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Bees Throughout The Ages: Bees in Religion

In this short article, we will look at the role of bees in different religions focussing on the three Abrahamic monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. We will also touch on scriptural references to bees in other religions.  This is by no means exhaustive but will hopefully give an interesting insight into the significance of bees in religion.
Bees in Judaism and Christianity
Bees and honey are mentioned widely in the Bible and clearly have significance in Judaism and Christianity.
In Judaism, their symbolic role can, for example, be seen in the celebration of Rosh Hashana.  On the eve of the holiday it is customary to eat symbolic foods which may include dipping challah (leavened bread) and an apple into honey.  This can symbolise the hopes for a happy and healthy new year.
In Christianity, the bee has historically been seen as a symbol of Jesus Christ’s attributes.  The honey reflecting his sweet and gentle character, whilst the sting pertaining to justice and the cross.
There are four mentions of bees in the Bible (Deuteronomy 1:44, Judges 14:8, Psalm 118:12, Isaiah 7:18).  In one of these mentions, in the story of Samson, the reference of bees relates also to honey (the English Standard Version is used throughout):
‘After some days he returned to take her. And he turned aside to see the carcass of the lion, and behold, there was a swarm of bees in the body of the lion, and honey.’ Judges 14:8
The three other passages refer to the power of bees:
‘Then the Amorites who lived in that hill country came out against you and chased you as bees do and beat you down in Seir as far as Hormah.’ Deuteronomy 1:44
‘They surrounded me like bees; they went out like a fire among thorns; in the name of the Lord I cut them off!’ Psalm 118:12
‘In that day the Lord will whistle for the fly that is at the end of the streams of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria.’ Isaiah 7:18
There are many references to honey in the Bible.  These emphasise the health benefits of honey:
‘My son, eat honey, for it is good, and the drippings of the honeycomb are sweet to your taste.’ Proverbs 24:13
They also refer to the pleasurable aspects of eating honey:
‘And when the people entered the forest, behold, the honey was dropping, but no one put his hand to his mouth, for the people feared the oath.  But Jonathan had not heard his father charge the people with the oath, so he put out the tip of the staff that was in his hand and dipped it in the honeycomb and put his hand to his mouth, and his eyes became bright.’ 1 Samuel 14:26-27
And they advise to eat in moderation:
‘It is not good to eat much honey, nor is it glorious to seek one’s own glory.’ Proverbs 25:27 

‘One who is full loathes honey, but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet.’ Proverbs 27:7
Bees in Islam
Chapter 16 of the Quran, believed by Muslims to be the revelation of God, is called ‘The Bee’.  The specific reference to the bees is in verse 68 (the translation by M.A.S Abdel Haleem (Oxford University Press) is used throughout):
‘… your Lord inspired the bee, saying ‘Build yourselves houses in the mountains and trees and what people construct.  Then feed on all kinds of fruit and follow the ways made easy for you by your Lord.’  From their bellies comes a drink of different colours in which there is healing for people.  There truly is a sign in this for those who think.’ The Bee 16:68
Interestingly, the words relating to the worker bees are grammatically assigned the female gender throughout (as they should be!).  Even several hundred years later, the correct assignment of gender, as we discussed in the last article was mistaken.
Honey is also mentioned in the context of paradise:
‘Here is a picture of the Garden promised to the pious: rivers of water forever pure, rivers of milk forever fresh, rivers of wine, a delight for those who drink, rivers of honey clarified and pure, [all] flow in it; there they will find fruit of every kind; and they will find forgiveness from their Lord.’ Muhammad 47:15
The healing characteristic of bees is also emphasized in the Hadith (sayings of the Prophet):
‘A man came to the Prophet and said, “My brother has some abdominal trouble.” The Prophet said to him “Let him drink honey.” The man came for a second time and the Prophet said to him, “Let him drink honey.” He came for a third time and the Prophet said, “Let him drink honey.” He returned again and said, “I have done that.” The Prophet then said, “God has said the truth, but your brother’s abdomen has told a lie. Let him drink honey.” So he made him drink honey and he was cured.’  Narrated by Abu Said Al-Khudri
Bees in Other religions
In Hinduisim early Hindu Vedic scriptures, as old as 1500 BC, have references to pollen and honey which it refers to as: 
“the nectar of the Sun” 
In the Hindu scripture Srimad Mahabhagavatam, it states:
“Like a honey bee gathering honey from all type of flowers the wise men search every where for truth and sees only good in all religions.” 
Honey is also one of the ingredients of Panchamrit ‘the five Nectars’ which also include milk, sugar, ghee, and buttermilk. 
In Buddhism, honey is important in the festival of Madhu Purnima.  This commemorates the Buddha making peace between two disputing factions of disciples by retreating into the wilderness.  The legend is that during this time, an elephant brought him fruit and a monkey brought honeycomb.  The monkey, so excited by the Buddha’s acceptance of his gift, jumped from tree to tree and fell to his death.  But because of his generosity, he is reborn in Tavatimsa (second heaven).  Buddhists observe this festival by bringing gifts of honey and fruit to the monasteries.
In the series so far, we have explored the significance of bees throughout history from different perspectives. In our next and final article, we will look at bees in the modern world.  Starting from the 17th century with the spread of bees globally; through to the 21st century looking at the value of bees today and our vital role in securing their future.
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One thought on “Bees Throughout The Ages: Bees in Religion

  1. Excellent information.Thanks for quoting holy books with neutral mind. Your article has given the thought that the Gift of God (honey) is for all

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