Bible References: Genesis 30.14-16; Song of Songs 7.13.
The Hebrew word dudaim means “love plant.” Dudaim occurred twice in the Bible. By far, the more interesting story was in Genesis. Both Leah and Rachel were wives of Jacob. Jacob had a clear preference for Rachel. At the time of this episode, Leah birthed four sons by Jacob; however, Rachel was barren despite Jacob spending nights with her.
This Bible story began with Leah’s oldest son, Reuben, bringing mandrake roots to his mother, Leah. Rachel saw mandrakes and asked Leah for them. Leah’s response was, “Wasn’t it enough that you took away my husband? Will you take my son’s mandrakes too?” (Genesis 30.15 NIV). Rachel proposed a trade: Jacob can spend the night with Leah in return for the mandrakes. Leah agreed.
Many twenty-first century western Christians can’t make sense of this story. What does the mandrake have to do with conception? The answer is that ancient people believed that mandrakes were an aphrodisiac which promoted fertility and conception in barren women. Both Rachel and Leah believed this superstition. Leah wanted additional children to win Jacob’s affection and regard. Rachel wanted children to validate herself as a woman.
The Song of Songs reference on mandrake is a romantic interlude which occurred among vineyards. The bride tells her husband: “The mandrakes send out their fragrance, and at our door is every delicacy, both new and old, that I have stored up for you, my beloved” (Song of Songs 7.13 NIV). This romantic tryst is filled with beautiful imagery from nature.
The Middle East mandrake was the Mandragora officinalis. The mandrake is a flowering plant in the nightshade family, related to potatoes, eggplants, and tobacco. The mandrake grows directly on top of the soil, long leaves form a rosette pattern. Flowers are a delicate purple and have five petals. Flowers emit a gentle, sweet fragrance.
The root is the most notable segment of the mandrake plant, the part associated with fertility and conception. Frequently, the thick root is forked similar to two legs; thus, the root is said to resemble a man. The root can weigh several pounds. Ancients cut the root into an amulet to wear, put it beneath the bed, or consumed very small quantities. If eaten, mandrakes (fruit in particular) can cause dizziness, increased heart rate, distorted vision, and hallucinations. In high doses mandrakes cause death.
The Bible story of Rachel, Leah, and mandrakes is important to individuals today. The story demonstrates that Rachel couldn’t manipulate her fertility by using the superstitious power of a plant. When Rachel turned to God, God responded by granting Rachel’s request for a son. What a son Rachel received! Rachel’s first son was Joseph, one of the greatest Bible men and an example for every Jew and Christian.
Reflection: Legonier Ministry29 reminds us: “Many passages of Scripture warn the people of God against sorcery, astrology, and other similar practices (Exodus. 22:18; Revelation 22:15). Most of us probably do not engage in such things, but superstitions remain part of the lives of many Christians. For example, some believers think praying the same prayer every day will guarantee a certain result. Take care to cast all superstitions from your life and trust in the Lord’s sovereign will that is working for your good.”