When reading ancient literature, there is always a danger for us to “Americanize” the meaning. An example is the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-24. Verse 16 in the King James Version says, “…he would have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat…” Some critics of the Bible have said that eating husks would not have allowed anyone to survive, not even the pigs.
This criticism is a case of assuming that the “husks” were the husks of what we call “corn” in America and which is known as “maize” in other parts of the world. First, they did not have that type of corn in Jesus’ day. When the King James Bible uses the term “corn,” it is wheat or barley. What we know as corn in America was domesticated from a wild plant in southern Mexico. However, the term “corn” is not even used in this parable.
The Greek word used in Luke 15 is “keration,” which refers to something horn-shaped. Newer translations use the term “pods.” The carob tree, native to the Middle East and the Mediterranean, develops edible seed pods shaped like horns. People use carob pods as energy-rich fodder for livestock, including pigs. Humans also eat them in dried and powdered form, sometimes as a substitute for chocolate in recipes because of their color and taste. You may find this ingredient listed as “locust bean gum” in some prepared foods. The poor also use carob pods as a food source.
The prodigal son was reduced to surviving on a poor man’s diet. The people listening to Jesus would have understood these words to demonstrate the level to which the prodigal son had fallen. His life was at rock bottom. The Father’s forgiveness and his statement “…my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost, and is found” should resonate with thinking people. The Father represents God, and His forgiveness is amazing.
— John N. Clayton © 2023