Num. 5 goes into great length to preserve an ancient Israelite test for the unfaithful wife. The test was in the form of a drinking formula. The formula basically consisted of water, soil and the words of the curse/spell, which were erased and dissolved into the water. The purpose of dissolving these words into the water, apparently, was to transfer the spell, through the drinking of the formula, to her body and bring the curse upon her. If she was indeed guilty of adultery, the formula would bring on these painful symptoms (verse 27, NIV),
it will enter her, her abdomen will swell and her womb will miscarry, and she will become a curse.
Most scholars believe this to be a superstitious magic formula, which had no basis in reality, for how can mere soil and water cause bloating in the womb of the adulterous woman?
However, if we read the verses closely, I believe, we may find a hint that gives away that the formula contained some other ingredient as well. This is how the making of the formula is presented in the bible,
The priest shall bring her and have her stand before the LORD. 17 Then he shall take some holy water in a clay jar and put some dust from the tabernacle floor into the water. 18 After the priest has had the woman stand before the LORD, he shall loosen her hair and place in her hands the reminder-offering, the grain offering for jealousy, while he himself holds the bitter water that brings a curse.
An obvious question arises: if the water only contained soil why is it called 'bitter water'? Is it possible that some other ingredient has been omitted here; a bitter and poisonous herb, which made the water taste bitter? This is what got me thinking that perhaps a secret poisonous herb was added to the water (see sotah 20a), which also caused all the bloating in the abdomen described in the passage (whether this information was lost to the biblical writers or they intentionally concealed it, I cannot say). Furthermore, we can speculate that some would've been immune to this bloating-inducing herb; thus, not every person that drank the formula would get the horrible symptoms described in the passage. This would effectively explain how the faithful wife emerges unscathed,
If she has made herself impure and been unfaithful to her husband, this will be the result: When she is made to drink the water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering, it will enter her, her abdomen will swell and her womb will miscarry, and she will become a curse. If, however, the woman has not made herself impure, but is clean, she will be cleared of guilt and will be able to have children.
Is this interpretation likely? Had there been other scholars who suggested similar interpretations?