Eight years ago, I wrote about the near miraculous resurrection of a Judean date palm from seeds that were, at the time, thought to be almost 2,000 years old.
The seeds were found in 1963 in a collapsed storeroom in the desert stronghold of Masada, built by Herod “the Great” as a redoubt near the southern end of the Dead Sea.
Sarah Sallon, a researcher at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem who was interested in date palms as a medicinal plant, gained access to some of the seeds and wondered if they could still be brought to life. She entrusted them to Elaine Solowey at the Arava Institute of the Environment in Ketura, a kibbutz deep in southern Israel.
Solowey pretreated the seeds with a solution of fertilizer and plant hormones, and one of them sprouted. With careful nurture, it began to grow, and she named it Methuselah in honor of the ancestor that Genesis 5:27 claims lived to be 969 years old.
Unfortunately, date palm trees have gender, and by its sixth year, Solowey had determined that Methuselah, like its namesake, was a male – and would never bear fruit.
Solowey successfully cross-pollinated the ancient tree with an Egyptian date palm, but Sallon also managed to obtain additional ancient pits. Solowey worked her magic again, and in time a half-dozen of them sprouted.
Two of the new-old trees turned out to be female and were dubbed Judith and Hannah. Hannah was grown from a seed found near Qumran, where the Dead Sea scrolls were found. Hannah and Methuselah were successfully cross-pollinated, and this Hannah produced about 100 dates: some were preserved for research and planting, while others were ceremonially eaten.
The resulting dates were reportedly a bit drier and sweeter than the medjool dates that dominate current date plantations. Their DNA indicates that both trees are closer to Eastern dates common to Iraq than to those more typically grown in the Levant today.
The seeds, by the way, have been carbon dated to the 2nd-4th century BCE. Just think about that. They weren’t exactly Jurassic, but the thought of producing dates from seeds at least 2,200 years old seems near miraculous.
It wasn’t a miracle, though; the trees owe their rebirth to careful thought, hard work and considerable persistence.
Could such near miracles happen in other areas? Some of us remember a time when people on opposite sides of the political aisle treated each other with respect and as honorable rivals. Instead of seeing each other as enemies, they believed the cross-pollination of compromise could produce workable legislation for all Americans.
It has become much more common to see people who have different perspectives as “us and them.” It’s tempting to shake our heads over the political signs in our neighbors’ yards and look askance at them with suspicion.
Twenty years ago, I was in the editorial trenches, constantly urging fundamentalist and moderate Baptists to respect each other and work together.
On an institutional level, at least, that didn’t happen; the allure of power won out.
I grieve at the thought of our entire country embroiled in perpetual turmoil. Will we always be as divided as we’ve become? There truly are some real hate-mongers out there, but could we entertain the thought that most people on either side are actually decent folk whose perspectives are shaped by many factors, not all of their making?
The task may seem far too large, and the opponents too deeply entrenched, but there is something we all can do. We can do some work in our own hearts. We can get out of our echo chambers and listen to our neighbors and treat them with kindness – even the ones who fly a different political flag than ours.
If we are ever to get past our polarization, the impetus won’t come from the top: it will come from the rooted hearts of people who have had enough of enmity and suspicion, and who believe in the power of love.
With thoughtful intentions, compassionate work and faithful persistence, the fruit of mutual respect and cooperation may yet grow in our land.
May it be so.