(תָּמָר, tamar, so called doubtless from its tall, straight, and slender stem; Arab. tamar likewise; Gr. φοινιξ). Under this generic term many species are botanically included; but we have here only to do with the date-palm, the Phoenix dactylifera of Linnaeus. Travellers, and even Biblical writers, however, not unfrequently figure in its stead the dom-palm of Egypt, which is distinguished by its branching stem and hard, single drupe.
I. Description. — The palms are the princes of the vegetable kingdom. With the cylindrical stem, unbroken by branches, springing high into the air and unfurling a canopy of enormous leaves, fan-shaped or feathery, in the shadow of which are suspended great clusters of fruit, no tree can look more lordly or more bountiful. The areca of the West Indies shoots up to an altitude of one hundred and fifty feet, and a single leaf of the talipot will give shelter to fifteen or twenty people. On the farinaceous pith of the raphia and sagusa (saco) the Sumatrans and other inhabitants of the Indian Archipelago have long relied for a chief part of their subsistence, just as the cocoa-nut has sustained for centuries the islanders of the Pacific Ocean; and, more inexhaustible than the petroleum springs of the New World, palm-oil promises to supply light to Europe and wealth to Africa through all the coming ages.
The date-palm in height is from 30 or 40 feet to 70 or 80. It seldom bears fruit till six, eight, or even ten years after it has been planted; but it will continue to be productive for one hundred years (Ps 92:14). If we say sixty or seventy, and assign to it an average crop of 100 lbs. a year, each fruit-bearing tree will have yielded two or three tons of dates as tribute to its owners in the course of its lifetime. "The palm grows slowly but steadily, uninfluenced by those alternations of the seasons which affect other trees. It does not rejoice overmuch in winter's copious rain, nor does it droop under the drought and burning sun of summer. Neither heavy weights, which men place upon its head, nor the importunate urgency of the wind. can sway it aside from perfect uprightness. There it stands, looking calmly down upon the world below, and patiently yielding its large clusters of golden fruit from generation to generation. Nearly every palace and mosque and convent in the country has such trees in the courts, and, being well protected there, they flourish exceedingly" (Thomson, Land and Book, 1, 65 sq.). It is remarkable for its erect and cylindrical stem, crowned with a cluster of long and feather-like leaves, and is as much esteemed for its fruit, the "date," as for its juice, whether fermented or not, known as "palm wine," and for the numerous uses to which every part of the plant is applied. The peculiarities of the palm-tree are such that they could not fail to attract the attention of the writers of any country where it is indigenous, and especially from its being an indication of the vicinity of water even in the-midst of the most desert country. Its roots, though not penetrating very deep or spreading very wide, yet support a stem of considerable height, which is remarkable for its uniformity of thickness throughout. The center of this lofty stem, instead of being the hardest part, as in other trees, is soft and spongy, and the bundles of woody fibres successively produced in the interior are regularly pushed outwards, until the outer part becomes the most dense and hard, and is hence most fitted to answer the, purposes of wood. The outside, though devoid of branches, is marked with a number of protuberances, which are the points of insertion of former leaves. The leaves are from four to six or eight feet in length, ranged in a bunch around the top of the stem; the younger and softer being in the center, and the older and outer series hanging down. They are employed for covering the roofs or sides of houses, for fences, framework, mats, and baskets. The male and female flowers being on different trees, the latter require to be fecundated by the pollen of the former before the fruit can ripen. The tender part of the spatha of the flowers being pierced, a bland and sweet juice exudes, which, being evaporated, yields sugar, and is no doubt what is alluded to in some passages of Scripture; if it be fermented and distilled a strong spirit or arak is yielded. The fruit, however, which is yearly produced in numerous clusters and in the utmost abundance, is its chief value; for whole tribes of Arabs and Africans find their chief sustenance in the date, of which even the stony seeds, being ground down, yield nourishment to the camel of the desert.
