one of the original seven biblical fruits:
If you can’t see them on the list above, that’s
because they are not listed in their own right but
the honey mentioned is believed by biblical scholars
to be date honey.
Palm trees and dates are prominent within biblical
and religious culture and provide an excellent storyline
for filming in Israel. However, more recently there
has been a date related story to trump all others!
In 2005 an amazing feat took place which astounded
the world of science and paleoethnobotany (a specialism
of archaeology which studies how people in the past
used plants) and which would make an exciting documentary.
Seeds from an extinct date palm, preserved for 2,000
years and discovered at the site of King Herod’s
palace in Masada, were successfully sprouted, re-introducing
the ancient, long extinct Judean Palm into modern
So, let’s find out what makes dates a fascinating
documentary topic for productions in Israel and why
they have many qualities that would interest a wide
range of viewers across the world.
These tall evergreens can grow up to 30 meters tall,
with large, fronded leaves which can span 4-5 meters
and are tipped with sharp points. The trunk is covered
by leaf scars which form spiral patterns up the trunk.
In the spring, their large branches contain a multitude
of small blossoms.
The date tree was named ‘Tamar’ in biblical
times and was commonly used as a girl’s name
and is cited in the bible. It is still popular in
Israel today. Dates are often sun dried to increase their sweetness
and help preservation.
Uses of the Date Palm
Dates are harvested in the dying days of the summer.
The date palm is extremely economical, with every
part of the tree having its own use.
Religious Ceremonial Usage
The date palm is used in Jewish, Islamic and Christian
rituals. Fronds are used on Palm Sunday to commemorate
Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem. They are also used
for the Jewish festival of Succot, as part of the
four species bound together within the ‘lulav’
that is shaken during Succot morning prayers.
Palm Trees and Dates on Ancient
Palm trees have many biblical citations and are
commemorated in ancient carvings, pictures and mosaics
around Israel and the Middle East.
Image courtesy of BiblePlaces.com
Mosaic floor from Tiberias synagogue showing a
‘luluv’, now at Eretz Israel Museum,
Image courtesy of www.israelimages.com
This mosaic, which adorns the floor of the 5th
century Jericho synagogue, Shalom Al Israel, shows
a palm branch within the picture.
There are also the remains of carvings at the Capernium
ancient synagogue, which include illustrations of
The palm tree is pictured on various ancient coins,
including those dating back to 69-70 CE.
Vespasian coins have also been unearthed, celebrating
victory over the Jewish rebels. The inscription
on this coin reads, ‘Judea captured’.
An image of the palm tree is still on the modern
day ten shekel coin.
Two ancient wooden anchors with ropes, dating to
different periods, were found in Ein Gede, on the
western shore of the Dead Sea. One was from the
Late Iron Age (14 CE) and the other from the Roman
Period. Both anchors had ropes made from date palms.
The Biblical Date Palm is Reborn
In biblical times, the Judean date palm was prevalent
in the Judean Desert, the Dead Sea, Jericho and
the Sea of Galilee. Jericho was actually known as
the ‘city of palms’. Although there
are many date palms all over Israel today, these
do not originate from the biblical date palm, which
became extinct around 500 CE. Modern varieties were
all imported in the 1950s.
In 1973, archaeological excavations of King Herod’s
palace on Masada unearthed some dry date pits. These
were contained in an ancient jar, in very dry conditions
and had been sheltered from the elements for two
centuries. Once inspected and catalogues, they were
held in storage for over thirty years at Bar Ilan
In 2004 the seeds came to the attention of Dr Elaine
Solowey, a specialist in rare and medicinal plants
at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies
at the Natural Medicine Research Centre at Kibbutz
Ketura. Initial tests using carbon dating verified
that the seeds were 2,000 years old.
Dr Solowey had the original and daring idea to
attempt to germinate these ancient seeds. She was
aware that the biblical date palm had many qualities,
not least of all for medicinal purposes.
She soaked the seeds in hot water to enable them
to be able to absorb liquid once again. They were
then soaked in a nutritional liquid and finally
with fertilizer made from seaweed.
Once the preparations were complete, she settled
upon the auspicious date of the 15th of the Jewish
month of Shvat (25 January 2005) to plant the seeds.
This coincided with the Jewish festival of Tu Bishvat,
known as the Jewish new year of trees. Six weeks
later, to her amazement, one of the seeds sprouted.
The seedling appears to be developing normally
and at 40 months measured 1.2 meters tall and had
six leaves. Date palms are either male or female
but, as yet, researchers cannot determine the gender
of their very special sapling. All are hoping for
a female, which has the capacity to bear fruit and
would mean that the first yield from a Judean date
palm in two centuries could take place in 2010.
This incredible experiment is the oldest known,
human-assisted germination of a seed. The plant
has been named, ‘Methuselah’, after
the longest living character in the bible. If the
plant continues to thrive it will be the only living
representative of the Judean date palm, which has
been extinct for over 1,800 years.
Filming Documentaries in
Scientific tests carried out on the plant show that
it most closely resembles the DNA of the Hayany
(Old Egyptian) variety of date palm, perhaps sharing
a common ancestor.
Dr Sallon, Head of the Project, is keen to find
out if the Judean date palm has any unique medicinal
properties no longer found in modern varieties.
She says, “The Judean date was used for all
kinds of things from fertility, to aphrodisiacs,
against infections, against tumors. This is all
part of the folk story.”
The re-introduction of an ancient date palm in the
second millenium, along with all that this will be
able to tell us in terms of the taste and qualities
of the biblical fruit, is an exciting tale that would
captivate viewers. The story is still unraveling and
would make an interesting documentary, taking in the
breathtaking scenery around Masada, as well as using
experts to explain the biblical and scientific significance.
Dramatic shots of morning prayers at the Western Wall
during Succot would also demonstrate how palm branches
were traditionally used within the ‘luluv’
Relating the importance placed upon ancient date palms
would also make an interesting sub plot, educating
viewers about the range of uses in biblical times,
as well as the tremendous worth this hardy plant had,
and still has, in desert settings.
Biblical Productions are expert at making documentary
films in Israel. We have contacts with a range of
knowledgeable experts who can add interest and credibility
to any film. Our locations scouting expertise can
also ensure you get the most dramatic shots of relevant
settings and really turn this story into a documentary