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Apples of Sodom

APPLES OF SODOM גֶּ֫פֶן, H1728, vine. Deuteronomy 32:32 says “for their vine comes from the vine of Sodom.” The non-Biblical term “Apples of Sodom” is curious, for it might be “Grapes of Sodom” or “Grapes of Gall.” It is thought, however, that the writer is referring to a plant which grows something like a vine, i.e. Citrullus colocynthis. This will climb over fences and trees and produces round fruits like oranges, mottled yellow and green. The pulp inside is both poisonous and bitter and can be used as a purgative. Because of their color, the fruits are tempting, but may be dangerous.

Some have said that the plant is Solanum sodomeum, but this does not bear fruits like apples. The Citrullus is normally found around the Dead Sea.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

sod’-um: Josephus (BJ, IV, viii, 4) says that "the traces (or shadows) of the five cities (of the plain) are still to be seen, as well as the ashes growing in their fruits, which fruits have a color as if they were fit to be eaten; but if you pluck them with your hands they dissolve into smoke and ashes." What this "Dead Sea fruit" is, is uncertain. The name "Dead Sea apples" is often given to the fruit of the Solanum Sodomaean "a prickly shrub with fruit not unlike a small yellow tomato." Cheyne thinks that the fruits referred to by Josephus (compare Tacitus Hist. v.37) may be either

(1) those of the `osher tree (`usar, Calotropis procera, described by Hasselquist (Travels, 1766)), found in abundance about Jericho and near the Dead Sea, which are filled with dust when they have been attacked by an insect, leaving the skin only entire, and of a beautiful color. Tristram describes the fruit as being "as large as an apple of average size, of a bright yellow color, hanging three or four together close to the stem"; or as suggested by Tristram

(2) those of the wild colocynth; the fruit is fair of aspect with a pulp which dries up into a bitter powder (EB, article "Sodom," col. 4669, note 2). This colocynth is supposed to be the "wild vine" mentioned 2Ki 4:39. The "vine of Sodom" of De 32:32 has been supposed to bear the "Dead Sea fruit"; but most modern writers regard the passage as figurative.

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