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Bible Dictionaries

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

Palm Tree

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תמר , Exodus 15:27 , &c. This tree, sometimes called the date tree, grows plentifully in the east. It rises to a great height. The stalks are generally full of rugged knots, which are the vestiges of the decayed leaves; for the trunk of this tree is not solid, like other trees, but its centre is filled with pith, round which is a tough bark full of strong fibres when young, which, as the tree grows old, hardens and becomes ligneous. To this bark the leaves are closely joined, which in the centre rise erect; but, after they are advanced above the vagina which surrounds them, they expand very wide on every side the stem; and, as the older leaves decay, the stalk advances in height. The leaves, when the tree has grown to a size for bearing fruit, are six or eight feet long, are very broad when spread out, and are used for covering the tops of houses, &c. The fruit, which is called date, grows below the leaves in clusters, and is of a sweet and agreeable taste. The learned Kaempfer, as a botanist, an antiquary, and a traveller, has exhausted the whole subject of palm trees. "The diligent natives," says Mr. Gibbon, "celebrated, either in verse or prose, the three hundred and sixty uses to which the trunk, the branches, the leaves, the juice, and the fruit, were skilfully applied." "The extensive importance of the date tree," says Dr. E. D. Clarke, "is one of the most curious subjects to which a traveller can direct his attention. A considerable part of the inhabitants of Egypt, of Arabia, and Persia, subsist almost entirely upon its fruit. They boast also of its medicinal virtues. Their camels feed upon the date stone. From the leaves they make couches, baskets, bags, mats, and brushes; from the branches, cages for their poultry, and fences for their gardens; from the fibres of the boughs, thread, ropes, and rigging; from the sap is prepared a spirituous liquor; and the body of the tree furnishes fuel.

It is even said that from one variety of the palm tree, the phoenix farinifera, meal has been extracted, which is found among the fibres of the trunk, and has been used for food."

In the temple of Solomon were pilasters made in the form of palm trees, 1 Kings 6:29 . It was under a tree of this kind that Deborah dwelt between Ramah and Bethel, Judges 4:5 . To the fair, flourishing, and fruitful condition of this tree, the psalmist very aptly compares the votary of virtue, Psalms 92:12-14 :—

The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree. Those that are planted in the house of Jehovah, In the courts of our God, shall flourish;

In old age they shall still put forth buds, They shall be full of sap and vigorous.

The palm tree is crowned at its top with a large tuft of spiring leaves about four feet long, which never fall off, but always continue in the same flourishing verdure. The tree, as Dr. Shaw was informed, is in its greatest vigour about thirty years after it is planted, and continues in full vigour seventy years longer; bearing all this while, every year, about three or four hundred pounds' weight of dates. The trunk of the tree is remarkably straight and lofty. Jeremiah, speaking of the idols that were carried in procession, says they were upright as the palm tree, Jeremiah 10:5 . And for erect stature and slenderness of form, the spouse, in Song of Solomon 7:7 , is compared to this tree:—

How framed, O my love, for delights! Lo, thy stature is like a palm tree, And thy bosom like clusters of dates.

On this passage Mr. Good observes, that "the very word tamar, here used for the palm tree, and whose radical meaning is ‘straight,' or ‘upright,' (whence it was afterward applied to pillars or columns, as well as to the palm,) was also a general name among the ladies of Palestine, and unquestionably adopted in honour of the stature they had already acquired, or gave a fair promise of attaining."

A branch of palm was a signal of victory, and was carried before conquerors in the triumphs. To this, allusion is made, Revelation 7:9 : and for this purpose were they borne before Christ in his way to Jerusalem, John 12:13 . From the inspissated sap of the tree, a kind of honey, or dispse, as it is called, is produced, little inferior to that of bees. The same juice, after fermentation, makes a sort of wine much used in the east. It is once mentioned as wine, Numbers 28:7; Exodus 29:40; and by it is intended the strong drink, Isaiah 5:11; Isaiah 24:9 . Theodoret and Chrysostom, on these places, both Syrians, and unexceptionable witnesses in what belongs to their own country, confirm this declaration. "This liquor," says Dr. Shaw, "which has a more luscious sweetness than honey, is of the consistence of a thin syrup, but quickly grows tart and ropy, acquiring an intoxicating quality, and giving by distillation an agreeable spirit, or araky, according to the general name of these people for all hot liquors, extracted by the alembic." Its Hebrew name is שכר , the σικερα of the Greeks; and from its sweetness, probably, the saccharum of the Romans. Jerom informs us that in Hebrew "any inebriating liquor is called sicera, whether made of grain, the juice of apples, honey, dates, or any other fruit."

This tree was formerly of great value and esteem among the Israelites, and so very much cultivated in Judea, that, in after times, it became the emblem of that country, as may be seen in a medal of the Emperor Vespasian upon the conquest of Judea. It represents a captive woman sitting under a palm tree, with this inscription, "Judea capta;" [Judea captivated;] and upon a Greek coin, likewise, of his son Titus, struck upon the like occasion, we see a shield suspended upon a palm tree, with a Victory writing upon it.

Pliny also calls Judea palmis inclyta, "renowned for palms." Jericho, in particular, was called "the city of palms," Deuteronomy 34:3; 2 Chronicles 28:15; because, as Josephus, Strabo, and Pliny have remarked, it anciently abounded in palm trees. And so Dr. Shaw remarks, that, though these trees are not now either plentiful or fruitful in other parts of the holy land, yet there are several of them at Jericho, where there is the conveniency they require of being often watered; where, likewise, the climate is warm, and the soil sandy, such as they thrive and delight in. Tamar, a city built in the desert by Solomon, 1 Kings 9:18; Ezekiel 47:19; Ezekiel 48:28 , was probably so named from the palm trees growing about it; as it was afterward by the Romans called Palmyra, or rather Palmira, on the same account, from palma, "a palm tree."

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Palm Tree'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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