Seeded, stuffed or dried, dates are one of nature’s masterpieces, and one of the oldest fruit-bearing trees on earth. All dates are yellow when young, and darken to brown as they mature.
Honey-sweet and mouth-watering, dates not only fed the ancient Jews but answered almost their every need. The juices of the date palm tree were fermented into wine, and even used as a medicine; the strong trunk was used as a building material; palm leaves were woven into baskets, mats, brooms, beds, and ropes as well as furniture.
The “honey” mentioned in the Bible did not come from bees, but was made by boiling dates into a concentrated syrup known as Silan.
Desert travelers will see date palms at almost every desert oasis—because the date palm thrives with its roots in water and its canopy in the sun.
“A righteous man will flourish like a date palm” (Psalms 92:13)
History of the Date
Dates are one of the oldest trees cultivated in the Middle East. Archeologists have uncovered ancient date pits, and palm tree trunks were used in the construction of long-gone temples.
The Sumerians grew date palms as early as 5000 BC, inone of humankind’s first systematic attempts to grow a dependable source of nourishment. Easy to dry and store, nourishing, tasty, and light in weight, the date palm became an indispensable part of life in the Judean Desert, supplying food, shelter, and shade for thousands of years.
A recognized symbol of the Kingdom of Judea, dates grew beside the Dead Sea and Jericho in the south, as well as near the Sea of Galilee and Lake Hula in the north. Emperor Vespasian celebrated the Roman victory over the Jewish Revolt by minting a bronze coin displaying a Judean woman weeping beneath a date palm.
Dates began to reach new consumers after the Moors conquered Spain. In the 18th and 19th centuries, as the Spanish conquistadors took over new territories, they introduced date palms to South America, Mexico, and California.
“Deborah was a prophetess…She would sit under the date-palm” (Judges 4:4-5)
Symbolisms of the Date
The date palm is honored by Jews, Christians, and Muslims as a symbol of honesty and righteousness. The ancient Egyptians venerated this tree as representing fertility. The Carthaginians depicted the date palm on coins and monuments, and the Greeks and Romans used it as a victory decoration in pageants. In Christian tradition, palm fronds have long been an emblem of peace, and are used on Palm Sunday to commemorate Jesus' entry into Jerusalem.
For Jews, date palm branches symbolize the abundance of the Land of Israel. Archeologists have uncovered braid-like engravings of date palms among the wall decorations in the Temple of Solomon. Palm fronds were also used to decorate columns on palaces and public structures in the late Iron period in ancient Israel.
In biblical Hebrew, the word for date palm is tamar, a woman’s name evoking grace and elegance that is popular even today. In Genesis, Tamar is the fearless daughter-in-law of Judah who becomes the ancestress of King David. In II Samuel, King David’s son, Absalom, goes to war against his half-brother Amnon to avenge the rape of their devastatingly beautiful sister Tamar.
“This your stature is like a palm tree.” (Song of Songs 7:9)
Health & Nutrition
Dates are recognized as an excellent source of a wide range of nutrients, including fiber, calcium, phosphorus, iron, potassium, vitamin A, and niacin. A fat-free food, dates contain no sodium or cholesterol.
The high tannin content of the date makes it ideal for treating intestinal complaints. When dates are made into an infusion, syrup, or paste, they become an effective treatment for sore throats and colds. They can also relieve fever, cystitis, edema, and liver and abdominal troubles. Date concentrate is also believed to counteract alcohol intoxication.
The sugar content of ripe dates is about 80%; the remainder consists of protein, fat and minerals, including copper, sulfur, iron, magnesium and fluoric acid. The phosphorus in dates helps keep the brain alert and active. Date sugar gives the body all the energy it needs to keep going, and is easily digested and absorbed.
Dates contain certain stimulants that strengthen the muscles of the uterus in the last few months of pregnancy, and can assist in dilation during delivery. In traditional medicine, the roots of the date palm are used to relieve toothache.
“I will go up into the palm tree, I will take hold of its boughs." (Song of Songs 7:10)
Greek architects modeled their Ionic columns on the date palm's stately, erect trunk and curly, expansive top.
Dates can be purchased fresh, dried, whole, pitted, chopped, and as a paste or syrup.
Israel’s ten-shekel coin features a date palm.
The tree trunk of the date palm remains constant in width throughout its life.
Muslims break their Ramadan fast each night by eating a date.
An old Arab saying tells us that the date palm has as many uses as the number of days in the year.
"He carved all the walls of the Temple with figures of cherubim, date palm trees, and open flowers." (I Kings 6:29)