Friday, September 14, 2012

Seven Species

Observe the commands of the Lord your God, walking in obedience to him and revering him.  
For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land —
a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into 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…
 Deuteronomy 8:6-9


The Seven Species ( Seven Kinds ) are seven agricultural products that are listed in the Bible as being special products of the Land of Israel.  They were the staple foods of the Jewish in the Promised Land during biblical times.

Emmer wheat ( Triticum dicocum ), a tetraploid hybrid, was first cultivated in the Fertile
Crescent at around 10,000 BC.  However, emmer wheat require time-consuming pounding or roasting to remove its husk. 
During the Iron Age ( 1,300 – 600 BC ), durum wheat ( Triticum durum ), another tetraploid hybrid become the dominant cultivated species.  Durum wheat yield higer, easily detached from chaff, and easily hulled.  However, it was difficult to grind to obtain fine flour, thus was seldom use for making bread.   
After the Greek conquest ( circa 300 BC ), common wheat ( Triticum aestivum ), a hexaploid hybrid, replace the durum wheat as the primary wheat crop.  As did usage of wheat flour for bread-making, replacing barley and durum wheat.

Wheat is harvested around the time of Shavuot ( Festival of Weeks ) ( Exo 34:22 ) ( Christian : Pentecost ) in the month of Sivan.  20,000 cors of wheat were sent to Hiram king of Tyre year after year, in exchange of cedar and juniper logs King Solomon wanted for building the Temple ( 1Kings 5:11 )

Barley is Hordeum vulgare L., a self-pollinating, annual, diploid grass species with 14 chromosomes.    The wild ancestor of today’s domesticated barley is Hordeum vulgare spontaneum, grown abundantly throughout the Fertile Crescent.

Barley is made into bread ( Judges 7:13, 2Kings 4:42, Ezekiel 4:12, John 6:9-13 ), used in soups and stews.  Barley was considered cheaper by half of the finest wheat flour. ( 2Kings 7:18 )

The 7th plague was that of hail, which destroyed the then blooming flax and headed barley ( Exo 9:31 ).  The event took place just prior to the first Passover, which falls in the spring month of Nisan.  Barley and wheat were both sowed in autumn, yet barley matured faster and would be harvested sooner.  Thus the bread during the Feast of Unleavened Bread would have been barley.

Gideon dreamed of a barley bread tumbled into the Midianites camp ( Judges 7:13 ), Elisha fed a hundred men with twenty loaves of barley bread ( 2Kings 4:42 ), and Jesus feeds the five thousand with five loaves of barley bread and two small fish ( John 6:9 ).

Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread is celebrated during the onset of barley harvest, in April

Vines ( Grapes )
The grapes are most probably Vitis vinifera, the European grapevine native to the Mediterranean and Central Asia.  

Today’s cultivated grape include American species V. labrusca, V. riparia, V. rotundifoia, and Asian species V. amurensis.

Grapes are deciduous woody vines.  The fruit is a berry, grows in clusters of 15 to 300, colour ranging from crimson, black, dark blue, yellow, green, orange, to pink.

Grape are propagated via cuttings, clefting, and layering.   Vineyards are planted on fertile hill , fenced with watchtower, and in-house winepress ( Isa 5:1-2, Mat 21:33 ), harvested together with olive in October, during Feast of Tabernacles.

Grape juice is obtained from crushing and blending grapes into a liquid.  Freshly pressed grape juice with 7-23% of solid content ( pomace ) is called as “must” ( H : tirosh, G : gleukos ).  The juice is often sold fresh or fermented, and made into wine ( H : yayin, G :methusma ) , brandy ( H : shekar, G : sikera ) or vinegar ( H : chomets, G : oxos ).   Dried grapes are called “raisin”.

The common fig is Ficus carica, a temperate species native to southwest Asia and the Mediterranean region.

Ficus is a genus of about 850 species of woody trees, shrubs and vines, occupying a wide variety of ecological niches.  Specific identification can be difficult, but figs as a group are relatively easy to recognized.  Many have aerial roots, latex-producing, tri-veined, paired stipules or circular stipule scar, and syconium fruit.

Fig fruit is a false fruit.  The flowers and seeds grow together to form a single mass, called a multiple fruit.  Each fruit can contain up to several hundred to several thousand seeds.  The syconium often has a bulbous shape with a small opening at the outward end to allow access to pollinators.

