A date palm tree in Israel
Image by Ian W Scott
This date palm is growing on the site of ancient Ashkelon in Israel. Palms will not grow everywhere in the holy land, since they require a good water supply as well as intense light and heat. An Arab saying explains that date palms like to have their "feet in the water and their head in the fire." As a result they were relatively rare in the central hill country, and tended to thrive in the valleys of the Shephelah, around Jericho in the Jordan valley, and along the coastal plain.
Dates were an important, if secondary, part of the ancient diet in the Holy Land. They added an appealing sweetness to an otherwise bland diet, and they could be easily dried to supplement one’s diet through the winter. Dates could also be processed to produce a kind of "honey," a sweet syrup that was used to flavor other foods.