The Righteous Fruit; Deeply Rooted in Human Culture, These Delicious Red Orbs Figure Large in Myth and Religion as Well as Health

By Chatto, James | ROM Magazine, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

The Righteous Fruit; Deeply Rooted in Human Culture, These Delicious Red Orbs Figure Large in Myth and Religion as Well as Health


Chatto, James, ROM Magazine


A pomegranate tree grows in my neighbour's orchard on the Greek island of Corfu. She loves the splendour of its scarlet flowers and knows just when to pick the spherical hard-skinned fruits as autumn ripens them to a blush. They become a feature of her cooking for the rest of the season, the translucent crimson arils scattered like a handful of rubies over a salad or a pilaf. I didn't grow up with pomegranates and still think of them as rather exotic, but in fact the reverse is true: there are few plants more deeply integrated into human culture. It was the goddess Aphrodite herself who introduced them to Greece, back in the day, planting them on her native island of Cyprus. She had them from Ishtar who had them from Cybele, the Great Mother--the pomegranate symbolizes fertility and abundance in all their cults.

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The Israelites also revered the pomegranate. The great bronze pillars of King Solomon's temple were decorated with them and they were embroidered onto the hem of the high priest's robe. Judaic tradition associates the fruit with righteousness because the number of arils it contains matches the 613 commandments of the Torah. So the recent appearance of a carved wood pomegranate bearing the inscription that it belonged to the priests of Solomon's temple was enormously significant--it was hailed as the sole relic of that fabulous building and accompanied travelling exhibitions of the Dead Sea Scrolls. It now seems that the inscription may be a forgery, though the artifact itself is far older, its patina suggesting that a Bronze Age artist carved it 3,400 years ago. …

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