:3, 6:7, and 8:2). Rows of carved pomegranates decorated the entry pillars of Solomon’s temple (I Kings 7:18). Joel mentions the pomegranate tree withering like the wasting away joy (Joel 1:12). Haggai cites the pomegranate tree marking the onset of God’s blessings (Haggai 2:19).

Phenomenal Fruit

Today we can substantiate by chemical analysis what the Israelites learned through experience: the tree is an extraordinary resource. The juice is a refreshing drink and can be fermented into wine.[3] Tannins extracted from tree bark and fruit rind condition leather. Pomegranate seeds, juice and bark have medicinal uses: an astringent poultice of the bark draws out bee stings; seeds and juice treat diarrhea, dislodge tapeworms and boost vitality; juice reduces symptoms of fever and eases severity of some disease.[4] 

An opened up pomegranate.

An opened up pomegranate. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Labor Intensive

To extract juice from the pomegranates, women in that day rolled the pomegranates on a hard surface until the seeds inside stopped cracking. The juice extracted during rolling was held in the leathery “cup,” then the skin was punctured to release the liquid. It is said that travelers carried pomegranates as a convenient way quench thirst. (I tried the rolling method as a traveler might have done but ended up splitting the skin and spilling juice, so it must take a deft, experienced hand.) Juice was also extracted by stomping on the pomegranates, much like smashing grapes. The juice drained out of the stomping trough and was strained through cloth to catch the seeds, pith and skin. Juice extracted by the stomping technique contained tannins that affected the taste. The website http://theshiksa.com/ illustrates gentler ways our Israelite mothers may have handled pomegranates.

When boiled in water, cooled and strained, the pomegranate’s red flowers and rinds yield a “richly colored dye bath” [5] for coloring natural fibers into shades of dull gold and yellow. Similar to other vegetable dyes, pomegranate dye, does not color linen, cotton, silk and wool as brilliantly as animal-based dyes. Today pomegranates are valued less for making poultices, dyes, and ink than for their beauty, taste and health benefits.

In ancient cultures pomegranates represented fertility, righteousness, prosperity and wisdom. In keeping with tradition, many Jews eat pomegranates on the Jewish New Year, “to wish for good deeds and a year as plentiful with goodness as the seeds of the pomegranate.” [6] Apart from the symbolism surrounding the pomegranate, I think of it as a reminder of God’s delightful providence. Isaac Watt composed a hymn in 1784 in praise of God’s provision of the earth. So rightly it says, “There’s not a plant or flower below, but makes Thy glories known.”—Mary Hendren

 

 

 


[1] “The Incredible Pomegranate: Plant and Fruit,” Richard Ashton, p. 3

[2]  Edibleparadise.com, “Pomegranate—The Original Forbidden Fruit,” Annaliese Keller (online resource)

[3] “Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible,” Packer and Tenny, p. 255.

[4] Phytochemicals, “Pomegranates” (online resource)

[5] Folk Fibers, Maura Grace Ambrose, “Natural Dyes—Pomegranates,” Feb. 19, 2013 (online resource)

[6] Hebrewlessonsonline, “Israeli Symbols”

Rain

Let us now fear the LORD our God, Who gives rain, both the former and the latter, in its season.

The Weather Channel provides a valuable service by forecasting storms and their likely severity. Because of the changeable weather in the United States, TWC gives up-to-the-minute data about what’s ahead and how to plan for it.

The weather in Israel is more predictable than here in the States. Israel has a long, dry summer with cloudless skies from April to October. This is followed by a cooler, wetter winter from November to March. The Bible describes this as a dry season followed by a rainy season, which begins with the former rains and ends with the latter rains. With all of winter being wet, is there any difference between rain that begins the season and rain that ends the season?

Yes, there is. The rains differ in importance. The latter rains of March and April are of “far more importance to the country than all the rains of the winter months.”[1] These rains “serve to swell the grain then coming to maturity.”[2] The latter rains come at the right time to stimulate the growth of grass and grain.

Ask the LORD for rain in the time of the latter rain. The LORD will make flashing clouds; He will give them showers of rain, grass in the field for everyone (Zech.10:1).

Both rains are essential, however. The former rain beginning in October loosens the soil hardened during the summer. Once the soil is softened, farmers plow and plant. “The sowing began after the Feast of Tabernacles (the end of October and in November), in the time when the autumn rains come gradually, thus leaving the farmer time to sow his wheat and barley.”[3]

The yoreh (former) and the malgosh (latter) rains are mentioned eight times in the Bible. The words former and latter rains are stated together in four scriptures (Deut. 11:14, Jer. 5:24, Joel 2:23 and James 5:7). The latter rains are referred to in Jer. 3:3, Prov. 16:15, Job 29:23. The former rains are not cited alone as they are less significant in the agricultural cycle. Both rains are necessary, however.