With an imagination and a vocabulary equally copious, the Arabs are said to have three hundred and sixty names or epithets for the palm-tree, and to be able to enumerate three hundred and sixty uses to which different portions are applied. Certainly it would be difficult to name a more serviceable tree. Not only is its fruit a daily article of diet, but various preparations from it are used as medicines and tonics. "On the abortive fruit and ground date-stones the camels are fed. From the leaves they make couches, baskets, bags, mats, brushes, and fly-traps; from the trunk cages for their poultry and fences for their gardens; and other parts of the tree furnish fuel. From the fibrous webs at the bases of the leaves thread is procured, which is twisted into ropes and rigging; and from the sap, which is collected by cutting off the head of the palm, and scooping out a hollow in its stem, a spirituous liquor is prepared" (Burnett, Outlines of Botany, p. 400). No wonder that to the present day in the proverbs and the poetry of the East the palm is constantly reappearing. Says Mohammed, "Honor your maternal aunt, the date-palm; for she was created in paradise, of the same earth from which Adam was made." In the same spirit we are told by a later Moslem tradition, "Adam was permitted to bring with him out of paradise three things — the myrtle, which is the chief of sweet-scented flowers in the world; an ear of wheat, the chief of all kinds of food; and dates, the chief of all the fruits of the world." These dates were conveyed to the Hejaz, where they grew up, and became the progenitors of all the other date-palms in Asia, Africa, and Europe; and it is the decree of Allah that all the countries where they grow shall belong to the faithful! (see Quarterly Review, cxiv. 214). The later Hebrews have a proverb, alluding to the mixture of evil with the best possessions, "In two cabs of dates there is a cab of stones and more;" and referring to the usefulness of little things, the Arabs say, "A small datestone props up the water-jar." In their own ironical fashion, when the modern Egyptians would describe a great boaster, they say, "He paid a derhem for some dates, and now he has his palm-trees in the village." For the greater part the date-trees belong to ancient families, and to possess them is a sign of wealth and high lineage; but this magniloquent fellow passes off his sorry purchase as the fruit of his own plantation. Beyond its substantial uses, the palm is endeared by many bright and sacred associations. Its erect and columnar trunk, so regularly notched and indented, supplied to Solomon a chief means of ornamentation in the construction of the Temple (1Ki 6:29,32,35; 1Ki 7:36), and copies in brick of palm-tree logs survive in the rude architecture of Chaldaea (see Loftus, Chaldea and Susiana, p. 175). The branch or pinnated leaf — the mid-rib with its taper, sharp-pointed leaflets, alternately diverging, and forming a long and glossy plume of polished verdure — is itself a graceful object, and was doubly welcome, as its far- seen signal announced to the desert-ranger a halting-place, with food and cool shadow overhead, and wells of water underneath.
II. Locality. — The family of palms is characteristic of tropical countries, and but few of them extend into northern latitudes. In the Old World the species Phoenix dactylifera is that found farthest north. It spreads along the course of the Euphrates and Tigris across to Palmyra and the Syrian coast of the Mediterranean. It has been introduced into the south of Spain, and thrives well at Malaga; and is also cultivated at Bordaghiere, in the south of France, chiefly on account of its leaves, which are sold at two periods of the year — in spring for Palm-Sunday, and again at the Jewish Passover. In the south of Italy and Sicily, lady Calcott states that "near Genoa there is a narrow, warm, sandy valley full of palms, but they are diminutive in growth, and unfruitful." Anciently the date-palm grew very abundantly (more abundantly than now) in many parts of the Levant. On this subject generally it is enough to refer to Ritter's monograph ("Ueber die geographische Verbreitung der Dattelpalme") in his Erdkunde, and also published separately. See also Kempfer, Amoetates Exoticoe, and Celsius, Hierobot. 1, 444-579; Moody, The Palm-tree (Lond. 1860). While this tree was abundant generally in the Levant, it was regarded by the ancients as peculiarly characteristic of Palestine and the neighboring regions (Συρία, ὅπου φοίνικες οἱ καρποφόροι, Xenoph. Cyrop. 6:2, § 22;" Judea inclyta est palmis," Pliny, Nat. Hist. 13:4; "Palmetis [Judaeis] proceritas et decor," Tacit. Hist. v. 6; comp. Strabo, 17:800, 818; Theophrast. Hist. Plant. 2:8; Pausan. 9:19, § 5). It is curious that this tree, once so abundant in Judea, is now comparatively rare, except in the Philistine plain, and in the old Phoenicia (so named from it) about Beirut. Old trunks are washed up in the Dead Sea. It is abundant in Egypt, and is occasionally found near springs in the Desert. It nowhere flourishes without a perennial supply of fresh water at the root. The well-known coin of Vespasian representing the palm-tree with the legend "Judaea capta" is figured in vol. 6, p. 486.
