Black (Cumin) Seed Oil in the Bible: Where It Is Mentioned + Historical Significance


(Encyclopedia Britannica|britannica.com)

For centuries, the seeds of black cumin have been acclaimed for their pharmacological effects and health benefits, especially in the Arabic, Ayurvedic, Chinese and Greek systems. For all its perks, cumin has a rich historical significance, dating back as far as King Tutankhamen’s Egyptian age, with further references from Muslim scholars and notable mentions in the Bible.

Black (Cumin) Seed Oil is historically mentioned in the Bible in two significant books across the Old and New Testaments. The earliest mention is in the Book of Isaiah (Isaiah 28:25,27), while the second mention is in the Book of Matthew (Matthew 23:23) by Jesus Christ.

The rest of this article will explain the historical relevance of Black cumin in relation to the Bible and ancient Jewish Culture. It will also touch on the Black seed’s significance in other spheres such as Islam and Greek history. So, keep reading for more.

What Exactly Is Black Seed (Cumin)?

Scientifically referred to as Nigella Sativa, Black Seed is a flowering plant native to southwest Asia, though later adopted in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Specifically, it’s a small flowering shrub with purple or white-tinged flowers and produces fruits that have tiny ‘black seeds,’ which are slightly bitter in taste.

Historically, black seed has been used from time-memorial as a flavoring spice and food preservative. For example, these seeds have historically been used as a spice in a variety of Persian and Indian foods such as bread, yogurt, pickles, sauces, and salads. While in Northern Africa, were traditionally used in therapeutic concoctions to manage headaches, asthma, bronchitis, fever, cough, and influenza.

It’s also noteworthy to mention that Black seed is known by other additional names such as black caraway, black cumin, and black onion seed.

Where Is Black Seed (Cumin) Mentioned in the Bible?

Generally, Nigella Sativa (black seed) in the Bible is particularly referred to as cumin. Fundamentally, the Hebrew word for black cumin is “ketsah,” and evidence suggests that it was cultivated in Egypt and Syria for its seed. That said, let’s delve into the significant Biblical mentions and the context of the references. 

#1. Isaiah 28:25

The Amplified Bible version of the verse states, “When he has leveled its surface, does he not sow [the seed of] dill and scatter cumin, and plant wheat in rows, and barley in its [intended] place and rye within its border?”

For the most part, Isaiah 28 is mainly directed to the southern Kingdom of Judah. Since it was often Biblically effective to rebuke a sin present in a third party, the Prophet Isaiah initially addresses the sin of Israel, then later changes the focus to Judah.

Specifically, in this verse, the Prophet uses the black seed oil as a metaphor to deliver wisdom about obedience and listening to God’s Holy instruction. So, the Prophet beseeches the rulers of Jerusalem to listen to God’s word and pay attention to His voice. 

For additional context, in the preceding verse, he says, “When a farmer plows for planting, does he plow continually? Does he keep on breaking up and working the soil?”. Then in the succeeding verse, he goes forward to conclude, “His God instructs him and teaches him the right way.”

#2. Isaiah 28:27

Again, we shall refer the Amplified version to distill down the context and historical significance of black cumin. The verse reads. “For dill is not threshed with a sharp threshing instrument, nor is a cartwheel rolled over the cumin, but dill is beaten off with a staff, and cumin with a rod [by hand].”

Multiple Bible commentaries suggest that the major theme of this verse (following its predecessor Isaiah 28:25 above) is the Prophet Isaiah warning of the consequences of rejecting the simple message of the God. The utilization of poetic metaphors and examples to send messages in the Bible is not unheard of, so Isaiah employs a similar delivery style across the chapter.

Ultimately, this verse speaks to the timing of the farmer and the timing of God. He uses more of a poetic approach relating the work of God to the work of a farmer by referencing the beating of black cumin with a rod by hand, which could imply the post-process of extracting the black seed oil from cumin. Furthermore, historical records confirm that black seed was easily beaten out and used as a condiment and medicine in the ancient East. 

