The palm tree mentioned 36 times in the Bible is the Judean Date Palm, and the most famous date palm is the Methuselah Tree that was grown from a 2,000-year-old seed. The seed was found by archaeologists in the 1960s in Masada, Herod the Great’s desert fortress overlooking the Dead Sea. They date to before Christ, so they are 2,000 years old. Masada was stocked with every type of food and wine that the luxury-loving Herod craved, but the fortress was abandoned after his death. It was briefly occupied in 73-74 AD for the last stand of Jewish revolters against Rome. When they committed mass suicide, the burned fortress was left to crumble into the dust. The Judean Date Palm itself went extinct sometime before 1000 AD. Groves of them once flourished in Judea (as described by Pliny and Josephus) and were famous across the Roman Empire, but they were destroyed by centuries of war, neglect, and desertification. About 20 years ago, Dr. Sarah Sallon, a natural medicine researcher, had the idea of planting some of the ancient seeds to see if they had medicinal benefits not found in other dates. With difficulty, she convinced the highly skeptical Masada archaeologists to give up their precious find for this purpose. Dr. Elaine Solowey, with the Arava Institute at the Kibbutz Ketura in the Israeli Negev, oversaw the planting. One of three seeds sprouted and grew into a healthy date palm that began flowering and producing pollen in 2011. They named it Methuselah after the oldest living man in history. The problem is, as its name suggests, that it is a male and needs a female for fruit. (In the date palm, the male produces pollen and the female produces fertile flowers that can be pollinated to produce dates.) Solowey convinced other archaeologists to give up ancient seeds they found in Qumran, a few miles north of Masada, and she has been successful in growing females. One is named Hannah, after the prophet Samuel’s mother. In 2020, Methuselah pollinated Hannah and in September she bore 111 dates! Sallon says the Judean date palms “were known for their wonderful sweetness, their very large size, and their ability to be stored for a long time, so they actually were exported around the Roman empire” (“Dates Like Jesus Ate,” National Public Radio, Feb. 6, 2020). The date palm fruit “is famous for its rich sugar content, it’s also praised for its nutritional value. Dates are rich in vitamins, high in antioxidants and loaded with fiber” (“Methuselah,” Bridges for Peace, Mar. 11, 2021).
(Friday Church News Notes, November 5, 2021, www.wayoflife.org, email@example.com, 866-295-4143)