BIBLE HISTORY DAILY

Fruit in the Bible

Carbonized raisins from Iron Age I (12th to 11th centuries B.C.) Shiloh were published by Israel Finkelstein in BAR in 1986.

Seeds and fruit remains are exciting discoveries for archaeologists. Not only do they provide clues about ancient agriculture and diets, they can also provide radiocarbon data to help date buried strata.

Fruit also plays an important role in the Biblical narrative. If Eve had not eaten the fruit in Genesis 3, the story of Eden would have looked drastically different. What do we know about the creative ways the Israelites used fruit in their writings and everyday culture?

The Hebrew Bible mentions six types of tree fruit, many of which appear dozens of times:

1. Grape (גפן)
2. Fig (תאנה)
3. Olive (זית)
4. Pomegranate (רמון)
5. Date (תמר)
6. Apple (תפוח)

In my view, these six fruits are used in eight different ways in the Bible. First, many people are named after fruit, e.g., Tamar in Genesis 38:6, which means “date,” Tappuah in 1 Chronicles 2:43, which means “apple,” and Rimmon in 2 Samuel 4:2, which means “pomegranate.”


The free eBook Life in the Ancient World guides you through craft centers in ancient Jerusalem, family structure across Israel and articles on ancient practices—from dining to makeup—across the Mediterranean world.

In this this anonymous 18th-century icon from the National Art Museum in Kiev, Ukraine, Joshua and Caleb carry grapes back from the Promised Land.

Second, fruits are the namesake for a number of cities and towns, e.g., Anab in Joshua 11:21, which means “grape,” Rimmon (pomegranate) in Joshua 15:32 and Tappuah (apple) in Joshua 12:17.

Third, images of fruit are used as decorations, e.g., the blue, purple, and crimson pomegranates on Aaron’s priestly garments (Exodus 28:33-34) and the engraved date palm trees in Solomon’s Temple (1 Kings 6:29).

Fourth, fruits are the subjects of laws, e.g., the law in Numbers 6:3 that a Nazirite may not eat or drink grape products or the law in Deuteronomy 24:20 that one may only beat an olive tree once (the remaining olives are for the poor).

Fifth, fruits are used in a number of metaphors and similes such as, “Your breath is like the fragrance of apples” in Song of Songs 7:9 and “I found Israel [as pleasing] as grapes in the wilderness” in Hosea 9:10.

Sixth, fruits appear in curses and blessings such as “Your olives shall drop off [the tree]” in Deuteronomy 28:40 and “[Israel is a blessed] land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey” in Deuteronomy 8:8.


A team from the Tell Halif archaeological excavation made their own tannur, a traditional oven referenced in the Hebrew Bible, and baked bread in it. Read all about the experiment in “Biblical Bread: Baking Like the Ancient Israelites.”


Seventh, fruits are used pedagogically in proverbs such as “He who tends to a fig tree will enjoy its fruit” in Proverbs 27:18 and “Parents eat sour grapes and their children’s teeth are blunted” in Ezekiel 18:2.

Eighth, and perhaps most obvious, fruits appear as objects in narratives, such as in Numbers 13:23, where the spies of Moses examine the grapes, pomegranates and figs of the land, and in Genesis 3, where Eve eats the forbidden fruit and is cast from Eden.

While these eight categories are neither rigid nor mutually exclusive, they illustrate the diverse treatment of fruit in the Hebrew Bible. Fruit was much more than a food for the ancient Israelites. It was a symbol that appeared prominently in the culture’s names, laws, proverbs and traditions.

When archaeologists uncover seeds, they find much more than radiocarbon data. The Biblical narrative provides a social and symbolic significance for these important foodstuffs, reminding archaeologists that there is much more to these seeds than meets the eye.


Fruit-producing gardens were some of the most luxurious parts of ancient palaces, yet there is no archaeological evidence of the most famous example–the Hanging Gardens–at Babylon. Discover why archaeologists believe this World Wonder was actually located at Assyrian Nineveh.


david-and-meshaDavid Z. Moster, PhD, is a Research Fellow in Hebrew Bible at Brooklyn College and a Lecturer in Rabbinics at Nyack College. He is the author of the upcoming book Etrog: How a Chinese Fruit Became a Jewish Symbol (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018). His websites are www.929chapters.com and brooklyn-cuny.academia.edu/DavidMoster.


