APPLES OF SODOM
Josephus (BJ, IV, viii, 4) says that "the traces (or shadows) of the five cities (of the plain) are still to be seen, as well as the ashes growing in their fruits, which fruits have a color as if they were fit to be eaten; but if you pluck them with your hands they dissolve into smoke and ashes." What this "Dead Sea fruit" is, is uncertain. The name "Dead Sea apples" is often given to the fruit of the Solanum Sodomaean "a prickly shrub with fruit not unlike a small yellow tomato." Cheyne thinks that the fruits referred to by Josephus (compare Tacitus Hist. v.37) may be either
(1) those of the `osher tree (`usar, Calotropis procera, described by Hasselquist (Travels, 1766)), found in abundance about Jericho and near the Dead Sea, which are filled with dust when they have been attacked by an insect, leaving the skin only entire, and of a beautiful color. Tristram describes the fruit as being "as large as an apple of average size, of a bright yellow color, hanging three or four together close to the stem"; or as suggested by Tristram
(2) those of the wild colocynth; the fruit is fair of aspect with a pulp which dries up into a bitter powder (EB, article "Sodom," col. 4669, note 2). This colocynth is supposed to be the "wild vine" mentioned 2 Kings 4:39. The "vine of Sodom" of Deuteronomy 32:32 has been supposed to bear the "Dead Sea fruit"; but most modern writers regard the passage as figurative.
W. L. Walker
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