FRUIT-TREES IN THE OLD TESTAMENT.
The Cultivated Olive (§ 1).
The Wild Olive (§ 2).
The Fig (§ 3).
The Sycamore (§ 4).
The Mulberry, Almond, and Pomegranate (§ 5).
The Apple (§ 6).
The Date-palm (§ 7).
1. The Olive. Olive- and fig-trees and grape-vines were cultivated in Palestine by the Canaanites long before the advent of the Israelites. In the old parable of Jotham (Judges ix. 7-15) these appear as the characteristic plants of the land. The olive-tree belongs to the cultivated plants of the Mediterranean region. Its habitat is south hither Asia, where it was early improved and made to yield paying crops. It requires calcareous soil and a mean temperature of 15° C. (60° F.), and must be protected against strong winds and excessive heat. In the earliest times the olive was cultivated throughout Palestine (Deut. xxviii. 48); and olive-oil has always been one of the chief products of the country (Deut. viii. 8; Joel i. 10; Amos iv. 9, etc.). The regions particularly rich in olives were the low plains of the coast, where the royal gardens were located (I Chron. xxvii. 28), the region of the bay of Akko (Deut. xxxiii. 24), and the shore of the Sea of Galilee (Josephus, War, II., xxi. 2). The export, especially to Egypt, was considerable (Hosea, xii. 1), likewise to Phenicia (Ezek. xxvii. 17; cf. I Kings v. 11). Olive orchards are planted with seedlings, which are then improved. The tree does not bear for ten years, and only after thirty years does it yield a full crop. On an average, there is a full yield every second year, and with good care, a half-crop in the intermediate years. The tree, according to Pliny (Hist. nat., XVI., xliv. 90, XVII., xxx.), may live 200 years; and very old olive-trees may be seen in Palestine to-day. An old stump will continue to send up new stems, as if its vitality were indestructible. The oil is found not in the kernel of the stone but in the juicy flesh of the fruit, which ripens in September and October. The fruit is gathered when purple, before it gets black and overripe, as the oil has a much finer flavor then. Olives were eaten everywhere, either raw or pickled, after the bitter taste had been removed by allowing them to lie in brine. The finest oil was obtained by placing the bruised ripe olives in a basket and allowing them to drip without being pressed (Ex. xxix. 40, etc.). Such oil was used for the golden candlesticks and in the preparation of the holy anointing oil. Most of the olives were trodden and mashed in stone presses, just as were grapes (Mic. vi. 15; Joel ii. 24). Many such oil-presses are still seen in Palestine.
2. The Wild Olive. The wild olive, or oleaster (Rom. xi. 17 sqq.), which is also referred to in the Old Testament, but by a different name (I Kings vi. 23, 31, 33; Neh. viii. 15), must not be confused with the cultivated olive. This had short, broad leaves and thorny branches, and yielded an inferior quality of oil used only in the preparation of ointment. The wood, on the other hand, furnished good timber. The olive-tree, perennially green and always rejuvenating itself, was a favorite symbol of prosperity (Ps. lii. 8, cxxviii. 3; Jer. xi. 16); and the falling off of the leaves after a frost was typical of the early destruction of the wicked (Job xv. 33). In case the tree lost its branches, wild olive branches were grafted on the cultivated stock (Rom. xi. 17.) For the Orientals olives and olive-oil are necessities, and the failure of the olive crop is a national calamity (Amos. iv. 9; Hab. iii. 17; cf. I1 Kings iv. 2 sqq.).
3. The Fig. The home of the fig-tree is likewise in hither Asia, and in ancient times it was planted throughout Palestine (Num. xiii. 23; Deut. viii. 8, etc.). It has a smooth trunk, gray bark, attains a height of fifteen to eighteen feet, and its dense foliage affords a splendid shade (I Kings iv. 25; II Kings xviii. 31; Micah iv. 4). It is noted for its vitality and its ability to thrive on any soil; though in Palestine its fruit is not particularly large. In the Old Testament, three varieties of figs are distinguished: (1) Bikkûrîm, early figs that ripen in June; (2) te'enim, late figs, which begin to ripen in August, growing on branches that were forced in January; (3) phaggim, late figs, which, still green in the autumn, hang on the tree all winter and ripen in the spring, when the sap rises. It was such winter figs that Jesus expected to find on the leafy fig-tree as early as the Passover (Matt. xxi. 19). Figs are very nutritious, and are eaten both fresh and dried, in the latter case pressed into cakes (I Sam. xxv. 18; II Kings xx. 7). In antiquity the healing power of figs was generally known and prized (Pliny, Hist. nat., XXIII., lxiii.; II Kings xx. 7).
