The Pomegranate Tree

The Pomegranate Tree

The Pomegranate Tree.

“They quarreled with Moses and said, ‘If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the Lord! Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this desert, that we and our livestock should die here? Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates!” (Numbers 20:4-5).

Judeo-Christian scholars have long believed that the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden was more likely a pomegranate, which makes the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil a pomegranate tree! But that’s not the last we see of that mysterious fruit. It is mentioned all through the Hebrew Bible, and has come to symbolize a fascinating array of things through the ages. The pomegranate has taken on a life of its own through the centuries. It is one of the most ancient of fruits, and it is still very popular and widely cultivated to this day. It is known as the miracle fruit, and is actually a very large berry, about the size of a grapefruit.

There is a kind of mysterious aura around the pomegranate in Scripture. For instance, why did Yahweh direct Moses to decorate the hem of the Tabernacle priest’s robe with woven pomegranates? (Ex. 28:33-35). And why was Solomon’s Temple decorated with 400 bronze sculptures of pomegranates, both at the crown of the Temple and at the tops of the huge pillars at the entrance? (1 Kings 7:20). There must have been meaningful reasons for their prominence in Hebrew worship, but it was never spelled out in the Bible.

Pomegranates had come to represent a lot of different things, and so perhaps one or more of these symbols were the reasons for its popularity in Jewish life:

(1.) A Symbol of Fruitfulness and Blessing. When the twelve Hebrew spies returned from their mission of scouting out the Promised Land, they wanted to bring back what would have represented to them the richness of the land. They wanted to bring evidence that the land was blessed with food and produce and healthy vegetation. One of their proofs of Canaan’s fruitfulness was a mass of pomegranates. This was evidence that it was a good land.

(2.) A Symbol of Israel. There was early rabbinic thought that the pomegranate represented the nation of Israel. The pomegranate was often bruised and battered on the outside but nonetheless able to supremely bless others from within the inside of the fruit, just like Israel.

(3.) A Symbol of Righteousness. Early rabbinic tradition held that there was exactly 613 seeds within the pomegranate, which matched the 613 commandments in the Torah. So pomegranates came to represent the Torah and the biblical righteousness expected of the Chosen People. Since those early times, of course, that number has been disproven. Each pomegranate contains well over a thousand seeds, sometimes as many as 1,400 seeds.

(4.) A Symbol of Superabundance. When Moses described the land of Canaan to the Israelites, he included the presence of pomegranates as one of the examples of abundance in the land. The example became a symbol. “For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land – a land with streams and pools of water, with springs flowing in the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing.” (Deut. 8:7-9).

(5.) A Symbol of Royal Power.  At the very top of each pomegranate is a protuberance that resembles a crown, or an orb. So down through the centuries the pomegranate has been used as something that represents royal authority and power.

(6.) A Symbol of Fertility. Because of its extensive storage of seeds in each pomegranate, and the image of the seed being needed to conceive a child, the pomegranate has long been a symbol of fertility and sexual potency. In some ancient cultures, the juice of the pomegranate was considered a cure for infertility and impotence.

(7.) A Symbol of Vitality and Good Health. Even ancient worlds knew that the pomegranate was full of health benefits, that the edible seeds and the delicious juice were good to take into the body. Since ancient days the pomegranate juice has been used to make wine and used as a health drink. Now we know that pomegranates contain antioxidants, potassium, calcium, iron, vitamins A, C and E, and dietary fiber for digestion. They are known to boost the immune system, lower blood pressure, reduce blood sugar levels, reduce inflammation, reduce bad cholesterol, and even build up healthy cells that prevent certain types of cancer. Pomegranates are worthy of the name “the Miracle Fruit.” So pomegranates not only bring good health, they have become a symbol of it.

The pomegranate tree is in the myrtle family of trees. The plant can be grown as a large tree that often reaches thirty feet in height, or can be grown as a large shrub that can reach twenty feet. It is a tree renowned for its beauty, with the stunning shade of green leaves and its bright scarlet blossoms. Fruitless trees have been developed simply to enjoy the beauty of the tree itself without the fruit. The tree can live up to 200 years in the right dry climate. The pomegranate, which means “grained apple,” is bright red, as are the seeds within. Pomegranates have been loved down through the centuries, for its seeds to eat, juice to drink, and the husk for decoration. Pomegrantes have also been a source of intrigue because it can represent so many things.