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Prestigious fruit trees in ancient Israel: first palynological evidence for growing Juglans regia and Citrus medica

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This article describes the earliest evidence for the growing of two prestigious fruit trees: Juglans regia (Persian walnut) and Citrus medica (citron) in ancient Israel. The study also tries to identify the origin of these trees as well as their influence on Jewish tradition and culture. The palynological information from the Southern Levant supports the hypothesis of the survival of J. regia during the Last Glacial period in some areas of Eurasia. Accumulating palynological information as well as archeobotanical evidence of J. regia plant remains from northern Israel from ∼1800 years BCE suggests the beginning of horticulture of walnut in the Southern Levant. The growing of walnut within Israel probably started in the north, and nearly one millennium later, palynological evidence indicates that J. regia cultivation had spread also to the Judean Mountains. Walnut is mentioned only once in the Bible, in Song of Solomon (6:11). From the interpretation of this text as well other Jewish texts and the available palynological diagrams, it is clear that since the Persian period (fifth to fourth centuries BCE), J. regia was well established in ancient Israel. Citron, although being one of the four species of the Jewish feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot), is not native to the flora of the Near East. The earliest archeobotanical evidence of the growing of C. medica in Israel was recently discovered in a Royal Persian garden in Ramat Rahel near Jerusalem, dated to the fifth to fourth centuries BCE. C. medica seems to have made its way to Ramat Rahel from India via Persia. From that point on, citron gradually penetrated the Jewish culture and tradition. The citron is not mentioned in the Bible, and the association between the citron and the Pürî `ëc hädär (Leviticus 23:40), translated “fruit of the goodly tree,” was only made during the first century AD.

Affiliations: 1: The Laboratory of Archaeobotany and Ancient Environments, The Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology, Tel Aviv University


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