Jews all over the world are celebrating the festival of Sukkot (Feast of the Tabernacles) since last night and for the next week. According to Jewish custom, this commemorates the time during the sojourn of the Israelites in the desert, when they lives in temporary housing (Tabernacles). Among the other customs kept during the holiday is the ritual use of the “4 species” (Arba’at Haminim) – lulav, hadas, arava and etrog – which in modern Judaism is interpreted as the palm frond, myrtle branch, willow branch, and the citron.
While the identity of the first three is more or less accepted by all, questions have been raised as to the identity of the 4th, since in the biblical text it is written as “pri etz hadar”. The citron, which is the fruit identified as the etrog is a very interesting fruit. Its origins have been disputed, and many have claimed that since the citron is not a fruit tree local to the Levant but rather to the area of Persia, it was not used as the etrog until the Persian or even Hellenistic period. Others though have claimed that it was already known in the Iron Age.
An interesting additional factor has recently been added to this discussion with the relatively recent report of evidence of pollen of a citron found embedded in plaster in the Iron Age palace at Ramat Rachel, near Jerusalem. This, along with other evidence, indicated the existence of a royal orchard of special plants and trees in this palace.
While this find does not prove beyond a doubt that the biblical “pri etz hadar” – it does provide conclusive evidence that this fruit tree was definitely known during the Iron Age, prior to Persian and Hellenistic periods.
Chag Sameach (happy holiday)!