Friday, November 6, 2009

Pomegranate Symbolism

The main places in the scriptures that we hear about pomegranates are in association with decoration of the high priest’s robes and of the temple Solomon built.
33 ¶ And beneath upon the hem of it thou shalt make pomegranates of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, round about the hem thereof; and bells of gold between them round about:
34 A golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, upon the hem of the robe round about.
35 And it shall be upon Aaron to minister: and his sound shall be heard when he goeth in unto the holy place before the Lord, and when he cometh out, that he die not. (Exodus 28:33-34)
Pomegranates were part of the high priest’s robes.
And four hundred pomegranates for the two networks, even two rows of pomegranates for one network, to cover the two bowls of the chapiters that were upon the pillars; (1 Kings 7:42)
Evidently there were temple pillars that Solomon built that had pomegranates as part of their decoration.
21 And concerning the pillars, the height of one pillar was eighteen cubits; and a fillet of twelve cubits did compass it; and the thickness thereof was four fingers: it was hollow.
22 And a chapiter of brass was upon it; and the height of one chapiter was five cubits, with network and pomegranates upon the chapiters round about, all of brass. The second pillar also and the pomegranates were like unto these.
23 And there were ninety and six pomegranates on a side; and all the pomegranates upon the network were an hundred round about. (Jeremiah 52:21-23)
I remember reading through the Old Testament with my family growing up and wondering what was so significant about the pomegranate that the Lord would want representations of it to adorn the robes of the high priest and the temple.

The first progress I made towards understanding was on a “Plants of the Bible” tour of the Boyce Thompson Arboretum in Arizona when the guide pointed out that pomegranates symbolized eternal life. I was struck and excited by this.

Recently I did a search to see if there was more that could be associated with pomegranates. Here’s what I found:
  • Christ’s atoning sufferings for our sins
  • Eternal life
  • Fertility
I enjoy eating pomegranates and as I was eating one, the symbolism began to strike me even more.

It’s a very messy process; cutting into it can induce an explosion of red juices all over, evoking remembrance of the blood that was shed for us.

It’s hard to get at all the fruit of a pomegranate. It’s a long, labor-intensive process.
Regina Schrambling has made an apt analogy: “[pomegranates] are the crabs of the produce aisle, wondrous to eat but a messy hassle to break down to extract that wondrousness.” Just like achieving eternal life takes work and time.

You want to get every single little aril—the “aril” is the little fruit-seeds inside the pomegranate—that you can, just like Christ works to try to get each of us.

The arils have to be handled carefully to remove them, otherwise they rupture. This reminds us of how carefully we are nurtured and how salvation comes through Christ’s persuasion and long-suffering, while forcing us to be good would break us.

Each one of the arils has the potential to become a pomegranate tree that bears many fruit. The large number of arils evoke the idea of the huge numbers of God’s children, all of whom are precious. (This also evokes the promise of eternal posterity as part of eternal life, so it certainly suggests a promise of fertility.)

These may have been the ideas that the Lord wanted to evoke by placing pomegranate decorations on the high priests robes.

Here’s a link to a video about getting seeds from a pomegranate.
(They try to make it seem like a shorter process, but you can see the care that has to be taken and you can see that it is a multi-stage operation.)

Image#1 from Producepedia.com, http://www.producepedia.com/pomegranates.php

Image#2 from Faerie’s Finest, http://www.faeriesfinest.com/A052.html

11 comments:

In The Doghouse said...

Thanks for the great thoughts on symbolism for the pomegranate. I have also seen the pomegranate as a representation of part of the Abrahamic Covenant, that of the blessing of posterity. By simply looking at the fruit itself, I visualize the womb. I love the symbolism used in the scriptures involving fruit.

Jennifer O. said...

This is great! I'd also read that in Jewish studies that the pomegranate is said to contain 613 seeds, one for each of the 613 commandments contained in the Torah.

I like your ties to the atonement and eternal life, and Diana's comment about the Abrahamic Covenant. Brings it all closer to home.

Michaela Stephens said...

Well, I guess the next time I eat a pomegranate I'm going to be counting the seeds just to see how many.

Juhani said...

The Bible describes in a very interesting way about pomegranate tree:

http://koti.phnet.fi/petripaavola/Bible_Trees9.html

Michaela Stephens said...

Juhani, thanks for that link! Interesting points.

Heatherlady said...

I like this too. I was actually eating one a few weeks ago and thought... I bet God designed this to be symbolic, just like trees. But I wasn't quite sure what it was symbolic of so thanks for the insights!

Tony said...

I was struck by that last paragraph.

Just as the seeds have potential to become pomegranates, we as the holy seed of our Father in Heaven have the potential to become like Him.

Who'da thought?

Rozy Lass said...

I never knew what the little seeds were called, I always called them jewels. Now I know the proper name. I love pomegranates! Thanks for linking to this again.

Michaela Stephens said...

Rozy Lass, I like your name for the seeds better, and I completely agree; the seeds DO look like jewels!

Reep-Bingham Family Times said...

I was just reading Exodus 28 again and decided to see what I could find about the symbolism of the pomegranate. Thanks so much. It has long been in my mind that the Forbidden Fruit accorded well with the pomegranate. As the Forbidden Fruit came from The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, one certainly gains a taste (pun intended) of that, between the pith and the arils, as well as its beauty and the red staining that happens if we're not careful (also symbolic of Christ's blood shed to rid us of our stains). In addition is the wonderful symbol between the bitterness that can accompany life out of sync with God, versus the life we may live in harmony with Him and the Holy Spirit.

Which brings me to the sweetness of the sounds of those little tinkling bells. There is great evidence that we love to hear those gentle sounds. If not so, why are wind chimes such a draw to billions of us? And certainly harkening to The Holy Spirit is as listening to the sweet sounds of those tiny bells; not loud or raucous, but gentle and inviting.

Michaela Stephens said...

Interesting comment on what the pomegranates and bells mean to you, Reep-Bingham Family Times. Thanks for sharing and stopping by.