Sycamore Trees

Moving is traumatic.  One of the techniques for softening the transition is bringing reminders of your past home, to make your surroundings more familiar and comforting.  Recent research has shown that even in antiquity, mobile cultures took many physical items with them.  The Philistines arrived in the Land of Israel in the 11th/12th century B.C.E.  They were known as the Sea People and originated in Crete and Turkey.  They settled on the coast and provided a thorn in the side for the ancient Israelite.  The Biblical text is littered with the Israelites’ conflicts with the Philistines, and archaeology supports two different material cultures in the area of the Lowlands through the Judean Mountains and the Southern Coast of  today’s Israel.

We see their imported culture not only through pottery styles and fashion but also through plants and animals which researchers now think were brought by the ancient Philistines.

I recently visited the ancient sycamore tree in Netanya.   Israel’s sycamore (ficus sycomorus) is not related at all to the tree in the United States of the same common name (platanus occidentalis).  Most researchers think this particular tree is between 600 and 1200 years old.  The northernmost sycamore in Israel is a massive tree on the slopes of Tel Yizrael in the Lower Galilee  and the tree’s range continues to the Western Negev in the south.  The sycamore (shikma) is mentioned seven times in the Jewish bible. From these references, we see that the sycamore grew in the Lowlands (near the Philistine population) and could not stand frost, excluding it from widespread occurrence in the mountains which made up the backbone of  Israel.netanya-sycamore

In the Christian canon, the sycamore holds a place in one of Jesus’ parables.  In this story, Zachaeus, who is very short, climbs into a sycamore tree in order to get a better view of Jesus.   Anyone who has seen a sycamore tree in Israel can well imagine climbing up its low-lying wide branches for a better look.

Related sites:

  • Tel Yizrael – Sycamore
  • Gethsemane – Ancient Olive trees
  • Kibbutz Ketura – Fig tree from ancient seeds
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