 

More by David Moster in Bible History Daily:

The 10 Strangest Foods in the Bible

10 Great Biblical Artifacts at the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem


 

More on food and dining in the Biblical world in Bible History Daily:

What Did People Eat and Drink in Roman Palestine?

Biblical Bread: Baking Like the Ancient Israelites

14,400-Year-Old Flatbreads Unearthed in Jordan

BAR Test Kitchen: Eat Like the Ancients

Making Sense of Kosher Laws

A Feast for the Senses … and the Soul

Was Jesus’ Last Supper a Seder?

Feeding the Pyramid Builders


This Bible History Daily article was originally published on January 27, 2014.



26 Responses

  1. David in MA says:

    What tree is being referred to when it was said, the leaves for medicine and the fruit for food?

  2. Luisa F. Mendoza says:

    That is a great article, so timely. I am working on a sermon on the Feast of Booths that we are celebrating at my church and I came across some of the fruits to be eaten during this celebration. That is amazing. Thank you.

  3. dacidd says:

    Hello Dr. David, can you explain the ancient Jewish Marriage to me. Please…..

  4. Dave Maloney says:

    I am a beekeeper researching kosher matters regarding honey bee honey. I recently heard a Rabbi state that the honey referred to in the Bible (e.g., land of milk and honey) refers not to honey from the honey bee, but rather is a reference to “apricot honey” which he said he has tasted and is not very good. He also said that floral sourced honey from the honey bee was extremely rare in Biblical times. Can you refer me to any information regarding this claim that Biblical honey is actually apricot honey?

  5. meshak Suja says:

    Thank you so much. I love this article. I learned so many things which I never thought before.

  6. David says:

    Many feel the fruit would have been a fig, since fig leaves could have been used to make the garments, but not apple tree leaves. Since the Bible says they sewed leaves “of the tree”, we know it’s a tree we’ve seen before, hence the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

  7. Judith Abeles says:

    Gefen is vineyard, not grape. Anav, later in the article, is correct for grape. Grapes are not a tree fruit, they grow on a vine. Thanks for the article,

  8. Reid says:

    Yesher koach on a wonderfully researched article. Question: can we really call grape vine and pomegranate ‘tree fruit’?

  9. anthonyg25 says:

    I once read that apple trees are not native to the middle east and that the fruit translated as apple in English was probably the apricot. Have any apple seeds or dried apple been recovered from archeological sites?

  10. Janice Cash says:

    Could you tell me what the meaning of a date (fruit) would mean for
    today? Its symbol?

  11. tracy says:

    How many times dose the word fruit appear in the new testament

  12. Boke says:

    In the movie “Experimenter” (2015) prof. Milgram (from hebrew, pomegranate) spoke about 7 types of fruits in the Bible.
    And, olive – is it fruit??
    Who is wrong?

  13. Mark Tabor says:

    I found it to be very interesting and to find raisin is fascinating to me. The o es that do this all the time are uses to this but the ones that would love to do this but can’t find it oh so unbelievable. I love this stuff but can’t do anything about it so I read adout it thank you so very much for what you do.

  14. Gene R. Conradi says:

    Nonetheless, for all its simplicity, the test succinctly and admirably expresses the universal truth of God’s sovereignty as well as man’s dependence upon God and his duty toward God. And it must be said that, while simple, the account of Eden’s events presents matters on an infinitely higher level than those theories that would place man’s start, not in a garden, but in a cave, representing him as both crudely ignorant and without moral sense. The simplicity of the test in Eden illustrates the principle stated millenniums later by God’s Son, that “the person faithful in what is least is faithful also in much, and the person unrighteous in what is least is unrighteous also in much.”—Lu 16:10. http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1200001256#h=8:180-8:383
    (The Bible never identifies the actual fruit)

  15. Kurt says:

    “Take Care of This Vine”!
    The 12 spies walked the length and breadth of the Promised Land. Moses had told them to observe the inhabitants and to bring back samples of the land’s produce. Which product particularly attracted their attention? Not far from Hebron, they found a vineyard where the grapes were so large that it took two of the spies to carry just one cluster. So impressive was the crop that the spies named the fertile area “the torrent valley of Eshcol,” or “Cluster of Grapes.”—Numbers 13:21-24; footnote.