Common fig plants are gynodioecious, meaning female individuals coexist with hermaphroditic individuals ( flowers with both male & female parts ) in the population.   The female individuals produce the ‘edible figs’, while the hermaphroditic individuals produce the ‘inedible figs’ or ‘caprifigs’.

Propagation is done by seeds, cuttings, air-layering or grafting.

Another fig species mentioned in the Bible is sycamore fig ( Amo 7:14 ), Ficus sycomorus, which was also used for food, but much inferior ( Jer 24 ) and cheaper, often eaten by the poor .  At Jericho, Zacchaeus climbed a sycamore fig tree to see Jesus as he passed by ( Luke 19:4 ).

Pomegranate is the fruit of Punica granatum, originated from the middle East.  It has been cultivated since ancient times throughout the Mediterranean region. 

It is a deciduous shrub.  The fruit is a berry, rounded hexagonal shaped, with thick reddish skin.  Seeds varies from 200 to 1400 seeds, embedded in astringent pulp, with colour ranging from white to red or purple.

Pomegranate taste differs depending on the variety and its ripeness.  A desirable taste would be sweet with little bit of sour.  It is often consume fresh, made into juice or used in cooking.  The aril can be dried and used as an acidic agent in food preparation.

 The Bible describes the robe of the ephod embroiled with pomegranates ( Exo 28:33-34 ).   The capitals of the 2 pillars ( Jakin and Boaz ) in front of Solomon’s Temple were engraved with pomegranates ( 1Kings 7:13-22 ).
When Israel spies were sent to explore Canaan, the Promised Land, they brought back grapes, pomegranates and figs ( Num 13 ).

Olive is the fruit of Olea europaea, native to the costal areas of the eastern Mediterranean Basin.

Olive tree is an evergreen tree.  The fruit is a drupe.  Olive has been cultivated for olive oil, fine wood ( 1Kings 6:23, 6:32-33 ), olive leaf and the olive fruit.

Olive tree grows well on mineral soil with good drainage.  They tolerate drought well.  Olives grow slowly but can live for several centuries.   Propagation is via cuttings, layers, or grafting, and sometime from seed.  Olive trees are regularly pruned for better fruiting.  Harvesting is done in the winter, during the celebration of Feast of Tabernacles.

Olive are rarely eaten fresh.  They are naturally bitter and unpalatable due to oleuropein and phenolic comounds.  Curing with brine, lye, salt, or fresh water make them more palatable.

Olive oil is produced by grinding whole olive and extracting the oil by mechanical or chemical means.  Olive oil is commonly used in cooking ( 1Kings 17:7-16 ), offering to God ( Exo 29:2, 29:23, 29:40 ; Lev 2:1-7, 6:14-18, 7:11-12, 8:26, etc ), anointing oil ( Exo 30:22-29 ), tithe ( Neh 10:37-39 ),  anoint kings ( 1Sam 10:1 ),  medicine or as fuel for traditional oil lamps ( Exo 23:11. 25:6,  27:20, 35:8, 35:28, 39:37 etc ).

When Noah send out a dove to check out the flood, it returned with a freshly plucked olive leaf ! ( Gen 8:11 )

Honey ( Dates )

Date palm is Phoenix dactylifera, a palm tree originated from around the Persian Gulf.

Date palm has been cultivated for its edible sweet fruit since ancient times.  The fruit is known as a date.

Date palm is dioecious, having separate male and female plants.  It can be easily grown from seeds, but the dates are often smaller and poorer quality, hence most commercial plantation use cuttings for propagation.  Date palms fruit after 4 to 8 years after planting, and remain yielding for up to 10 years.

Fresh dates or dried dates are eaten directly.  Chopped dates are added into dough to make date nut bread.  It can also be processed to produce sweetened syrup ( palm date honey ), alcohol or vinegar.

The Temple was decorated with engraftment with date palms motives ( 1Kings 6:29,32,35 , 7:36 ; 2Chronicles 3:5 ; Ezekiel 40:16,22,26,31,34,37, 41:18-20, 25-26 ).  The leave fronds were used to make roofs ( Nehemiah 8:15 ), used during Feast of Tabernacles ( Lev 23:40 ), and Jesus triumphal entrance into Jerusalem ( John 12:13 ).

Date palms were symbol of righteousness ( Psalm 92:12 ), beauty ( Songs 7:7 ), and victory ( Rev 7:9 ).