[Heb., ta·marʹ, toʹmer (Jg 4:5); Gr., phoiʹnix].
The date palm (Phoenix dactylifera), though now found only in certain sections, was once abundant in Palestine and apparently was as characteristic of that area as it was and is of the Nile Valley of Egypt. Following the second destruction of Jerusalem, Roman Emperor Vespasian had numerous coins minted bearing the figure of a weeping woman seated beneath a palm tree with the inscription “Judaea Capta.”—PICTURE, Vol. 2, p. 751.
Palms are associated with oases and are a welcome sight to desert travelers, as were the 70 palm trees growing beside the 12 springs of water at Elim, the second stop of the marching Israelites after their crossing the Red Sea.—Ex 15:27; Nu 33:9.
In Bible times palms flourished on the coast of the Sea of Galilee (The Jewish War, III, 516, 517 [x, 8]) as well as along the lower reaches of the hot Jordan Valley, and they were particularly abundant around En-gedi (Jewish Antiquities, IX, 7 [i, 2]) and Jericho, called “the city of the palm trees.” (De 34:3; Jg 1:16; 3:13; 2Ch 28:15). They also grew in the highlands, as did “Deborah’s palm tree” in the mountainous region of Ephraim. (Jg 4:5) That they grew around Jerusalem is evident from the use made of their fronds at the Festival of Booths (Le 23:40; Ne 8:15) and also at the time of Jesus’ entry into the city. (Joh 12:12, 13) Tamar, one of Solomon’s cities, was named for the palm tree. (1Ki 9:17, 18) The land of Tyre and Sidon also later received the name Phoenicia (likely from a root meaning “palm tree”) from the Greek phoiʹnix (Ac 11:19; 15:3), as possibly did the city of Phoenix on the island of Crete.—Ac 27:12.
The tall, stately palm, with its straight, uniform trunk rising up to 30 m (100 ft) and cresting with a plume of long feathery fronds, makes a graceful silhouette of unique beauty. Girls must have been pleased to receive the name Tamar, as did Judah’s daughter-in-law (Ge 38:6), Absalom’s sister (2Sa 13:1), and also his daughter, who was described as “a woman most beautiful in appearance.” (2Sa 14:27) The Shulammite maiden’s stature was likened to that of a palm tree and her breasts to its clusters. (Ca 7:7, 8) The spiral arrangement of its wood fibers also makes it a tree of unusual suppleness and strength.
The palm tree comes to full bearing after 10 to 15 years and continues to bear for nearly a hundred years, after which it gradually declines and dies toward the end of the second century. The annual crop of dates grows in immense drooping clusters and is usually harvested by August-September. The Arabs say that the palm tree has as many uses as the year has days. In addition to the many uses for its fruit, the leaves are used for thatching roofs and the sides of houses, as well as for making fences, mats, baskets, and even dishes. Its fibers are used to make ropes and boat rigging. The date seeds, or kernels, are ground up and fed to the camels. Wax, sugar, oil, tannin, and resin are all obtained from the tree, and a potent drink called arrack is distilled from the sap.
Engraved carvings of the palm tree, with its erect form, beauty, and fruitfulness, made an appropriate decoration for the inner walls and the doors of Solomon’s temple (1Ki 6:29, 32, 35; 2Ch 3:5) as well as for the sides of the carriages used in the temple service. (1Ki 7:36, 37) Palm trees were seen by Ezekiel as decorating the side pillars of the gates of the visionary temple and also the inner walls and doors of the temple. (Eze 40:16-37; 41:15-26) Being straight and tall as well as fruitful, the palm tree was also a fitting symbol of the ‘righteous man’ ‘planted in the courtyards of Jehovah.’—Ps 92:12, 13.
The use of palm fronds by the crowd of people who hailed Jesus as “the king of Israel” (Joh 12:12, 13) evidently served to symbolize their praise as well as their submission to his regal position. The “great crowd” of Revelation 7:9, 10 are likewise pictured with palm branches in their hands, ascribing salvation to God and to the Lamb.