PALM (Phœnix dactylifera):
An evergreen tree growing in tropical climates in a dry atmosphere. The term for it, common to the Aramaic, Ethiopic, and Hebrew, is "tamar" (). The Arabic "tamr" means more particularly the fruit of the date-palm. The Aramaic has also the name "diḳla," and a feminine form, "diḳleta" (see Jastrow, "Dict." s.v.). The stem of the date-palm is slender and very yielding, so that in a storm it sways back and forth, but does not break; and throughout its length it bears marks showing where leaves have fallen off. The tree is crowned by a mass of branches from 40 to 80 in number, and on these the fruit grows. There are distinct male and female trees—hence the masculine and feminine forms of the name in Aramaic—and artificial fertilization is necessary. The Assyrian monuments show figures of a god having a pail in one hand, and with the other spreading the pollen on palms.
When the fruit begins to grow it has a green color, which gradually changes, through yellow and red, until it becomes quite dark; it hangs in bunches from the stalk. The date-palm relies for nourishment upon its roots, which strike downward and reach water under the soil; if this fails, irrigation must be resorted to. Especially interesting in this light are the Babylonian contract tablets. From these it is learned that trenches were dug around the palms, so as to supply water to the roots. From the tablets it is clear also that dates were used quite frequently in payment of rent and of all kinds of debts (see "Babylonian Expedition of University of Pennsylvania," ix.).
The tree was very plentiful in Palestine in ancient times, but now is found only at the Lake of Gennesaret, near Jericho, and around the Dead Sea (Nowack, "Lehrbuch der Hebräischen Archäologie," i. 62). At Elim (Ex. xv. 27; Num. xxxiii. 9) there were seventy palms growing around the springs. The date-palm was put to many uses. The fruit was used for food, and from it a drink was distilled. The leaves were used as a roof-covering; the stem, for building purposes and for fuel. Parts of the stalk were used to weave ropes. From the better quality of dates, according to Josephus ("B. J." iv. 8, § 3), a kind of honey was pressed: this was also known to the Talmudic writers (Löw, "Aramäische Pflanzennamen," p. 124).
The qualities of the date-palm are referred to quite frequently in a figurative sense in the poetical books of the Bible. Together with another evergreen tree, the cedar, it is used to typify the prosperity of the righteous man (Ps. xcii. 13). Its tall, slender, graceful, mobile stalk symbolizes the beautiful female figure (Cant. vii. 8, 9). In Joel (i. 12) the date-palm is spoken of as languishing.
In the Temple service, branches of the date-palm were used at the Feast of Booths (Lev. xxiii. 40; Neh. viii. 15). A palm design was used as a decoration in the Temple of Solomon (I Kings vi. 29)and in the plan of Ezekiel's Temple (Ezek. xl., passim). A coin struck by Jaddua has on it the figure of the date-palm (De Saulcy, "Numismatique Juive," plate 1, fig. 6). Several names in the Bible give evidence of the plentifulness of the palm. Jericho is called "the city of palm-trees" (Deut. xxxiv. 3; Judges i. 16, iii. 13; II Chron. xxviii. 15). "Tamar" occurs in Ezek. xlvii. 19; and two other place-names have the word as an element, viz., "Hazazon-tamar" (II Chron. xx. 2) and "Baaltamar" (Judges xx. 33); perhaps "Tadmor" (II Chron. viii. 4) also. Three women bear the name "Tamar" (Gen. xxxviii. 6; II Sam. xiii. 1, xiv. 27). Under a palm-tree Deborah sat and judged Israel; and on this account it was called "the palm-tree of Deborah" (Judges iv. 5; but see Deborah, the nurse of Rebekah). For the part this tree played in early Semitic civilization, see Barton, "Semitic Origins," Index, s.v. "Palm," 1901. The Mishnah (see Löw, l.c. pp. 109-125) mentions three kinds of dates.