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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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בצל , Numbers 11:5 ; a well known garden plant with a bulbous root. Onions and garlics were highly esteemed in Egypt; and not without reason, this country being admirably adapted to their culture. The allium cepa, called by the Arabs basal, Hasselquist thinks one of the species of onions for which the Israelites longed. He would infer this from the quantities still used in Egypt, and their goodness. "Whoever has tasted onions in Egypt," says he, "must allow that none can be had better in any part of the universe. Here they are sweet; in other countries they are nauseous and strong. Here they are soft; whereas in the northern and other parts they are hard, and their coats so compact that they are difficult of digestion. Hence they cannot in any place be eaten with less prejudice, and more satisfaction, than in Egypt." The Egyptians are reproached with swearing by the leeks and onions of their gardens. Juvenal ridicules some of these superstitious people who did not dare to eat leeks, garlic, or onions, for fear of injuring their gods:

Quis nescit, Volusi Bythynice, qualia demens

AEgyptus portenta coit?

Porrum et cepe nefas violare aut frangere morsu; O sanctas gentes quibus haec nascuntur in hortis Numina! — Sat. 15.

"How Egypt, mad with superstition grown, Makes gods of monsters, but too well is known.

‘Tis mortal sin an onion to devour; Each clove of garlic has a sacred power. Religious nation, sure! and blest abodes, Where ev'ry garden is o'errun with gods!"

So Lucian in his Jupiter, where he is giving an account of the different deities worshipped by the several inhabitants of Egypt, says, Πηλουσιωταις δε κρομμυον , "those of Pelusium worship the onion." Hence arises a question, how the Israelites durst venture to violate the national worship, by eating those sacred plants. We may answer, in the first place, that whatever might be the case of the Egyptians in later ages, it is not probable that they were arrived at such a pitch of superstition in the time of Moses; for we find no indications of this in Herodotus, the most ancient of the Greek historians: secondly, the writers here quoted appear to be mistaken in imagining these plants to have been generally the objects of religious worship. The priests, indeed, abstained from the use of them, and several other vegetables; and this might give rise to the opinion of their being reverenced as divinities: but the use of them was not prohibited to the people, as is plain from the testimonies of ancient authors, particularly of Diodorus Siculus.

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Onion'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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