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Sycamore

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

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שקמות , שקמים , 1 Kings 10:27; 1 Chronicles 27:28; 2 Chronicles 1:15; Psalms 78:47; Isaiah 9:9; Amos 8:14; συκομορεα , Luke 19:4; a large tree, according to the description of Theophrastus, Dioscorides, and Galen, resembling the mulberry-tree in the leaf, and the fig in its fruit; hence its name, compounded of συκεν , fig, and μορος , mulberry; and some have fancied that it was originally produced by ingrafting the one tree upon the other. Its fruit is palatable.

When ripe it is soft, watery, somewhat sweet, with a little of an aromatic taste. The trees are very common in Palestine, Arabia, and Egypt; grow large, and to a great height; and though their grain is coarse, are much used in building. To change sycamores into cedars, Isaiah 9:10 , means, to render the buildings of cities, and the state of the nation, much more magnificent than before. Dr. Shaw remarks, that as the grain and texture of the sycamore is remarkably coarse and spongy, it could therefore stand in no competition at all with the cedar for beauty and ornament. We meet with the same opposition of cedars to sycamores in 1 Kings 10:27 , where Solomon is said to have made silver as the stones, and cedars as the sycamores of the vale for abundance. "By this mashal, or figurative and sententious speech," says Bishop Lowth, "they boast, in the place of Isaiah, that they shall be easily able to repair their present losses, suffered, perhaps, by the first Assyrian invasion under Tiglath-Pileser, and to bring their affairs to a more flourishing condition than ever." The wood of this tree is very durable. "The mummy chests," says Dr. Shaw, "and whatever figures and instruments of wood are found in the catacombs, are all of them of sycamore, which, though spongy and porous to appearance, has, notwithstanding, continued entire and uncorrupted for at least three thousand years. From its value in furnishing wood for various uses, from the grateful shade which its wide-spreading branches afforded, and on account of the fruit, which Mallet says the Egyptians hold in the highest estimation, we perceive the loss which the ancient inhabitants of Egypt must have felt when their vines were destroyed with hail, and their sycamore trees with frost," Psalms 78:47 . "The sycamore," says Mr. Norden, "is of the height of a beech, and bears its fruit in a manner quite different from other trees; it has them on the trunk itself, which shoots out little sprigs, in form of grape stalks, at the end of which grow the fruit close to one another, almost like clusters of grapes. The tree is always green, and bears fruit several times in the year, without observing any certain seasons; for I have seen some sycamores that have given fruit two months after others. The fruit has the figure and smell of real figs, but is inferior to them in the taste, having a disgustful sweetness. Its colour is a yellow, inclining to an ochre, shadowed by a flesh colour. In the inside it resembles the common figs, excepting that it has a blackish colouring with yellow spots. This sort of tree is pretty common in Egypt; the people, for the greater part, live upon its fruit, and think themselves well regaled when they have a piece of bread, a couple of sycamore figs, and a pitcher of water." There might be many of these trees in Judea. David appointed a particular officer, whose sole duty it was to watch over the plantations of sycamore and olive-trees, 1 Chronicles 28:28; and being joined with the olive, the high estimation in which it was held is intimated; for the olive is considered as one of the most precious gifts which the God of nature has bestowed on the oriental nations. There seem to have been great numbers of them in Solomon's time, 1 Kings 10:27; and in the Talmud they are mentioned as growing in the plains of Jericho.

One curious particular in the cultivation of the fruit must not be passed over. Pliny, Dioscorides, and Theophrastus observe that the fruit must be cut or scratched, either with the nail or with iron, or it will not ripen; but four days after this process it will become ripe. To this same purpose Jerom, on Amos 7:14 , says, that without this management the figs are excessively bitter. These testimonies, together with the Septuagint and Vulgate version, are adduced to settle the meaning of the word בולס , in Amos 7:14 , which must signify scraping, or making incisions in the sycamore fruit; an employment of Amos before he was called to the prophetic office: "I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet's son; but I was a herdman, and a gatherer of sycamore fruit." Hasselquist, describing the ficus sycamorus, or Scripture sycamore, says, "It buds the latter end of March, and the fruit ripens in the beginning of June. At the time when the fruit has arrived to the size of an inch diameter, the inhabitants pare off a part at the centre point. They say that without this paring it would not come to maturity." The figs thus prematurely ripened are called djumeis baedri, that is, "precocious sycamore figs." As the sycamore is a large spreading tree, sometimes shooting up to a considerable height, we see the reason why Zaccheus climbed up into a sycamore tree to get a sight of our Saviour. This incident also furnishes a proof that the sycamore was still common in Palestine; for this tree stood to protect the traveller by the side of the highway.

Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Sycamore'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​wtd/​s/sycamore.html. 1831-2.
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