It was a pomegranate – not an apple – depicted in the biblical Garden of Eden (Part I)

Pomegranates were one of the earliest fruits to be domesticated and their range now includes the Far East, India, the Mediterranean, and the Americas. The wild pomegranate did not grow natively it originated in eastern Iran and came to the Aegean world along the same cultural pathways that brought the goddess whom the Anatolians worshipped as Cybele and the Mesopotamians as Ishtar. A symbol of fertility, immortality pomegranates’ healing properties were discussed in one of the oldest medical texts, the Ebers papyrus from Egypt (circa 1500 BC). The Immortals, an elite infantry unit in ancient Persia, had spears with pomegranate-shaped counterweights at the butt made of gold, for officers, and silver for regular infantry.

The fruit is mentioned in both Greek and Persian mythology representing life, regeneration, and marriage (pomegranate connected with insemination. It protected a woman from infertility and protected a man’s virile strength). In Judaism, pomegranates depicted in the temple King Solomon built in Jerusalem. Jewish tradition teaches that the pomegranate is a symbol for righteousness, because it is said to have 613 seeds which corresponds with the 613 mitzvot or commandments of the Torah. However, the actual number of seeds varies with individual fruits. some artistic depictions, the pomegranate is found in the hand of Mary, mother of Jesus. The Qur’an mentions pomegranates three times twice as examples of the good things God creates, once as a fruit found in the Garden of Paradise. The fruit is also one of the 3 blessed fruits in Buddhism. In traditional Asian medicine, pomegranate fruits were recommended as a health tonic and as a treatment for numerous ailments including diarrhea, dysentery, and diabetes.

Botanically, the fruit of P. granatum (henceforth referred to as pomegranate) is a large berry with a leathery pericarp filled with numerous edible, red ruby-like arils (seeds encased by a juicy pulp), compartmentalized by a membranous pith. The pomegranate’s irresistible appeal and legendary medicinal properties have been the subject of myths, epics and works of art, from Raphael and Cezanne to Homer and Shakespeare, Rumi and Ferdosi. The pomegranate has a calyx shaped like a crown. In Jewish tradition it has been seen as the original “design” for the proper crown. Some scholars now suggest that it was a pomegranate – that led to Adam and Eve’s exodus from the biblical Garden of Eden and not apple.

Legendary allusions aside, pomegranate juice has been scientifically shown to help the body, as it is rich in antioxidants, the molecules that protect the body from heart disease, premature aging, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer. Amazingly pressed pomegranate juice has three times higher antioxidant properties than green tea and red wine. The health benefits of pomegranate have been attributed generally to the high levels and wide diversity of phyto-chemicals. These are predominantly polyphenols and include Hydrolyzable ellagitannin which constitutes the greatest proportion, followed by anthocyanins and other minor flavonoids. The whole pomegranate fruit can be divided into a) seed containing the Punicic oil, a conjugated linolenic acid, b) juice, and c) peels or husk and interior network of membranous pith that holds the most potent polyphenols in the plant kingdom.

To be continued…

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