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 Horite Hebrew people. They represented fertility, new life, the arousal of the High God (whose emblem was the Sun), the rising of the Sun and, as with the pomegrante, the hope for bodily resurrection. 

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 the sun temples were called Hapiru, Habiru, 'Apiru or Abru, from which the English word "Hebrew" is derived. The priests' morning ritual involved greeting and 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. 

Similarly, the Horite Hebrew priests of Nekhen (c. 4000 BC) placed invocations to Horus at the summit of the fortress at dawn. The priests faced the eastern horizon to greet the rising sun, the emblem of Re and his son Horus. Prayers were offered at dawn and dusk. One of the Chief Inspectors of the Horite priests of Nekhen was Horemkhawef. His tomb has been identified.

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 city.

The Horite Hebrew priests of Nekhen were among Abraham's ancestors. By the time of Abraham the Horite Hebrew were widely dispersed throughout the ancient Near East. The peoples with whom they came into contact regarded them as outsiders. They preserved their customs and religion by practicing endogamy: The Hebrew Horites/Hurrians/Hittites/Hethites married within their related clans. Esau the Elder married Adah and Basemath, daughters of the Hittite chief Elon. Esau the Younger married Oholibamah, a Horite Hebrew bride (Gen. 36), and Judith, daughter of the Hittite chief Beeri (Gen. 26:34). The Hittites of Hebron recognized Abraham the Hebrew as "a great prince" among them. (Gen. 23:6).

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