III. Scripture Notices. —
1. As to the industrial and domestic uses of the palm, it is well known that they are very numerous; but there is no clear allusion to them in the Bible. That the ancient Orientals, however, made use of wine and honey obtained from the palm-tree is evident from Herodotus (1:193; 2:86), Strabo (16, ch. 14, ed. Kram.), and Pliny (Nat. Hist. 13:4). It is indeed possible that the honey mentioned in some places may be palm-sugar. (In 2Ch 31:5 the margin has "dates.")
2. The following places may be enumerated from the Bible as having some connection with the palm-tree, either in the derivation of the name, or in the mention of the tree as growing on the spot.
(1.) At ELIM, one of the stations of the Israelites between Egypt and Sinai, it is expressly stated that there were "twelve wells (fountains) of water, and threescore and ten palm-trees" (Ex 15:27; Nu 33:9). The word "fountains" of the latter passage is more correct than the "wells" of the former: it is more in harmony, too, with the habits of the tree; for, as Theophrastus says (l.c.), the palm ἐπιζητεῖ μᾶλλον τὸ ναματιαῖον ὕδωρ. There are still palm-trees and fountains in Wady Ghurundel, which is generally identified with Elim (Robinson, Bib. Res. 1:69).
(2.) Next, it should be observed that ELATH (De 2:8; 1Ki 9:26; 2Ki 14:22; 2Ki 16:6; 2Ch 8:17; 2Ch 26:2) is another plural form of the same word, and may likewise mean "the palm-trees." See Prof. Stanley's remarks (Sin. and Pal. p. 20, 84, 519), and compare Reland (Palaest. p. 930). This place vas in Edom (probably Akaba); and we are reminded here of the "Idumaese palmae" of Virgil (Georg. 3:12) and Martial (10:50).
(3.) No place in Scripture is so closely associated with the subject before us as JERICHO. Its rich palm-groves are connected with two very different periods — with that of Moses and Joshua on the one hand, and that of the evangelists on the other. As to the former, the mention of "Jericho, the city of palm-trees" (De 34:3), gives a peculiar vividness to the Lawgiver's last view from Pisgah; and even after the narrative of the conquest we have the children of the Kenite, Moses's father-in-law, again associated with "the city of palm-trees" (Jg 1:16). So Jericho is described in the account of the Moabitish invasion after the death of Othniel (Jg 3:13); and, long after, we find the same phrase applied to it in the reign of Ahaz (2Ch 28:15). What the extent of these palm-groves may have been in the desolate period of Jericho we cannot tell; but they were renowned in the time of the Gospels and Josephus. The Jewish historian mentions the luxuriance of these trees again and again; not only in allusion to the time of Moses (Ant. iv, 6,1), but in the account of the Roman campaign under Pompey (id. 14:4, 1; War. 1:6, 6), the proceedings of Antony and Cleopatra (Ant. 15:4, 2),and the war. of Vespasian (War. 4:8, 2, 3). Herod the Great did much for Jericho, and took great interest in its palm-groves. Hence Horace's "Herodis palmeta pinguia" (Ep. 2:2,184), .which seems almost to have been a proverbial expression. Nor is this the only heathen testimony to the same fact. Strabo describes this immediate neighborhood as πλεονάζον τῷ φοίνικι, ἐπὶ, μῆκος σταδίων ἑκατόν (16:763), and Pliny says, "Hiericuntem palmetis consitam" (Hist. Nat. v. 14), and adds elsewhere that, while palm-trees grow well in other parts of Judaea, "Hiericunte maxime" (13:4). See also Galen, De Aliment. facult. ii, and Justin. 36:3. Shaw (Trav. p. 371 fol.) speaks of several of these trees still remaining at Jericho in his time, but later travelers have seen but slight vestiges of them.
(4.) The name of HAZEZON-TAMAR, "the felling of the palm-tree," is clear in its derivation. This place is mentioned in the history both of Abraham (Ge 14:7) and of Jehoshaphat (2Ch 20:2). In the second of these passages it is expressly identified with Engedi, which was on the western edge of the Dead Sea; and here we can adduce, as a valuable illustration of what is before us, the language of the Apocrypha, "I was exalted like a palm-tree in Engaddi" (Ecclesiasticus 24:14). Here again, too, we can quote alike Josephus (γεννᾶται ἐν αὐτῇ φοίνιξ ὁ κάλλιστος, Ant. 9:1, 2) and Pliny ("Engadda oppidum. secundum ab Hierosolymis, fertilitate palmetorumque nemoribus," Hist. Nat. v. 17).