    During the 19th century, a visitor to Palestine reported: “Eshcol, or Grape valley, . . . is still clad with vines, and the grapes are the finest and largest in Palestine.” Although the vines of Eshcol excelled, much of Palestine produced fine grapes in Bible times. Egyptian records indicate that the Pharaohs imported wine from Canaan.

    “The rocky hill-sides [of Palestine], with their light gravelly soil and sunny exposures, the heat of summer, and the rapid drainage of the winter rains, all combine to render it peculiarly a land of vines,” explains the book The Natural History of the Bible. Isaiah indicated that some select areas had as many as a thousand vines.—Isaiah 7:23.
    http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1200272981

  16. Gerard says:

    Is it true that it was not an apple but a fig the real fruit in ,Genesis that the snake gave Eve? Because there were not apples there at the time it was written. Thanks

  17. cleotiz says:

    The trees of knowledge and of life were no trees in the traditional sence. Thats also why Adam and Eve dit not physicly eat a piece of fruit from the “tree of knowledge” (lucifer) after which we became slaves.

  18. Jim says:

    Tappuah, meaning fragrance, was more likely to be an apricot or a quince than an apple, since the Levant is not amenable to growing apples. They are native to Afghanistan, and would have been found exclusively there at that time in history.

    Apricot trees are wonderfully fragrant, so that would be my guess.

  19. Standing up for fruits and veggies says:

    […] I don’t think a fun feature on fruits in the Bible, from Bible History Daily, was in any way linked in. […]

  20. June LInks | Kitchen Counter Culture says:

    […] A useful discussion of various fruits mentioned in The Bible. […]

  21. David says:

    Well done, David, very enlightening and useful both to scientists and Bible students!

  22. Transformation of 12 Stones to 12 Fruits | Restoration of Christianity says:

    […] David Moster, a PHD Student at New York University, recently wrote about 6 agricultural fruits repeatedly found […]

  23. Dov says:

    Extremely enlightening. David really has a way of making the Bible come to life!

  24. Jack Gorman says:

    Really wonderful scholarship here–and fascinating besides. Thanks

  25. Joseph D'Emanuele says:

    Nice article.

  26. Sherry Calfee says:

    Loved this article with some details!

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


26 Responses

  1. David in MA says:

    What tree is being referred to when it was said, the leaves for medicine and the fruit for food?

  2. Luisa F. Mendoza says:

    That is a great article, so timely. I am working on a sermon on the Feast of Booths that we are celebrating at my church and I came across some of the fruits to be eaten during this celebration. That is amazing. Thank you.

  3. dacidd says:

    Hello Dr. David, can you explain the ancient Jewish Marriage to me. Please…..

  4. Dave Maloney says:

    I am a beekeeper researching kosher matters regarding honey bee honey. I recently heard a Rabbi state that the honey referred to in the Bible (e.g., land of milk and honey) refers not to honey from the honey bee, but rather is a reference to “apricot honey” which he said he has tasted and is not very good. He also said that floral sourced honey from the honey bee was extremely rare in Biblical times. Can you refer me to any information regarding this claim that Biblical honey is actually apricot honey?

  5. meshak Suja says:

    Thank you so much. I love this article. I learned so many things which I never thought before.

  6. David says:

    Many feel the fruit would have been a fig, since fig leaves could have been used to make the garments, but not apple tree leaves. Since the Bible says they sewed leaves “of the tree”, we know it’s a tree we’ve seen before, hence the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

  7. Judith Abeles says:

    Gefen is vineyard, not grape. Anav, later in the article, is correct for grape. Grapes are not a tree fruit, they grow on a vine. Thanks for the article,

  8. Reid says:

    Yesher koach on a wonderfully researched article. Question: can we really call grape vine and pomegranate ‘tree fruit’?

  9. anthonyg25 says:

    I once read that apple trees are not native to the middle east and that the fruit translated as apple in English was probably the apricot. Have any apple seeds or dried apple been recovered from archeological sites?

