Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Gourd in Biblical Symbolism


A despondent Jonah facing east under a gourd plant

Alice C. Linsley


Gourds were a sacred symbol among Abraham's Habiru (Hebrew) people. They represented fertility, new life, the arousal of God (whose emblem was the sun), and the rising of the sun in the east. Gourds carved into cedar decorated the inner sanctuary of the temple.
The house, that is, the nave in front of the inner sanctuary, was forty cubits long. There was cedar on the house within, carved in the shape of gourds and open flowers; all was cedar, there was no stone seen. 1 Kings 6:18
Gourds also decorated the bronze sea, a circular basin which held a supply of water for ritual use.
Now he made the sea of cast metal ten cubits from brim to brim, circular in form, and its height was five cubits, and thirty cubits in circumference. Under its brim gourds went around encircling it ten to a cubit, completely surrounding the sea; the gourds were in two rows, cast with the rest. It stood on twelve oxen, three facing north, three facing west, three facing south, and three facing east; and the sea was set on top of them... 1 Kings 7:24

In the story of Jonah, the LORD prepares a gourd plant to shelter Jonah. This pleases Jonah, but a worm destroys the plant. The gourd represents the new life to be enjoyed by the people of Ninevah after repentance and deliverance from destruction. The worm is Jonah's bitterness that his enemies should be saved, just as he feared, knowing that the LORD is gracious and merciful.
The LORD said, "Do you have good reason to be angry?" Then Jonah went out from the city and sat east of it. There he made a shelter for himself and sat under it in the shade until he could see what would happen in the city. So the LORD God appointed a plant and it grew up over Jonah to be a shade over his head to deliver him from his discomfort. And Jonah was extremely happy about the plant.… Jonah 4:4-6

The gourd is a solar symbol. As it matures, the gourd swells. It is a reference to the Creator God whose emblem, the sun, swells as it rises in the morning. There is a connection to the ancient Egyptian root bn, meaning to swell, and to the the Proto-Dravidian root brih, which means to swell or enlarge. The Egyptian word for the rising sun is wbn, and that which is enlarged or swollen to its limits is designated by the reduplication bnbn.

The Old Arabic word for the swelling of the sun is yakburu, meaning “he is getting big” and with the intensive active prefix: yukabbiru, it means "he is enlarging." This it is related to the Proto-Dravidian word for an east-facing Sun temple, which is O-piru. The caste of priests who served in thes sun temples were called Hapiru or Habiru (Hebrew). The priests' morning ritual involved greeting or blessing the rising sun and offering prayers as it swelled on the horizon. 

This practice of venerating the sun is very ancient. It continues today in the morning ritual of devout Hindus (Agnihotra) and in the Jewish Sun Blessing ritual (Birkat Hachama) that is performed every 28 years. It was performed by the Horite priests of Nekhen, the oldest known temple (c. 5000 BC) to have association with Abraham's ancestors. Artifacts of great importance have been found at the predynastic temple at Nekhen on the Nile. These include funeral masks, statues, jewelry, beer vats, large flint knives, and the pillared halls characteristic of later Egyptian monuments and temples. Nekhen is where the oldest life-sized human statue was found: a priest from the temple of Horus, c.3000 BC. Votive offerings at the Nekhen temple were ten times larger than the normal mace heads and bowls found elsewhere, suggesting that this was a very prestigious shrine.

Horite priests placed invocations to Horus at the summit of the fortress as the sun rose. In the morning the priests faced the eastern horizon to greet the rising sun, the emblem of Ra and his son Horus. Prayers were offered at dawn and dusk. The Chief Inspector of the Horite priests of Nekhen was Horemkhawef. His tomb has been identified.


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