(5.) Another place having the same element in its name, and doubtless the. same characteristic in its scenery, was BAAL-TAMAR (Jg 20:33), the Βηθθαμάρ of Eusebius. Its position was near Gibeah of Benjamin; and it could not be far from Deborah's famous palm-tree (Jg 4:5), if indeed it was not identical with it, as is suggested by Stanley (Sin. and Pal. p. 146).
(6.) We must next mention the TAMAR, "the palm," which is set before us in the vision of Eze 47:19; Eze 48:28, as appoint from which the southern border of the land is to be measured eastward and westward. Robinson identifies it with the θαμαρώ of Ptolemy (v. 16), and thinks its site may be at el-Milh, between Hebron and Wady Musa (Bib. Res. 2:198, 202). It seems from Jerome to have been in his day a Roman fortress.
(7.) There is little doubt that Solomon's TADMOR, afterwards the famous Palmyra, on another desert frontier far to the north-east of Tamar, is primarily the same word; and that, as Gibbon says (Decline and Fall, 2:38), "the name, by its signification in the Syriac as well as in the Latin language, denoted the multitude of palm-trees which afforded shade and verdure to that temperate region." In fact, while the undoubted reading in 2Ch 8:4 is תִּדמוֹר, the best text in 1Ki 9:18 is תָּמָר. See Josephus, Ant. 8:6,1. The springs which he mentions there make the palm-trees almost a matter of course. Abulfeda, who flourished in the 14th century, expressly mentions the palm-tree as common at Palmyra in his time; and it is still called by the Arabs by the ancient name of Tadmr.
(8.) Nor, again, are the places of the N.T. without their associations with this characteristic tree of Palestine. BETHANY, according to most authorities, means "the house of dates;" and thus we are reminded that the palm grew in the neighborhood of the Mount of Olives. This helps our realization of our Savior's entry into Jerusalem, when the people "took branches of palm-trees and went forth to meet him" (Joh 12:13). This, again, carries our thoughts backward to the time when the Feast of Tabernacles was first kept after the Captivity, when the proclamation was given that they should "go forth unto the mount and fetch palm-branches" (Ne 8:15) — the only branches, it may be observed (those of the willow excepted), which are specified by name in the original institution of the festival (Le 23:40). From this Gospel incident comes Palm- Sunday (Dominica in Ramis Palmarum), which is observed with much ceremony in some countries where true palms can be had. Even in northern latitudes (in Yorkshire, for instance) the country people use a substitute which comes into flower just before Easter:
"And willow-branches hallow, That they palmes do use to call."
(9.) The word PHOENICIA (Φοινίκη), which occurs twice in the N.T. (Ac 11:19; Ac 15:3), is in all probability derived from the Greek word (φοίνιξ) for a palm. Sidonius mentions palms as a product of Phoenicia (Paneg; Majorian. 44). See also Pliny, Hist. Nat. 13:4; Athen. 1:21. Thus we may imagine the same natural objects in connection with Paul's journeys along the coast to the north of Palestine, as with the wanderings of the Israelites through the desert on the south.
(10.) Lastly, PHOENICE (Φοίνιξ), in the island of Crete, the harbor which Paul was prevented by the storm from reaching (Ac 27:12), has doubtless the same derivation. Both Theophrastus and Pliny say that palm- trees are indigenous in this island. See Hock's Kreta, 1:38, 388.
3. From the passages where there is a literal reference to the palm-tree we may pass to the emblematical uses of it in Scripture. Under this head may be classed the following:
(1.) The striking appearance of the tree, its uprightness and beauty, would naturally suggest the giving of its name occasionally to women. As we find in the Odyssey (6:163) Naasicaa, the daughter of Alcinous, compared to a palm, so in Song 7:7 we have the same comparison, "Thy stature is like to a palm-tree." In the O.T. three women named Tamar are mentioned: Judah's daughter-in-law (Ge 38:6), Absalom's sister (2Sa 13:1), and Absalom's daughter (14:27). The beauty of the last two is expressly mentioned.
