MembersPlants of the Bible: Watermelon

How eating the humble watermelon meant standing for God, or falling away.

By Tsvi Sadan | | Topics: Food, And Man Named All the Plants
Jewish girls from Samarian town of Ma'aleh Levona take a break during harvest, and eat watermelon. Photo: Nati Shohat/Flash90

Avatiach (pl. avatichim), for whatever reason, is translated melon instead of watermelon (citrullus lantus) and appears only once in the Bible – in Numbers 11:5 – among a list of foods the Israelites missed so much in the desert.

“We remember,” they cried, “the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the watermelons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic.”

A description of watermelon is superfluous since everybody knows its look and taste. Though it appears just once in the Bible – a hapax legomenon – the identification of this fruit is almost certain. Evidence includes pips found in archeological digs in Egypt as well as on paintings in Egyptian tombs that testify to the fact that this fruit was loved in ancient Egypt. Avatiach appears enough times in Jewish sources to reach the same conclusion: It refers to the watermelon.

The popularity of this sweet, watery summer fruit may have been cause of the craving;...

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