[Heb., ta·marʹ; Gr., phoiʹnix].
The date palm (Phoenix dactylifera), though now found only in certain sections, was once abundant in Palestine and apparently as characteristic of that land as it was and is of the Nile valley of Egypt. Following the second destruction of Jerusalem, Roman Emperor Vespasian had a sestertius coin minted bearing the figure of a weeping woman seated beneath a palm tree with the inscription “Judaea Capta.”
Palms are associated with oases and are a welcome sight to desert travelers, as were the seventy palm trees growing beside the twelve springs of water at Elim, the second stop of the marching Israelites after their crossing the Red Sea. (Ex. 15:27; Num. 33:9) The long taproot of the palm enables it to reach down to water sources not available to many plants and thus to thrive amid desert conditions.
In Bible times palms flourished on the coast of the Sea of Galilee (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book III, chap. X, sec. 8), along the lower reaches of the hot Jordan valley, and were particularly abundant around En-gedi (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book IX, chap. I, sec. 2) and Jericho, called “the city of the palm trees.” (Deut. 34:3; Judg. 1:16; 3:13; 2 Chron. 28:15). They also grew in the highlands, as did “Deborah’s palm tree” in the mountainous region of Ephraim. (Judg. 4:5) That they grew around Jerusalem is evident from the use made of their fronds at the Festival of Booths (Lev. 23:40; Neh 8:15) and also at the time of Jesus’ entry into the city. (John 12:12, 13) Tamar, one of Solomon’s cities, was named for the palm tree. (1 Ki. 9:17, 18) The land of Tyre and Sidon also later received the name “Phoenicia” (land of palms) from the Greek phoiʹnix (Acts 11:19; 15:3), as possibly did the city of Phoenix on the island of Crete.—Acts 27:12.
The tall, stately palm, with its straight uniform trunk rising some eighty feet (24.4 meters) or more and cresting with a plume of long feathery fronds (not branches), makes a graceful silhouette of unique beauty. Hebrew girls must have been pleased to receive the name Tamar, as did Judah’s daughter-in-law (Gen. 38:6), Absalom’s sister (2 Sam. 13:1), and also his daughter, described as “a woman most beautiful in appearance.” (2 Sam. 14:27) The Shulammite maiden’s stature was likened to that of a palm tree and her breasts to its clusters. (Song of Sol. 7:7, 8) The spiral arrangement of its wood fibers also makes it a tree of unusual suppleness and strength.
The palm tree produces good fruit after about thirty years and continues to do so for nearly one hundred years, after which it gradually declines and dies at the end of the second century. The annual crop of dates grows in immense drooping clusters, each weighing from thirty to fifty pounds (13.6 to 22.7 kilograms), and is harvested from June to September. The Arabs say that the palm tree has as many uses as the year has days. In addition to its fruit the leaves are used for thatching roofs, the sides of houses, for 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 “arrak” 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 (1 Ki. 6:29, 32, 35; 2 Chron. 3:5), also the sides of the carriages used in the temple service (1 Ki. 7:36, 37); and palm trees were seen by Ezekiel as decorating the side pillars of the gates of the visionary temple, as well as in the inner walls and doors of the temple. (Ezek. 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” (John 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 are likewise pictured as with palm fronds in their hands, ascribing salvation to God and to the Lamb.—Rev. 7:10.