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Pomegranates in the context of religion and ancient civilizations


The Symbolic Pomegranate

in the context of religion and ancient civilizations


Made by McKenna Vande Hei

Overview of the Pomegranate

Most archeologists share the belief that pomegranates originated from modern day northern India and Iran. They are one of the oldest fruits recorded, thus there are many ways pomegranates are symbolized/viewed by civilization. Many of the world's most prevalent religions view the fruit as sacred in some fashion. The fruit itself is about the size of a large orange. Once opened, separate chambers are revealed, each holding in place juicy, deep red, arils (most people refer to them as seeds). Besides being a major symbol of fertility and life, historically pomegranates have also been recognized as a spectacular food to eat from a medicinal point of view. They can help prevent and treat diseases such as high blood pressure and cholesterol. They also tame inflammation, provide antioxidants, and stabilize urinary health (Zarfeshany, 2014 ). For these reasons, pomegranates are seen as both nutritionally and culturally indispensable.

In Ancient Greece the pomegranate symbolizes life, death, and marriage. This stems back to the myth of Demeter and Persephone. The story starts with Persephone, daughter of Demeter the goddess of the harvest, taking a scenic walk in the meadow. She stumbled up a big hole opening up in the ground. None other than Hades, God of the underworld, emerged from the hole and took Persephone back into it. He did this because he wanted Persephone to be his wife. Demeter was very sad that her daughter was taken from her and demanded Hades return her. Hades argued that since Persephone had already eaten food in the underworld, 6 pomegranate seeds, she was required to stay there. Zeus ended up negotiating with Hades. They agreed that since Persephone ate 6 seeds, she only had to be in the underworld for 6 months out of the year (The Fitzwilliam Museum, n.d.). The ancient Greeks viewed pomegranates as a symbol of life and death since it was the object that connected Persephone to both the over and underworld. They also viewed it as a symbol of unbreaking marriage, this makes sense seeing as how the pomegranate contracted Persephone to Hades for eternity. The pomegranate is used in many different Greek marriage ceremonies such as throwing seeds at the newly wedded couple (Bezzant, 2019).

Ancient Greece


In Christianity the pomegranate primarily represents temptation, Israel, and resurrection. The Old Testament mentions the pomegranate over 10 times. Since historians still have differing findings when analyzing the Bible and other scripts, the pomegranate is the basis of multiple different metaphors within Christianity. For example, the pomegranate is often found within artworks depicting Mary and Jesus, commonly aiding themes of resurrection, immortality, and devotion (Langley, 2000). Additionally, the pomegranate is also deemed by some historians to be the actual forbidden fruit of the Garden of Eden. It’s taught that Adam and Eve were the first people on earth. They lived in the Garden of Eden. There grew a tree housing the apple, which they were specifically instructed not to eat. However, the devil persuaded them to take a bite of the apple. As punishment for their disobedience, they were banished. The apple in this story represents sin, the fall of man, and temptation. Now, in the teachings where the pomegranate was the forbidden fruit it would take place of all of the apples symbolism. Lastly, the Pomegranate may have been a symbol of the land of Israel itself. In Exodus 28:35 Aaron brings God a pomegranate (Bible Gateway, n.d.). Here the pomegranate, with a plentiful amount of seeds, represents Israel and Isrealites as whole being given to God. Although there is no definitive Christian symbol for the pomegranate it is undeniably relevant seeing as though it appears in scripture and ancient art pertaining to Christianity.

Ancient Israel

As mentioned on the Christianity page, Israel has a biblical connection to the pomegranate. Therefore it is one of the many symbols of the land. While the connection between Israel and pomegranates can be explained in many ways, through a Christian lens it's a metaphor for God’s kingship over Israel (Abram, 2009). Now, the most predominant religion in Israel is Judaism, which also utilizes pomegranates as a symbol of righteousness. The Hebrew Bible also mentions the pomegranates many times. However, the most common connection between pomegranate and Judaism is the number 613. It’s said that each pomegranate has 613 seeds, which is in turn associated with the 613 Torah Commandments. Because of this pomegranate seeds are often eaten one by one during Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. They’re eaten in the hopes that the new year is blessed and fulfills wishes (The Jewish Museum, 2017).

Ancient India

Pomegranates are native to India so naturally pomegranates are intertwined into Indian culture. Broadly, in India pomegranates represent prosperity, fertility, and a healthy life. Pomegranates are often associated with Bhumi Devi, the Hindu goddess of Earth. She is often depicted in artworks holding a pomegranate along with water and herbs. In turn pomegranates are seen as symbols of new life, growth, femininity, and fertility. Pomegranates are also associated with Lord Ganesha, God of wisdom and prosperity. He is also viewed as the solver of problems and the banisher of obstacles. It is believed that next to mangos, pomegranates are one of Ganesha’s favorite fruits. So people often offer him a pomegranate with the hopes that he will help them overcome their struggles and become successful (Slurrp, 2023). Additionally, pomegranates are a symbol of good health. This is because ancient Indians discovered the pomegranate's abundance of medical benefits. It was found that pomegranates help with nausea, ulcers, heart health, and anemia (Times, 2013). Throughout history India has developed a deep cultural and medicinal relationship with its native fruit.


Abram, M. (2009, April). The pomegranate: Sacred, secular, and sensuous symbol of ancient Israel. BYU ScholarsArchive. https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/studiaantiqua/vol7/iss1/4/?utm_source=scholarsarchive.byu.edu%2Fstudiaantiqua%2Fvol7%2Fiss1%2F4&utm_medium=PDF&utm_campaign=PDFCoverPages Bezzant, M. (2019, July). Pomegranate imagery: A symbol of conquest and victory. BYU Scholars Archive. https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/studiaantiqua/vol18/iss1/2/?utm_source=scholarsarchive.byu.edu%2Fstudiaantiqua%2Fvol18%2Fiss1%2F2&utm_medium=PDF&utm_campaign=PDFCoverPages Exodus 28:35. Bible Gateway. (n.d.). https://www.biblegateway.com/verse/en/Exodus%2028:35 Exploring the religious significance of food in India. Slurrp Editorial. (2023, January 16). https://www.slurrp.com/article/exploring-the-religious-significance-of-food-in-india-1673861946130 The Jewish Museum. (2017, September 19). Pomegranates for Rosh Hashanah. https://stories.thejewishmuseum.org/pomegranates-for-rosh-hashanah-b268b99514aa Langley, P. (2000, November 4). Why a pomegranate?. BMJ (Clinical research ed.). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1118911/#:~:text=A%20symbol%20of%20resurrection%20and,end%20of%20a%20unicorn%20hunt The Story of Demeter and Persephone. The Fitzwilliam Museum. (n.d.). https://fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/learn-with-us/the-story-of-demeter-and-persephone#:~:text=Demeter%20was%20the%20Ancient%20Greek,like%20her%20mum%2C%20loved%20nature Times, N. (2013, June 7). The Wonders of Pomegranate. https://nithyanandatimes.org/the-wonders-of-pomegranate/ Zarfeshany, A., Asgary, S., & Javanmard, S. H. (2014, March 25). Potent health effects of pomegranate. Advanced biomedical research. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4007340/