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Dove's Dung

In II Kings 6 and 7 a terrible famine afflicts of the city of Samaria and environs. One of the items noted for sale is "dove's dung", along with a donkey's head. Another translation of the Hebrew word for dove's dung (II Kings 6:25) is "seed pods". While there are records of people eating dove's dung in times of famine, it seems illogical that the flesh of the pigeons themselves would not have been eaten. Therefore, I believe the "dove's dung" is not an animal product. While living in the West Bank, I studied the flora of Samaria (now the Arab village of Sebastia). One of the common plants in the garique vegetation of that area is Ornithalagum umbellatum, known in English as "star of Bethlehem". This plant produces bulbs and bulbils that bear a fanciful resemblance to pigeon droppings. Is this dove's dung?

Much of the confusion over the translation of this product is from the pointing (the way vowels are expressed in Hebrew above and below the letters) of the words. A change in pointing can transform the Hebrew hare yonim to dibyonim making a change from dove's dung to seed pod! A likely candidate for the seed pod hypothesis is Ceratonia siliqua, the common carob. See Carob This plant is mentioned one other place in the Bible, as the "husks" feed the hogs in the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15). These linguistic problems are discussed, but not resolved by Patterson and Austel (1988) in their treatment of this verse.

A third candidate for dove's dung could be Muscari commutatum. Although I am unaware of any documentation of this being used as a good, a related species, M. comosum, has recently been reported to be used as a good with a taste similar to onion in garlic in southern Italy.