Food in the Bible: Genesis 30:14-15

Genesis 30:14-15 In the days of wheat harvest Reuben went and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them to his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.” 15 But she said to her, “Is it a small matter that you have taken away my husband? Would you take away my son’s mandrakes also?” Rachel said, “Then he may lie with you tonight for your son’s mandrakes.”

Women had very limited roles in the Ancient Near East. They could be married and bear a son or be a virgin in her father’s house. Any other circumstances put women outside the norm and threatened their security and life. Rachel was barren and therefore desperate to get pregnant and have a son. Mandrakes were considered to be a remedy for barrenness.

There are lots of interesting things in the story of this family that we won’t get into here. What’s interesting to note is the use of herbal or natural remedies for ailments and diseases. It seems that humans have experimented with the power and effects of various plants since time immemorial. In fact later in the same chapter we find a strange account of how Jacob used poplar and almond rods to cause the sheep to produce striped, speckled and spotted lambs. I’m not sure how scientific either account could be considered. As long as there has been ailments and disease, people have searched for cures in nature. Some might see science as an extension of this search, others might question how far science goes or things that it ignores, like natural medicine.

Some fatalists may say that all these problems are the result of sin and we shouldn’t even be curing diseases. I don’t know any of them and assume most people use modern medicine in some form, even if they are critical and also try natural remedies. I think the search for cures in both science and natural medicine in order to alleviate suffering is a good that participates in God’s mission of reconciliation and redemption in this world.

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