A SECULAR RESURRECTION
Masada, Israel, occupies the entire top of an isolated mesa near the southwest coast of the Dead Sea. The rhomboid-shaped mountain towers 1,424 feet above the level of the Dead Sea. It has a summit area of about 18 acres. Herod the Great, who was king of Judea under Roman rule and reigned 37-4 BC, made it a royal citadel. His constructions included two ornate palaces, defensive towers, heavy walls, and aqueducts that brought water to cisterns holding nearly 200,000 gallons.
Following the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Second Temple (AD 70), the Masada garrison—the last remnant of Jewish rule in Palestine—refused to surrender and was besieged by a Roman Legion under Flavius Silva. Masada’s unequaled defensive site baffled even the Romans’ highly developed siegecraft for a time. It took the Roman army of almost 15,000, fighting a defending force of less than 1,000, including women and children, almost two years to subdue the fortress.
The besiegers built a sloping ramp of earth and stones to bring the soldiers within reach of the stronghold, which fell only after the Romans created a breach in the defenders’ walls. The Zealots, however, preferred death to enslavement, and the conquerors found that the defenders had taken their own lives. Only two women and five children—who had hidden in a water conduit—survived to tell the tale.
Herod the Great was the Herod who was ruling at the time of Jesus’ birth and who ordered the massacre of the Innocents. He adorned most of his cities, especially Jerusalem and he undoubtedly ordered that date palms be planted from one end of Palestine to the other. Somewhere near Masada, one of those date palms— about the time that Christ was born or probably about the time the Masada garrison chose death instead of surrender—dropped a fertile date that was harvested and stored. It remained stored for two thousand years during which time much happened. Among the happenings were:
Jesus was born in Bethlehem in a manger to Mary and Joseph, not many years after Julius Caesar was assassinated. Jesus himself was crucified some thirty years later. In 306 Constantine became Emperor of Rome, the first Emperor to have acknowledged Jesus as the Son of God. In 337 he was baptized on his death-bed. In 410 the Roman Empire shuddered as the Visigoths under Alaric captured Rome.
In 570 Muhammad was born and he died in 632. During his lifetime he established a religion and set about spreading it while conquering a good part of his world. His death resulted in a schism, a schism that is alive today causing the killing of Shiites by Sunnis and Sunnis by Shiites. His successors carried Islam to the gates of Paris where Charles Martel in 732 defeated the Moslems at Poitiers.
The palm date was still dormant in 1066 when William the Conqueror defeated Harold Harefoot at Hastings, which changed the world, particularly the English language. There is now in the English language a French word and an equivalent Anglo-Saxon word for every thing and every thought and concept.
In 1453 the Ottoman Turks under Muhammad II captured Constantinople, a city named after the first Christian Roman Emperor. Just twenty years later Copernicus was born, a birth that was to revolutionize the way man saw himself. Before Copernicus earth was the center of the universe and on it resided God’s children. After Copernicus humankind was a species among many species spinning in space among an infinity of other celestial bodies.
In 1492 Columbus discovered America. 1564 Shakespeare was born. In 1643 Louis XIV began a reign of 72 years. In 1789 the Bastille was stormed and the French Revolution began. In 1815, Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo. In 1865 General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House, ending the Civil War. Life went on.
On January 25, 2005, a seed discovered in the desert fortress of Masada, which by Carbon dating was shown to be 2,000 years old, was planted in sterile soil. On March 3, 2005, the soil cracked and a shoot later appeared. It was a fledgling date palm. “The first leaves were discolored and white, but those that grew later were a normal green. Today the seedling is about three feet high, with a short inner shoot and delicate fronds.”
From the days of Herod the Great to the days of George the Weak, for two thousand years, the embryo in that date seed lay alive waiting for a confluence of soil, water and sun in order to flower and flourish. Here is how it happened.
On a sunny day under Herod’s reign a flower burst open on the date palm and pollen touched the stigma producing a pregnant ovary. The pregnant ovary remained alive and fertile for twenty centuries without sustenance or company or anything but the hope of conditions that would allow it to flower. Then the conditions came and it flowered. A date palm in limbo for eons finally stretched its legs, raised its arms and sat up, so to speak, after a Sleep of Hundreds of Generations.
Christ lay in his tomb for a day and a night before he rose. The date seed lay in its tomb two thousand years before its secular resurrection. The date’s resurrection is not clouded with mystery and question as is Christ’s. The miracle of the date is a fact. Nature has out-miracled religion.
(Jane Goodall, primatologist, reports in SIERRA, May/June 2013, that the date seed and tree described herein thrived and is thriving. It is known as Methuselah.)