The Seven Species

Seven plants of the field and vine, with which the Land of Israel is blessed, are elaborated upon in the Book of Deuteronomy (8:8): “A land of wheat and barley, and vines and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of olive oil and honey.” Ripened yields of the seven species were brought to the Temple in Jerusalem. These crops and fruits frequently served ancient Jewish art as decorative motifs in synagogues and on everyday objects, such as coins, seals, rings, lamps, jewelry, glass vessels, and more.

Barley, Wheat, Vine, Fig, Pomegranate, Olive, Date

The Vine

The Land of Israel has always been known for its vineyards and their products. The vine symbolized the fertility of the land, and the people of Israel were likened to a vine planted by God. The vine, the cluster, the leaves, and the tendrils were frequent patterns of decoration. Grapes symbolized happiness and eternal life, and they decorated Maccabean coins, Bar-Kochba coins, and oil lamps. The ornamentation was meant to recall the Holy Temple, in which Herod affixed a vine of gold to the entrance to the Holy of Holies. The vine pattern decorates ancient synagogues, coffins, and other objects.

Bronze oil lamp handle in the shape of a vine leaf
Mishnaic (Late Roman) period

The Pomegranate

The fruit of the pomegranate, juicy and full of seeds, was a common symbol of human, animal, and vegetable fertility. Accordingly ritual items, such as jars, pendants, scepters, and votive objects were designed in the shape of the pomegranate. Ornaments in the shape of this fruit decorated the hems of the garments of the High Priest. Copper pomegranates decorated Yachin and Boaz - the columns that were placed in the Temple's façade.

Vessel shaped like a pomegranate
Late Israelite (Iron) period

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The Fig

In Jewish sources, the fig represents a life of tranquility and quiet: “And every man sat under his vine and under his fig tree and was not afraid” (Micah 4:4). In the Bible, many allegories and images connect the fig with the people of Israel; its fruit is one of the fruits representing the yield of the land. Following Jewish tradition, which identifies the tree of knowledge as the fig tree, the fig is also related to the Torah.

Limestone fragment depicting fig leaves,
from the synagogue at Capharnaum, 4th-6th Centuries CE

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The Olive

The evergreen olive, which is strongly connected with the Land of Israel, its original home, was a metaphor for beauty, fertility, and strength, as well as a symbol of peace and hope, wisdom and happiness. The olive is mentioned many times in Jewish sources; it was the prime export of the Land of Israel and throughout the generations, its fruit and oil served the residents of the land in many different ways.

Decorated shard depicting an
olive branch (upper row)
a vine branch (middle row)
and a pomegranate branch (lower row)
Mishnaic (Late Roman) Period

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The Date

Dates, among the most ancient fruit trees in the Land of Israel, had a central function in the economic life of the inhabitants of the region. The branches of the date symbolize the abundant yield of the land, as well as the wandering of the Israelites in the desert, by virtue of the fact that the "lulav" (palm frond) is one of the four species servicing the holiday of Sukkot (Tabernacles). Braid-like engravings of date tree branches were among the wall decorations in the Temple of Solomon. The date was the inspiration for the design of column capitals in the Late Israelite (Iron) period; known as the "‘palmate capital," this design decorated palaces and public structures.

Glass bottle
in the shape of a date, 2nd-3rd Centuries CE

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Wheat and Barley

In ancient times, grain constituted a principal component of the human diet. This fact, in addition to the phenomenon of the sprouting of dry grain seeds in the ground, made it a symbol of agricultural plenty and rebirth. Decorations in the form of stalks of grain were frequent in Jewish art in the period of the Jewish wars against Rome, as they expressed hope and national rebirth.

Gnostic black slate gem,
depicting a figure reaping barley,
Talmudic (Byzantine) Period

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