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GreenSight: The ‘avattich’ or watermelon

Israel watermelon

ALVIN JOHNSON looks at the one Biblical mention of a well-known fruit…

It is thought that the ‘avattich’ is the watermelon (Citrullus lanatus). This is a vine-like plant that sprawls rather than climbs. It originally came from southern Africa and, according to Michael Zohary in Plants of the Bible “has been known in Egypt since the Bronze Age and probably much earlier”.

Israel watermelon

Watermelons growing in a field in Israel. PICTURE: lermannika/iStockphoto. 

This plant is grown for its fruit, which has a hard and smooth outer rind and sweet and juicy interior.

There is only one reference to the avattich in the Old Testament. It is mentioned as a desired fruit that the Israelites had when they were in Egypt.

“Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the Lord, and when he heard them his anger was aroused. Then fire from the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. When the people cried out to Moses, he prayed to the Lord and the fire died down. So that place was called Taberah, because fire from the Lord had burned among them. The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost – also the cucumbers, avattich [melons], leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” – Numbers 11:1-6

There is evidence of the watermelon being cultivated in Egypt as early as the 12th dynasty (20th and 19th centuries BC) as seeds have been found at sites dating from this period. Watermelon seeds were even found in the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun (1332-1323BC).

This is an edited excerpt from Alvin Johnson’s iBook ‘Biblical Flora’, 2017. The book is available for free download on iTunes. A teacher’s edition is also available for purchase.




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