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Foods and Culinary Utensils of the Ancients

Illustration The colocynth the Dead Sea fruits


[Illustration: The colocynth--"the Dead Sea fruits."]

As the _ecbalium elaterium_, with variations in name, it has been described by Dioscorides, Theophrastus, Pliny, Celeius, Rosenmuller, Winner and Gesenius; as the _cucumbis prophetarium_, and _solanium sodomaeum_ by others; as the _asclepias procera_ by Burckhardt, Irby, Mangles and Dr. Robinson. Among still other disputing writers may be mentioned Pococke, Hasselquist, Seetzen, Elliot and Chateaubriand.

Michaelis, Oedman, Dr. J. D. Hooker and the Rev. W. Houghton agree that Josephus referred to the fruit of the colocynth (_citrullus colocynthis_) which resembles an orange in appearance, and when dry will burst on pressure with a crashing noise.

[Illustration: Tamarix Gallica--The Manna plant of the Scriptural desert.]

The varying opinions may be ascribed to the fact that in the south of Palestine are found several members of the gourd tribe, as well as the fruits of several shrubs and trees, which under certain conditions answer very closely to the descriptions afforded us of the "Dead Sea Fruits," although the colocynth is the only one that answers them in every way.

The palm tree, once so plentiful in Judaea, is now rare and in the vicinity of Jericho is extinct, the last one having died a few years ago.

All readers of the Scriptures remember the important part which manna played in the history of the Jews. The manna which is at the present day known in the Arabian desert through which the Israelites passed is collected in June from the tarfa or tamarisk shrub (_Tamarix Gallica_). According to Burkhardt, it drops from the thorns on to the sticks and leaves which cover the ground and must be gathered early in the day or it will be melted by the heat of the sun. Its fall is said to be caused by the punctures made by insects. The Arabs cleanse, boil and strain it and put it up in leather bottles, and thus prepared it will retain its virtues for several years. It is used in the place of honey or butter--it is never eaten alone. It is abundant only in wet seasons, and in a very dry year it is not found at all. It is not exactly peculiar in character, as there are several shrubs in India and Syria.

[Illustration: Salvadora--The arboreous Mustard Plant of Palestine.]

Niebuhr discovered at Mardin, in Mesopotamia, on the leaves of a tree, a species of _capparis_, a kind of manna which appears during the months of July and August, being most plentiful in wet seasons. If shaken off before sunrise, it is pure white in color. If let remain, it collects until very thick, and the leaves are then gathered and steeped in boiling water until the manna floats to the top like oil. This is called by the natives _manna essemma_, heavenly manna.

Burkhardt found in the valley of Jordan a similar gum on the leaves and branches of the tree gharrob (a species of oak), which fell to the ground in drops of brown-gray dew. Its taste at first was sweet, but after a day's exposure to the elements became acrid.


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