Melon (only in the plur. אֲבִטַּחַים, abattichinm', from טָּבִח, according to Gesenius by transposition for טָבִח, to cook, but perh. rather a foreign word; Sept. likewise πέπονες, Vulg. pepones) occurs only in Nu 11:5, where the murmuring Israelites say, " We remember the fish which we did eat freely in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons," etc. The correctness of this translation is evident from the kindred word butikh used for the melon generically by the Arabs (Abdulp. 52, 54; Rhaz. De var. p. 56; Abulf. Ann. 2:65), whence the Spanish budiecas, and French pasteques. The Mishna, however (Jemmoth, 8:6; Maaser, 1:4), distinguishes this term from watermelons (דלועים); but it uses the singular (Chilaim, 1:8; Edujoth, 3:3) undoubtedly in the sense of muskmelon, a signification which all the versions (Onkelos, Syr., Arab., and Samar.) have affixed to it. A similar distinction prevails among the Arabs, who call the watermelon butikh-hindi. or Indian melon. The muskmelon is called in Persian khurtpuzeh, and in Hindi khurbuja. It is probably a native of the Persian region, whence it has been carried south into India, and north into Europe, the Indian being a slight corruption of the Persian name. As the Arabian authors append fufash as the Greek name of butikh, it is more than probable that this is intended for πέπων, especially if we compare the description in Avicenna with that in Dioscorides. By Galen it was called Melopepo, from melo and pepo, the former from being roundish in form, like the apple. The melon is supposed to have been the σίκυος of Theophrastus, and the σίκυος πέπων of Hippocrates. It was known to the Romans, and cultivated by Columella, with the assistance of some precaution at cold times of the year. It is said to have been introduced into England about the year 1520, and was called muskmelon to distinguish it from the pumpkin, which was then usually called melon. All travellers in Eastern countries have borne testimony to the refreshment and delight they have experienced from the fruit of the melon (Hasselquist, Trav. p. 528; Bellon, Observ. 2:75; Joliffe, Trav. p. 231; Tournefort, 3:311; Chardin, 3:330; Sonnini, 2:216, 328). Alpinus speaks of their very general use, under the title Batech, by the Egyptians (Rerum AEgypt. Hist. 1:17). He also describes in the same chapter the kind of melon called Abdellavi, which, according to De Sacy, is oblong, tapering at both ends, but thick in the middle (De Plantis AEgypti, tab. xli); but Forskal applies this name also to the Chate (which is separately described by Alpinus, and a figure given by him at tab. xl), and says it is the commonest of all fruits in Egypt, and is cultivated in all their fields, and that many prepare from it a very grateful drink (Flora Egyptiaco-Arabica, p. 168). The Chate is a villous plant with trailing stems, leaves roundish, bluntly angled, and toothed; the fruit pillose, elliptic, and tapering at both ends (Alpin. 50:c. p. 54). Hasselquist calls this the " Egyptian melon" and " queen of cucumbers," and says that it grows only in the fertile soil round Cairo; that the fruit is a little watery, and the flesh almost of the same substance as that of the melon, sweet and cool. "This the grandees and Europeans in Egypt eat as the most pleasant fruit they find, and that from which they have the least to apprehend. It is the most excellent fruit of this tribe of any yet known" (Hasselquist, Travels, p. 258). These plants, though known to the Greeks, are not natives of Europe, but of Eastern countries, whence they must have been introduced into Greece. They probably may be traced to Syria or Egypt, whence other cultivated plants, as well as civilization, have travelled westwards. In Egypt they formed a portion of the food of the people at the very early period when the Israelites were led by Moses from its rich cultivation into the midst of the desert. The melon, the watermelon, and several others of the Cucurbitaceie, are mentioned by Wilkinson (Thebes, p. 212; Ancient Egyptians, 4:62) as still cultivated there, and are described as being sown in the middle of December, and cut, the melons in ninety and the cucumbers in sixty days.
It is not necessary to exclude from the generic term abattich in the above passage the watermelon (Cucurbita citrullus), which is clearly distinguished by Alpinus as cultivated in Egypt, and called by names similar to the above. Serapion, according to Sprengel (Comment. in Dioscor. 2:162) restricts the Arabic Batikh to the watermelon. It is mentioned by Forskal, and its properties described by Hasselquist. Though resembling the other kinds very considerably in its properties, it is very different from them in its deeply-cut leaves. The plant is hairy, with trailing cirrhiferous stems. Hasselquist says that it is cultivated on the banks of the Nile, in the rich clayey earth which subsides during the inundation, and serves the "Egyptians for meat, drink, and physic. It is eaten in abundance, during the season, even by the richer sort of the people; but the common people, on whom Providence hath bestowed nothing but poverty and patience, scarcely eat anything but these, and account this the best time of the year, as they are obliged to put up with worse at other seasons of the year" (Travels, p. 256).
The common melon (Cucumis melo) is cultivated in the same places and ripens at the same time with the watermelon, but the fruit in Egypt is not so delicious (see Sonnini's Travels, 2:328); the poor in Egypt do not eat this melon. "A traveller in the East," says Kitto (note on Nu 11:5), "who recollects the intense gratitude which a gift of a slice of melon inspired while journeying over the hot and dry plains, will readily comprehend the regret with which the Hebrews in the Arabian Desert looked back upon the melons of Egypt." For further details, see Ol. Celsius, De Melonibus AEgyptiis (Lugd. B. 1726), and Hierobot. 1:356 sq.; Salmasii Homonyles latricce, c. 35; Rosenmuller, Morgen. 2:241 sq.; Thomson, Land and Book, 2:261; Tistram, Nat. Hist. of the Bible, p. 468