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Reminiscences of the cultivated plants early days as treasured by ancient religious traditions: the mustard crop (Brassica spp. and Sinapis spp.) in earliest Christian and Islamic texts

Mikić, Aleksandar
Genetic resources and crop evolution 2016 v.63 no.1 pp. 1-6
Brassica, Sinapis, archaeobotany, biomass, crops, human population, humans, lipid content, mustard seed, paleobotany, people, protein content, seed oils, traditions, Middle East
The mustard crop (Brassica spp. and Sinapis spp.) originated in the Mediterranean and is considered one of the first cultivated crops in Near East at the beginning of the Neolithic ‘agricultural revolution’. Despite high oil content in its seed that prevents it from preserving for long, there is a rich archaeobotanical evidence of its presence in both wild and the very first agricultural floras of Near East. The historical linguistic analysis suggests that the people who domesticated mustard belonged to the Afroasiatic ethnolinguistic family comprising modern Semitic peoples. The earliest Christian and Islamic texts, such as gospels and Qur’an and both having roots in the Semitic/Hebrew religious traditions, make references to the mustard crop primarily as a religious symbol, most notably in the parable of the mustard seed in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Here, a mustard plant, with all its remarkable morphological aspects, may equally be viewed as a human body fulfilled with faith and as a crop with a substantial inner potential, such as high seed oil content and high protein content in biomass and seed. In other words, the image of the mustard plant is an archetype of all its potentials as a multi-purposed crop. This short communication shows that the religious symbolism may cast more light onto the earliest days and history of the cultivated plants, such as mustard. By demonstrating the existence of a peculiar space–time continuum from the beginnings of agriculture to the beginning of common era, it may also offer indirect but detailed and convincible evidence on their significance for the human population of Fertile Crescent in a joint and balanced effort with palaeobotany, archaeology, palaeogenetics and historical linguistics.