What do the Jews eat to celebrate the New Year? You guessed it! The Pomegranate. They are filled with stories, symbols, and meaning.
During the Middle Ages, morality or paradise plays were performed all over Europe teaching the people stories from the Bible. The paradise play which showed the creation of man and the fall of Adam and Eve, performed on December 24th, featured the Paradise Tree (the “Paradeisbaum”). It was decorated with lights representing Christ, the Light of the World and apples and small white wafers representing the promise of salvation. They also used apples and pomegranates as the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden. Later families started to bring in decorated tree branches into their home to remember the stories of Jesus.
There are four fruits used or represented in the biblical Tabernacle.
- Almonds (Menorah & Arc of Covenant)
- Pomegranates (hem of the High Priest & tops of two columns)
- Grapes (wine on Table of Shew Bread)
- Olives (the oil used to burn in the Menorah)
Our name pomegranate is derived from the Latin “grained apple,” The Hebrew word is ‘rimon’ (רִמוֹן) whose root (לְרוֹמֵם) means to exalt, or lift or get (oneself) up, or to mount up. Pomegranates are found throughout the Bible and are rich in Biblical symbolism.
First, God prescribes the pomegranate be woven into the hem of the robe of the High Priest.
The Forgotten Symbols of Christ
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“On its hem, you shall make pomegranates of blue and purple and scarlet yarns, around its hem, with bells of gold between them, a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, around the hem of the robe. And it shall be on Aaron when he ministers and its sound shall be heard when he goes into the Holy Place before the Lord, and when he comes out so that he does not die.” (Exodus 28:33-34).
You may question this curious fashion choice, but God always has a purpose for his instructions. The colors, blue representing heaven, purple, royalty, and red (scarlet), blood or life all suggest the Celestial Kingdom. Being at the hem may possibly mean that it was to remind us of the covenant path back to God’s presence. The fact that there were bells in between them (or ‘inside/amongst’, as the Hebrew says) reminds us to stay on the path.
Second, pomegranates are also depicted 400 times around the top of Solomon’s Temple and on the capitals of the two pillars which stood in front of the Temple (1 King 7:13-22). Many believe Solomon designed his crown based on the ‘crown’ of the pomegranate. Sadly, these bronze pomegranates adorning the temple were carted off with the exile to Babylon, but we know that this is not the end of the story.
An Unusual Design
The pomegranate is a very unusual fruit. God chose to make it red, and a bit battered and leathery on the outside, full of jewel-like seeds inside, with a sort of crown on the top. It is a tricky fruit to eat – some use a pin to pick up one seed at a time, others chopping it in half and scooping out seeds with a spoon, some carefully peel the outer skin off and tap out the seeds. The juice that spills out staining anything in its path blood-red. We usually eat the flesh of the fruit and discard the seeds. With pomegranates, there are only seeds! 🙂
“…The pomegranate, or.Punica granatum, is a small tree that can grow to a height of about twenty feet. It is usually more of a bush, very closely branched… The branches are slender and frail and somewhat spiny. The leaves are small, lanceolate, light green, and thin. New shoots appear reddish bronze. The flowers are bell-shaped, borne on the new growth of the previous year’s wood. They are very showy bright orange-red in color with a thick crown-like calix having five to seven points and ruffled scarlet petals. The fruit ripens late in September and is round, or sometimes a little flattened, red and greenish yellow outside with the calix persisting…The part of the fruit that is eaten is the seeds, which are surrounded by a deep red, juicy flesh; they are set close together like the cells of a honeycomb and are embedded in a white or pinkish leathery pulp.”
Pomegranates in History
Pomegranates are usually associated with the fruitfulness of the land, along with grapes, figs, olives, barley, and wheat. Those were the six fruits or riches Moses promised his people when he led them out of Egypt into the promised land.
Many legends are associated with the pomegranate. One is the well-known Greek myth of Persephone, who could not return from the Underworld because she had eaten the seeds of the pomegranate. But a compromise was made -Pluto, the god of Hades, kept her only half the year. Beginning each spring, he released her to spend the other half with her grieving mother. Thus mortal men were granted the beauty of springtime and the pomegranate is a symbol of rebirth and the awakening of nature.
In Christian art the pomegranate, often split and showing the seeds, was interpreted as a symbol of fertility, the hope of immortality, and the Resurrection. The infant Jesus is frequently seen in paintings and sculpture presenting the pomegranate to his mother.
It is not only for its symbolic significance that the pomegranate was regarded so highly in the early days and all through the Middle Ages, but it was also much esteemed for its various nutritional uses. They were used as ornaments and decorations. Today, they adorn greeting cards, ceramic ornaments, beautiful materials – everywhere!
The pomegranate is used for decorative effect as in The Madonna by Vittorio Crivelli (to the left).
The pomegranate is found on coins used anciently, they are one of only a few images that appear as a holy symbol throughout Judea.
One of the Holy Days God gave the Israelites was the celebration of the New Year, Rosh Hashanah. Because of the rich symbolism of the pomegranate they are commonly eaten as part of the celebration.
Symbolism of Pomegranates
Pomegranates are symbols of righteousness, fruitfulness, knowledge, learning, and wisdom. They are also symbols of new birth and resurrection.
It is said that a possible meaning to having only seeds and no flesh is the seeds are the blessings and commandments of God, or God’s Will and not our own selfish, fleshy desires. When the flesh of a fruit is gone, it is gone forever, but when a seed “dies”, it merely lies dormant and can produce a whole fresh yield full of new life. A pomegranate reminds us that our will is nothing compared to the Will of God.
When pomegranates are truly ripe they burst open and their seeds pour out. They are bursting with promise. Paul said to the Romans, “Great things are coming when the people of Israel turn to receive their Messiah” (Romans 11). The seeds are bursting to tell a story. The story of God. When we allow the seeds of Christ to grow in our hearts, the hard outer shell bursts open and Christ shines through testifying of the story of salvation or promise of a better place.
Pomegranates have a purplish outer skin suggestive of royalty, shiny, ruby, red pips representative of his blood and our sins. They have a white membrane that suggests righteousness and purity. All these colors are found in the Biblical Tabernacle. The seeds are beautifully arranged into 12 sections and contains pearl white seeds (Isaiah 53:10) with red juice.
The pomegranate is a symbol of the promised land, as it was one of the fruits brought back by the spies when they entered Canaan (see Numbers 13:23).
It is also a symbol of posterity and prosperity, as there are literally hundreds of seeds in each fruit (Ex. 28:33-35; 39:24-26). We are all made heirs of God’s kingdom and Children of Christ through his Atonement.
The pomegranates at the bottom of the High Priest’s robe were made of three different colors of thread, blue, purple and scarlet. Threeness is the symbol of strength, unity, readiness to enter the presence of God and the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The crown on top of the pomegranates suggests the crowning glory of heaven, royalty and the temple itself.
With the pomegranates, the high priest walked around carrying on him the signs of the promised land, great posterity, abundant fruitfulness (posterity), royalty, and temple blessings. Only the person wearing the robe could receive the Word of God for all of Israel.
Because of the abundance of seeds within the pomegranate, it is a symbol for eternal life. Each seed is grown individually in the shape of precious gems united together as one fruit which symbolizes the unity of the church and its individual members. The bursting forth of the seeds when ripe signify the spreading of the gospel and the resurrection – the bursting forth from the grave, Christ overcoming physical and spiritual death for all of us.
As you eat the pomegranate this new year, think of the many lessons you can learn and choose one to focus on or write about this week.
Happy New Year!!