By Elizabeth Prata
Jesus pronounced woe upon the Pharisees, saying
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the Law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.” (Matthew 23:23).
Becuase I like the natural history of the Bible plants and animals, today just take a quick let’s look at what herbs Jesus is speaking of rather than the spiritual import of his pronouncement.
Holman Bible Publishers explains MINT AND CUMIN: Mint is a sweet-smelling herb used to season food. Cumin is a carawaylike herb Judaism also used in seasonings and in medicine. Jesus named mint, dill, and cumin as He criticized the Pharisees for requiring the tithe of the herbs while ignoring more important matters of the Law (Matt. 23:23). Mint and Cumin. In Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (p. 1135). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
Isaiah 28:23-27 gives insight on how each of these herbs were harvested:
Listen and hear my voice, Pay attention and hear my words. 24Does the farmer plow continually to plant seed? Does he continually turn and break up his ground? 25Does he not level its surface And sow dill and scatter cumin And plant wheat in rows, Barley in its place and rye within its area? 26For his God instructs and teaches him properly. 27For dill is not threshed with a threshing sledge, Nor is the cartwheel driven over cumin; But dill is beaten out with a rod, and cumin with a club.
The spiritual explanation Isaiah is trying to get across to the stiff-necked people is that the farmer doesn’t do nothing but plow. Farers use a variety of methods to yield their crop. And so would not God do the same, but perfectly and in higher ways? But for the point here today, we see that Isaiah helps us city-dwellers understand the ancient ways of harvesting the spices that Jesus mentions 700 years later in his speech about the Pharisees.
MINT: The Greek word heduosmon, or heduosmos, which means “having a sweet smell,” occurs in two passages of the New Testament, Matthew 23:23, and Luke 11:42, and has been translated “mint.” It corresponds with the Latin mentha. The species of mint most common in Syria is that represented in the figure, and called by botanists Mentha sylvestris. It is often cultivated in gardens, and it is generally distributed over Europe, and reaches even to Kashmir. It is likewise found in Britain. The plant belongs to the natural order Labiatæ. It is an erect plant, with opposite, nearly sessile, ovate, lanceolate, and downy leaves, which are whitish below. The spikes of flowers are dense, and have a conically-cylindrical form. Another species is also common in Palestine, and is called field-mint (Mentha arvensis). The species of mint have all carminative qualities. (i.e. it relieves flatulence!) They grow usually in damp places, and have reddish flowers arranged in spikes or whorls. Mint was much used as a condiment. Source: Balfour, J. H. (1885). The Plants of the Bible (pp. 173–174). London; Edinburgh; New York: T. Nelson and Sons.
So often, people who deride the Bible as simply ‘an ancient document written by shepherds’ would do well to study the ingenious methods the ancients used to yield product from the land and from their animals. The ancients built the pyramids, after all. The farming methods of the ancients, their crops, and their animals are fascinating to me. Below are some other essays I’ve written about plants and animals of the Bible days.