(2.) We have notices of the employment of this form in decorative art, both in the real temple of Solomon and in the visionary temple of Ezekiel. In the former case we are told (2Ch 3:5) of this decoration in general terms, and elsewhere more specifically that it was applied to the walls (1Ki 6:29), to the doors (ver. 32, 35), and to the "bases" (7:36). So in the prophet's vision we find palm-trees on the posts of the gates (Eze 40:16,22,26,31,34,37), and also on the walls and the doors (Eze 41:18-20,25-26). This work seems to have been in relief. We do not stay to inquire whether it had any symbolical meanings. It was a natural and doubtless customary kind of ornamentation in Eastern architecture. Thus we are told by Herodotus (2:169) of the hall of a temple at Sais, in Egypt, which was ἠσκημένη στύλοισι φοίνικας τὰ δένδρεα μεμιμημένοισι; and we are familiar now with the same sort of decoration in Assyrian buildings (Layard's Nineveh and its Remains, 2:137, 396, 401). The image of such rigid and motionless forms may possibly have been before the mind of Jeremiah when he said of the idols of the heathen (Jer 10:4-5), "They fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not: they are upright as the palm-tree, but speak not."
(3.) With a tree so abundant in Judea, and so marked in its growth and appearance, as the palm, it seems rather remarkable that it does not appear more frequently in the imagery of the O.T. There is, however, in Ps 42:11 the familiar comparison, "The righteous shall flourish like the palm- tree," which suggests a world of illustration, whether respect be had to the orderly and regular aspect of the tree, its fruitfulness, the perpetual greenness of its foliage, or the height at which the foliage grows — as far as possible from earth, and as near as possible to heaven. Perhaps no point is more worthy of mention, if we wish to pursue the comparison, than the elasticity of the fibre of the palm, and its determined growth upwards, even when loaded with weights ("nititur in pondus palma"). Such particulars of resemblance to the righteous man were variously dwelt on by the early Christian writers. Some instances are given by Celsius in his Hierobotanicon (Upsala, 1747), 2:522-547. One, which he does not give, is worthy of quotation: "Well is the life of the righteous likened to a palm, in that the palm below is rough to the touch, and in a manner enveloped in dry bark, but above it is adorned with fruit, fair even to the eye; below it is compressed by the enfoldings of its bark; above it is spread out in amplitude of beautiful greenness. For so is the life of the elect — despised below, beautiful above. Down below it is, as it were, enfolded in many barks, in that it is straitened by innumerable afflictions; but on high it is expanded into a foliage, as it were, of beautiful greenness by the amplitude of the rewarding" (Gregory, Mor. on Job 19:29). There may also in Song 7:8, "I will go up to the palm-tree, I will take hold of the boughs thereof," be a reference to climbing for the fruit. The Sept. has ἀναβήσομαι ἐν τῷ φοίνικι, κρατσήω τῶν ὑψέων αὐτοῦ. So in 2:3
and elsewhere (e.g. Ps 1:3) the fruit of the palm may be intended; but this cannot be proved.
(4.) The passage in Re 7:9, where the glorified of all nations are described as "clothed with white robes and palms in their hands," might seem to us a purely classical image, drawn (like many of Paul's images) from the Greek games, the victors in which carried palms in their hands. But we seem to trace here a Jewish element also, when we consider three passages in the Apocrypha. In 1 Maccabees 13:51 Simon Maccabaeus, after the surrender of the tower at Jerusalem, is described as entering it with music and thanksgiving "and branches of palm-trees." In 2 Maccabees 10:7 it is said that when Judas Maccabaeus had recovered the Temple and the city "they bare branches and palms, and sang psalms also unto Him that had given them good success." In 2 Maccabees 14:4 Demetrius is presented "with a crown of gold and a palm." Here we see the palm- branches used by Jews in token of victory and peace. (Such indeed is the case in the Gospel narrative, Joh 12:13.) There is a fourth passage in the Apocrypha, as commonly published in English, which approximates closely to the imagery of the Apocalypse: "I asked the angel, What are these? He answered and said unto me, These be they which have put off the mortal clothing, and now they are crowned and receive palms. Then said I unto the angel, What young person is it that crowneth them and giveth them palms in their hands? So he answered and said unto me, It is the Son of God, whom they have confessed in the world" (2 Esdras 2:44- 47). SEE DATE.