  10. Janice Cash says:

    Could you tell me what the meaning of a date (fruit) would mean for
    today? Its symbol?

  11. tracy says:

    How many times dose the word fruit appear in the new testament

  12. Boke says:

    In the movie “Experimenter” (2015) prof. Milgram (from hebrew, pomegranate) spoke about 7 types of fruits in the Bible.
    And, olive – is it fruit??
    Who is wrong?

  13. Mark Tabor says:

    I found it to be very interesting and to find raisin is fascinating to me. The o es that do this all the time are uses to this but the ones that would love to do this but can’t find it oh so unbelievable. I love this stuff but can’t do anything about it so I read adout it thank you so very much for what you do.

  14. Gene R. Conradi says:

    Nonetheless, for all its simplicity, the test succinctly and admirably expresses the universal truth of God’s sovereignty as well as man’s dependence upon God and his duty toward God. And it must be said that, while simple, the account of Eden’s events presents matters on an infinitely higher level than those theories that would place man’s start, not in a garden, but in a cave, representing him as both crudely ignorant and without moral sense. The simplicity of the test in Eden illustrates the principle stated millenniums later by God’s Son, that “the person faithful in what is least is faithful also in much, and the person unrighteous in what is least is unrighteous also in much.”—Lu 16:10. http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1200001256#h=8:180-8:383
    (The Bible never identifies the actual fruit)

  15. Kurt says:

    “Take Care of This Vine”!
    The 12 spies walked the length and breadth of the Promised Land. Moses had told them to observe the inhabitants and to bring back samples of the land’s produce. Which product particularly attracted their attention? Not far from Hebron, they found a vineyard where the grapes were so large that it took two of the spies to carry just one cluster. So impressive was the crop that the spies named the fertile area “the torrent valley of Eshcol,” or “Cluster of Grapes.”—Numbers 13:21-24; footnote.

    During the 19th century, a visitor to Palestine reported: “Eshcol, or Grape valley, . . . is still clad with vines, and the grapes are the finest and largest in Palestine.” Although the vines of Eshcol excelled, much of Palestine produced fine grapes in Bible times. Egyptian records indicate that the Pharaohs imported wine from Canaan.

    “The rocky hill-sides [of Palestine], with their light gravelly soil and sunny exposures, the heat of summer, and the rapid drainage of the winter rains, all combine to render it peculiarly a land of vines,” explains the book The Natural History of the Bible. Isaiah indicated that some select areas had as many as a thousand vines.—Isaiah 7:23.
    http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1200272981

  16. Gerard says:

    Is it true that it was not an apple but a fig the real fruit in ,Genesis that the snake gave Eve? Because there were not apples there at the time it was written. Thanks

  17. cleotiz says:

    The trees of knowledge and of life were no trees in the traditional sence. Thats also why Adam and Eve dit not physicly eat a piece of fruit from the “tree of knowledge” (lucifer) after which we became slaves.

  18. Jim says:

    Tappuah, meaning fragrance, was more likely to be an apricot or a quince than an apple, since the Levant is not amenable to growing apples. They are native to Afghanistan, and would have been found exclusively there at that time in history.

    Apricot trees are wonderfully fragrant, so that would be my guess.

  19. Standing up for fruits and veggies says:

    […] I don’t think a fun feature on fruits in the Bible, from Bible History Daily, was in any way linked in. […]

  20. June LInks | Kitchen Counter Culture says:

    […] A useful discussion of various fruits mentioned in The Bible. […]

  21. David says:

    Well done, David, very enlightening and useful both to scientists and Bible students!

  22. Transformation of 12 Stones to 12 Fruits | Restoration of Christianity says:

    […] David Moster, a PHD Student at New York University, recently wrote about 6 agricultural fruits repeatedly found […]

  23. Dov says:

    Extremely enlightening. David really has a way of making the Bible come to life!

  24. Jack Gorman says:

    Really wonderful scholarship here–and fascinating besides. Thanks

  25. Joseph D'Emanuele says:

    Nice article.

  26. Sherry Calfee says:

    Loved this article with some details!

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Send this to a friend