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Mandrake - Scripture and Legend

Genesis 30:14–22. What Are Mandrakes and Why Did Rachel Want Them?

Although Bible scholars are not sure exactly what plant is meant by the word mandrake, the significance of this plant to Rachel and Leah is clear. “The Hebrew name denotes love fruit. The fruit had a pleasant taste and odor, and was supposed to ensure conception.” (Bible Dictionary, s.v. “mandrakes.”) In other words, the mandrakes were thought to enhance a woman’s fertility and ability to have children. Knowledge of this belief helps explain the interchange between Rachel and Leah. Rachel desired the mandrakes so that she could at last bear children of her own. As has already been seen, there was a fierce competition between the sisters in this regard. Leah’s response was, therefore, equally natural. She indicated that Rachel had already taken her husband, which probably meant only that Rachel had the first place in his affections. (Some scholars, however, believe that this passage means that Jacob actually lived in Rachel’s tent rather than in Leah’s tent.) The one advantage Leah had was her ability to bear children, while Rachel could not. In essence she told Rachel that it would be foolish for her to give Rachel her mandrakes and help her have children, for this would only lessen Leah’s one advantage (v. 15). So Rachel made a counter offer. She promised that she would encourage Jacob to go to Leah that night if she, Rachel, could have the mandrakes (v. 15). Leah agreed and told Jacob. Out of the agreement Leah conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son (vv. 17–18). She later bore another son and Jacob’s daughter Dinah (vv. 19–21).

Although not stated specifically, the record implies that the mandrakes did nothing for Rachel. Finally, Rachel did conceive, but it was not because of mandrakes. Rather, “God hearkened to her, and opened her womb” (v. 22).

A Mediterranean plant of the nightshade family, with white or purple flowers and large yellow berries. It has a forked fleshy root that supposedly resembles the human form and was formerly widely used in medicine and magic, allegedly shrieking when pulled from the ground.

It has been called the "love-apple." The Arabs call it "Satan's apple." It still grows near Jerusalem, and in other parts of Palestine.

Hebrew dudaim; i.e., "love-plants", occurs only in Genesis 30:14-16 and Cant 7:13 . Many interpretations have been given of this word dudaim . It has been rendered "violets," "Lilies," "jasmines," "truffles or mushrooms," "flowers," the "citron," etc. The weight of authority is in favour of its being regarded as the Mandragora officinalis of botanists, "a near relative of the night-shades, the 'apple of Sodom' and the potato plant." It possesses stimulating and narcotic properties ( Genesis 30:14-16 ). The fruit of this plant resembles the potato-apple in size, and is of a pale orange colour.

Mandrake (Mandragora officinaruim), nearly forgotten today, is one of the most famous plants known to humanity. For thousands of years, this plant was revered by many cultures, which ascribed to it mysterious and demonic qualities. Mandrake is mentioned in the Bible (Gen. 30:14-16) and its Biblical use is generally attributed to its supposed fertility power.