A Pomegranate for All Religions
Looking at the fruit's spiritual properties in Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
BY: Nancy Haught
Religion News Service
In Genesis, the first book of the Torah, the fruit that prompted Adam and Eve's expulsion from Eden may have been the pomegranate, some scholars say. It's not likely, they argue, that apples flourished in that first garden. Later, the Hebrews searched for the Promised Land, looking for a list of clues to prove they had arrived. The list? Wheat and barley, vines and figs, olives and honey and pomegranates. The round red fruit with its own crown, or calyx, decorated the robes of Jewish priests and some of the pillars in the temple in Jerusalem. Tradition says that each pomegranate holds 613 seeds, or arils, one for each commandment in the Torah. Today, pomegranates are often part of Rosh Hashana celebrations, their seeds embodying the hope that the new year will be fruitful.
Pomegranates figure in many religious paintings by the likes of Sandro Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci, often in the hands of Mary or the infant Jesus. The fruit, broken or bursting open, is a symbol of the fullness of his suffering and resurrection. In the famous "Unicorn Tapestries," which date from about 1500 and reside now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Cloisters, pomegranates may represent Christ and the need to look inside for the blood that redeems believers. What seems to be the blood of the unicorn is red pomegranate seeds, perhaps an illustration of the belief that from the blood of martyrs flow the seeds of faith. In Christianity, pomegranate seeds were often compared to individual believers, gathered into one community of faith.
According to the Quran, the gardens of paradise include pomegranates. It is important, tradition says, to eat every seed of a pomegranate because one can't be sure which aril came from paradise. The prophet Mohammed is said to have encouraged his followers to eat pomegranates to ward off envy and hatred.
Additional sources: "The Anchor Bible Dictionary," edited by David Noel Freedman; "Church Symbolism" by F.R. Webber; "The Encyclopedia of Jewish Symbols" by Ellen Frankel and Betsy Platkin Teutsch; "A Dictionary of Life in Bible Times" by W. Corswant; "Pomegranates" by Ann Kleinberg; and "Pom," a promotional book created by Pom Wonderful.