Then I will give you the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the latter rain, that you may gather in your grain, your new wine, and your oil. And I will send grass in your fields for your livestock, that you may eat and be filled (Deut. 11:14-15).

Be glad then, you children of Zion, and rejoice in the LORD your God; for He has given you the former rain faithfully, and He will cause the rain to come down for you—the former rain, and the latter rain in the first month. The threshing floors shall be full of wheat, and the vats shall overflow with new wine and oil (Joel 2:2-3).

 Were women affected by the rainfall pattern?

I believe women then felt a lifting of spirits when the rainy season ended just as many of us do today. A number of online references discuss Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is a feeling of listlessness associated with insufficient sunlight. This mild depression ends when the sun shines again and gloomy weather is over. Scripture doesn’t discuss mood swings linked to sunlight, but Solomon comes close when he talks about rejoicing when the rainy season was over.

For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grapes give a good smell. Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away! (Song of Solomon 2:11)

TWC reports that spring is a great time to visit Israel. “During February and the beginning of March, the entire country seems to turn green from the winter rains, and the wildflower displays in the Galilee and the Golan regions are truly spectacular.”[4]

עברית: פרחי בר באביב.

עברית: פרחי בר באביב. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 Food Preparation

Women were busy with food preparation in the summer. Some portions of harvested grain were parboiled and stored for later use. Lentils and legumes were dried and put away. Women processed fruit, beginning with apricots and plums in May through grapes and figs in early September. Fruit was dried and threaded on strings, boiled into syrup, made into wine, and pressed into cakes.

Milk and cream became available in spring. Women fermented milk into a drink and boiled cream to make clarified butter for cooking. They made cheeses from curdled milk and hardened them in the sun.

In hot weather, women dried reeds for weaving into baskets and mats. They dried flax stalks for making linen and sun-bleached the finished material.

Family Dynamics

The thunder and lightning

The thunder and lightning (Photo credit: RonAlmog)

 The ending of the rainy season changed some family patterns. Shepherds, who kept their flocks close to home in the winter, moved them out to graze on “wilderness pasture” in the hills. They camped out with the sheep while grass was available and the weather was dry (Luke 2:8). As David’s experience show, shepherds were separated from their families periodically (1 Sam.16:11, 17:15, 17:34-35).

On a sober note, the kings of ancient Israel went to war when the rain was over (2 Sam.11:1). The ground was dry enough by then for soldiers to march. Men could find grass for their horses and early fruit and grain for themselves. I believe Israelite women felt the same anxiety that women have always felt when their men leave for war. Some of the battles in Israel were epic—thousands killed, leaving thousands of widows and children.

Weather is a powerful influence. It’s reassuring to know that eventually it will all be good. ♦ Mary Hendren

 

 

 


[1] The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, “Rain,” p. 1061

[2] Easton’s Bible Dictionary, “Rain,” BibleStudyTools.com

[3] The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, “Agriculture,” p. 34

[4] The Weather Channel online, “Best Time to Visit Israel”

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A Preview of Things to Come…

Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible says, “Hospitality, kindness to strangers, and ‘especially unto them who are of the household of faith’ (Gal. 6:10), had roots in the Old Testament and became an integral part of the teachings of the New Testament” (page 467).

The next several posts explore hospitality—how it’s defined in Bible times, demonstrations and expectations of the day. This promises to be a fascinating study, and we hope you’ll join us as we delve into the art and requirements of being hospitable.

How did you do? 

Giovanna Garzoni - Figs - WGA8492

Giovanna Garzoni – Figs – WGA8492 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The last Memory Checker asked how many fruits and nuts are listed in the Bible. Here’s my list:

  • Apples (Song of Solomon 2:5)
  • Almonds (Genesis 43:11; Numbers 17:8)
  • Figs (Nehemiah 13:15; Jeremiah 24:1-3)
  • Grapes (Leviticus 19:10; Deuteronomy 23:24)
  • Melons (Numbers 11:5; Isaiah 1:8)
  • Olives (Isaiah 17:6; Micah 6:15)
  • Pistachio Nuts (Genesis 43:11)
  • Pomegranates (Numbers 20:5; Deuteronomy 8:8)
  • Raisins (Numbers 6:3; 2 Samuel 6:19)
  • Sycamore Fruit (Amos 7:14)

In addition: Dates (II Chronicles 31:5). The marginal reference in the KJV indicates the word “honey” can be rendered “dates.” A syrup made from dates (or grapes, raisins, carob beans) is referred to as honey. (“Honey,” International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia)

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