4. The Sycamore. The sycamore (Ficus Sycomorus), mentioned frequently in the Old Testament, is one of the commonest trees of ancient and modern Egypt, which was considered its habitat, hence Pliny speaks of it as Ficus Ægyptia (Hist. nat., XIIL, xiv; cf. Diodorus, i. 34; Ps. Ixxviii. 47). It is common in Palestine and Syria (II Chron. i. 15), e.g., at Gaza, Jaffa, Ramleh and Beirut; and the present Haifa used to be called "the City of Sycamores" (Strabo, xvi. 758, etc.). It grows best on low ground, and was found, therefore, chiefly near the coast, in the valley of the Jordan, on the plains of lower Galilee, and in the Shephelah (I Kings x. 27; I Chron. xxvii. 28; Isa. ix. 10). It attains considerable size and height, and its wide-spreading branches, covered with beautiful green leaves, make a magnificent shade. The fruit is yellow, resembling the fig in appearance and odor, and has a sweetish, insipid taste (Strabo, xvii. 823). It was eaten by poor people; but, to be made edible, just before ripening the fruit had to be pierced so that a part of the juice could escape (Amos vii. 14; Theophrastus, Hist. plantarum, iv. 2). The wood is very durable, particularly in water, and serves chiefly for building purposes (Isa. ix. 10). In Egypt it was used for mummy cases.
5. The Mulberry, Almond, and Pomegranate. The mulberry-tree is mentioned only in I Macc. vi. 34, unless Luke xvii. 6 refers to it. The white mulberry (Mores alba), now planted extensively on Mount Lebanon for silk-worms, was introduced into Palestine comparatively late. Before its advent, the black mulberry (Morus nigra) was cultivated, from the fruit of which an intoxicating drink was, and is still, made. The almond-tree (Amygdalus communis) grows wild in Afghanistan, Kurdistan. and Mesopotamia, but in hither Asia and Palestine it has been cultivated from remotest times (Gen. xliii. 11; Num. xvii. 8; Jer. i. 11; Eccles. xii. 5). It puts out its leaves as early as the end of January, before any of the other fruit-trees, and hence, perhaps, the Hebrew name shakedh, “the waking one." The pomegranate-tree (Punica Granatum) is indigenous to hither Asia; it was common, both wild and cultivated, in Egypt (Num. xx. 5), Arabia, Syria, and Palestine (Num. xiii. 23; Deut. viii. 8; I Sam. xiv. 2), and the frequent use of the name Rimmon as a place-name shows the prevalence of the tree in Canaan (Josh. xv. 32, xix. 13; Judges, xx. 45). Pliny mentions eight varieties. In size and shape the pomegranate resembles an orange; it has a bright red color shining out from a yellow and white background, and is juicy and refreshing. From the juice a sort of fruit-wine is prepared (Cant. viii. 2; Pliny, Hist. nat., XIV., xix.). With its numerous cavities, each containing a kernel, it became the symbol of fruitfulness in ancient religious imagery. Hence its use in the Hebrew cult on the columns of the temples (I Kings vii. 20 sqq.; Jer. Iii. 22-23) and on the robe of the priest (Ex. xxviii. 33).
6. The Apple. It is fairly probable that the Hebrew word tappuah refers to the apple (Prov. xxv. 11; Cant. ii. 3, vii. 8, viii. 5; Joel 1. 12). Names of cities compounded with tappuah show that the fruit was frequently cultivated in Palestine. The pleasant odor receives special mention (Cant. vii. 8). However, it has often been denied that there were any apple-trees in Palestine in olden times, and the word has been interpreted as "quince" (cf. PSBA, XII., i. 4, 2 sqq.), or as “citron” (cf. Delitzsch, on Prov. xxv. 6), or as “apricot” (cf. H. B. Tristram, Fauna and Flora of Palestine, p. 294, London, 1884).
7. The Date-palm. The date-tree (Phœnix dactylifera) belongs to subtropical vegetation. It requires sandy soil and a mean annual temperature of 21° to 23° C (70° F.). It thrives on the scorching breath of the desert; but at the same time its thirsty roots must have water. It grows slowly, reaching its maximum height of about fifty feet in about 100 years, and lives to the age of about 200 years. The fruit is eaten fresh, or it is pressed into a cake and then dried, as are apricots. In Jericho a kind of syrup was also made of dates (Josephus, War, IV., viii. 3; Pliny, Hist. nat., XIII., ix.). Its cultivation in Palestine as a fruit-tree was restricted to the plains by the Sea of Galilee, the valley of the Jordan, and the region of the Dead Sea, where it thrived, as these were the localities offering the proper conditions. Jericho bore the name, “City of Palm-trees” (Deut. xx., xiv. 3; II Chron. xxviii. 15). In other parts of the country the tree was cultivated as an ornament, and in the temple pictures of palm-trees were employed extensively as decoration (I Kings vi. 29 sqq.; Ezek. xl. 17 sqq., xli. 18 sqq.).