Leah said to him, ‘Is it a simple matter that you took my husband from me? Now, will you take away my son’s Mandrakes too?’ Rachel said, ‘Jacob can sleep with you tonight in exchange for your son’s Mandrakes.’(Genesis 30)
Mandrakes In The Bible?
Many people know about mandrakes from a story about a young wizard named harry. The children are instructed to pull out a potted plant from the PO in the story. And in so doing, reveal a human-looking root whose screams can kill a person.
In reality, the mandrake is an actual plant. Its scientific name is Mandragora Autumnalis. It grows throughout the Mediterranean basin, and it is mentioned twice in the bible as the Hebrew Dudaim. The plant produces a very strong fragrant fruit which is referenced in verse from the biblical song of songs with its anthropomorphic root.
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It was said that there were male and female types of the plant. Although this is not scientific, dudaim are translated as mandragora in the Greek Septuagint and the later Latin Vulgate in Aramaic. It is called which is the name it was referred to as in the targum of ankles midrashim and the Talmud.
Mandrakes are still referred to by this name in Arabic, preserving the ancient identification of the planet. according to the biblical story, we are told that Ruben went out during the days of the wheat harvest and found mandrakes and brought them to his mother, Leia.
Parenthetically speaking, he must have known what he was looking for as the mandrake blooms in the winter, whereas the wheat in the middle east is harvested in the late spring-early summer. When Leia’s sister Rachel who had not yet had children, saw that she had received mandrakes, she requested that Leia give her some it seems from the aforementioned story that Rachel was seeking the dudaem as a type of fertility treatment.
Indeed in traditional medicine, mandrakes were used for all kinds of remedies curing infertility being but one. People would sleep with them under their pillows. The plant is poisonous, containing solanum alkaloids which can produce vomiting, dysentery, and even death. That being said, more moderate consumption can produce hallucinogenic and hypnotic effects.
It has been used as an anesthetic to treat depression, mania, and convulsions throughout history. Because of its rarity and value, many superstitions became associated with the harvesting of the mandrake. Many people tried to replicate it. People also tried to pass other plants other roots as mandrakes. Even going as far as to carve human-shaped roots and put hair and beards on their quote-unquote mandrakes.
It was said that a demon lived in the root, and anybody would try to harvest it would be killed. These tall tales were used to deter people who took much more stock in legends and old wives’ tales than we do today.
J.K. Rowling version of a screaming mandrake is a later elaboration of an idea that is found in none other than the works of Josephus Flavius. This Jewish historian believed that the root could be used to cure someone possessed by demons. However, he writes that picking the plant could be a deadly exercise.
Josephus, therefore, writes the following how-to to harvest the mandrake to protect oneself from certain death. I quote a furrow must be dug around the root until its lower part is exposed, then a dog is tied to the root after which the person who tied the dog must run away the dog will then chase after him. which pulls out the root. Still, the dog dies suddenly instead of his master. After the dog has been killed, the root can be handled without fear.
This advice persisted until medieval times, and unfortunately for the mandrake, it stayed associated with black magic and superstition until modernity.
The rabbis of the Babylonian Talmud don’t delve into the dark side of the mandrake but instead pose the question as to why such a seemingly frivolous piece of information was included within the Torah. The answer, according to them, is to teach us virtue. The righteous do not engage in theft.
Even when it comes to the most insignificant of items, it was a common practice in ancient times during the wheat harvest to go and pluck some grain from a field as one was passing. Reuven, however, did not do this; instead, he worked for something that he was powerless to bring home.
Also, in modern times at least in the state of Israel, mandrakes cannot be picked not due to demonic spirits but rather as an effort to preserve the fragile and unique natural beauty found here.