Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Judean Palm

When the Romans invaded Judea in 63 B.C., there were thick forests of date palm trees stretching over a range of 7 miles across the Jordan valley from the Sea of Galilee in the north to the shores of the Dead Sea in the south. The trees grew to a height of 80 feet and had branches all year round.

When the people greeted Jesus as he entered Jerusalem, they greeted him with palm branches as a king to be enthroned. Ceremonial installation of rulers with palms was an ancient tradition in Jesus' time. Fresh palms are still used among many peoples of Central and East Africa at the enthronement of a sovereign and a priest of high rank.

In greeting the King, palm fronds and olive branches were used in Biblical times among the Jebusites who controlled Jerusalem (Yebu). Even today. fresh palm tree fronds are used ceremonially at the installation of Ijebu rulers and to decorate places of worship. Jude Adebo Adeleye Ogunade writes in his memoir about growing up Ijebu. He was warned not to touch the leaves of the Igi-Ose tree because, as his Mama Eleni explained, "That tree is the tree whose leaves are used to install Chiefs and Kings of Ijebu and as your grandfather was a custodian of the rites of chieftaincy and kingship you must not play with its leaves." The University of Oxford, Institute Paper, n° 7, (1937) on Medicinal Plants lists the leaves of the Igi-Ose as a blood purifier.

Palm branches were also used to decorate sacred places and in worship. Watch this video of Christian women worshiping with palm branches.

In ancient Israel the Judean nut palms were stripped of many branches for the Jewish festival of Tabernacles or Booths (Sukkot). Branches were cut to make roofing for the booths. The palm branches also were used to thatch the roofs of homes and sheep cotes, to create canopies over open market spaces, and for ceremonies like weddings, etc. They were used so extensively that the Judean date nut palms disappeared from the Jordan valley.

Hayany Date Nut Palm of Upper Egypt

There are efforts to bring back the Judean nut palm. In 2005, Dr. Elaine Solowey germinated a 2000-year seed that had been recovered decades earlier from an archaeological excavation at the fortified high place Masada. The so-called "Methuselah Tree" (shown below) is growing in a protected environment at a laboratory in Jerusalem. Genetic tests indicate that Methuselah is closely related to an ancient variety of date palm from Egypt known as Hayany (shown above). The ancient flora and fauna of the Jordan Valley and the Nile Valley are similar.

Ten years after sprouting from the ancient seed, the Methuselah date palm is now producing dates. These are the kind of palm branches that would have been used to hail King Jesus as he entered Jerusalem.

The Methusleah Tree

In the ancient world palms grew in arid regions at oases. These trees provided shade for those who lived at the oasis and the dates were eaten and used to sweeten foods. Dried dates were used to make date cakes and these were usually eaten at celebrations. At Bedouin weddings guests are typically served dates and Arabic coffee as they arrive for the days-long celebration. According to 1 Chronicles 16:3, after David had finished sacrificing the burnt offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord, and distributed to each person a date cake.

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