I have briefly mentioned Numeira on the Dead Sea as one of the places where early evidence of the cultivated vine has been found. This site is often suggested as the biblical Gomorrah. While the probability of any such exact correspondence with the biblical account is small, the site certainly lies in the general area referred to in the narrative of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the escape of Lot.
This got me thinking about a later incident in the story of Lot. Having fled the cities, Lot and his daughters are living in the mountains with no other people nearby. The daughters despair of ever finding men to marry and give them children. They therefore decide to get their father drunk and on two successive nights lie with him and both conceive sons as a result. Notoriously, the authors of the Bible make no comment on the morality of this expedient but merely recount that, as a result, Lot’s daughters became the progenitors of the Moabite and Ammonite peoples.
It occurs to me that this story could be yet another example of a coded reference to the self-fertile grape vine, that has survived while its original meaning has been forgotten – that the incest referred to is not human but vegetative. This may seem a far-fetched idea but it gains some support when we consider Lot’s name. Lot is derived from a root verb that means ‘to cover, to envelope’. This could very well describe the flower or calyptra of the hermaphrodite vine which covers and envelopes the stamens and ovary until self-pollination takes place. Indeed our technical term calyptra is itself derived from a Greek word meaning ‘to veil, to cover’.