#3. Matthew 23:23

In the New Statement Amplified version, this verse denotes: “Woe to you, [self-righteous] scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you give a tenth (tithe) of your mint and dill and cumin [focusing on minor matters] and have neglected the weightier [more important moral and spiritual] provisions of the Law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the [primary] things you ought to have done without neglecting the others.

In this verse, Jesus rebukes the Pharisees and Priest about religious hypocrisy and their stringent behavior towards tithes. He mentions cumin, which further cements its claim as a useful and valuable commodity in ancient times. This mention confirms the fact that mint, dill, and cumin were subject to tithe as valuable commodities.

However, mint and dill and cumin were herbs of the kitchen garden and were not grown in large quantities. This made it difficult for natives to provide sufficient quantities to satisfy the priests’ tithe requirements. All three were utilized in cooking, though dill and cumin had ancient medicinal benefits. Additionally, all three were also bound to the offering as the first fruits to the priests.

So, essentially, Jesus Christ mentions these particular herbs and seeds as an example of what the Israelites paid tithes of.

Here is a video that demonstrates how to grow and harvest Black Cumin(Nigella Sativa)

Historical Significance Elsewhere

Ancient Egypt

In light of the above Biblical mentions, black seed (cumin) also bears considerable historical significance as it was discovered in Pharaoh Tutankhamen’s tomb (1341-1323 BC). This indicates that it played an important role in ancient Egypt, as its popular knowledge that items entombed with a king were carefully selected to assist him in the afterlife.

Though we could speculate that, perhaps, it was for treatment of his epilepsy or cerebral malaria in his next life. 

Islamic Mentions

The Prophet Muhammad is believed to have proclaimed that black cumin seed could cure “anything but death. This is notably exemplified in books of ‘Hadith’ (which are sayings of the Prophet), where he emphasizes the healing properties of cumin. So, his prophetic reference in the books saying “Hold onto the use of the seed,” indicates a consistent usage of the seed in the olden days.

Relatedly, a Black seed is also mentioned in the list of natural drugs of Al-Tibb al-Nabawi, citing its ability to significantly boost the human immune system – if taken over time.

Furthermore, Muslim scholar Al-Biruni (973-1048), who composed a formal exposition on the early origins of Indian and Chinese drugs, mentions that the black seed. This reference also points to the seed’s possible nutritional use during the tenth and eleventh centuries.

Greek History

Called ‘Melanthion’ by ancient Greek physicians like Hippocrates (460 – 370 BC) and Dioscorides (40-90 AD), black seed was used to treat diseases of women and children such as vaginal and oral thrush, as well as skin conditions. In particular, Dioscoredes recorded that black seed oil was frequently taken to cure headaches, toothaches, nasal congestion, and intestinal worms.

The ancient Greeks are also believed to have used it as a diuretic to promote menstruation and increase milk production.

Honorable Mentions

For emphasis, in the Greco-Arab system of medicine (which originated from Hippocrates), Galen and Ibn Sina regarded black seed as a valuable remedy in hepatic and digestive disorders. Particularly, Galen (129-200/216 AD) prescribed it for the common cold and as a stimulant in a variety of conditions.

Whereas, Ibn Sina (980-1037): In his famous volume called “The Canon of Medicine,” (described by some as the most famous book in medical history), refers to Nigella Sativa as the seed “that stimulates the body’s energy and helps recovery from fatigue or dispiritedness. He also goes on to describe multiple medicinal uses of the black seed, including as a treatment of ‘Sartan’ (Cancer).

Conclusion

As we have noted, black seeds have a notable historical relevance. In particular, it’s clear that it was highly valuable in Biblical times amongst the Israelites for food flavouring, spicing and health benefits. Its significance also cuts across to ancient Islam as well as to Ancient Greek times, which further states its claim as a probable health solution for some ailments.

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