The almond tree (Prunus dulcis) is native to North Africa and Asia Minor. A close relative to the peach, almonds are often the first tree to bloom each spring, some bursting forth in late winter. The tree features prominently in several stories from the Bible, at least one Greek myth, and as a crop forecaster for the Roman poet Virgil.
The Hebrew word for almond is "shaked," meaning wakeful or hastening. As an early bloomer, the tree is a reminder of the watchful eye of God, according to the article "Trees in the Biblical Pages," published by the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land. Writing in "Georgics," Virgil listed a heavy blooming almond tree followed by plentiful fruit as an "ancient maxim" harbinger of a bountiful wheat harvest, "and a great threshing will follow with great heat."
An almond rod was a prominent feature in deciding the successor to Moses. In Numbers 17, the Lord told Moses to gather a rod from each of the 12 households of Israel, write a name on each rod, place the rods in a holy place, and leave them overnight. In the morning, only Aaron's almond rod of the house of Levi was a living branch with buds, blossoms and ripe almonds. This symbolised Aaron as chosen to the priesthood. The presence of blossoms and ripe almonds on a single branch at the same time has been interpreted to mean an honour to Aaron (blossoms) and a blessing for Israel (ripe almonds).
In Ecclesiastes 12:5, almond tree blossoms are symbolic of how fast old age approaches. Almond tree blossoms burst out as reddish-pink flowers, changing to snowy white before they fall. The white petals represent white hair. Another interpretation of the verse sees the almond tree as a symbol of watchfulness that accompanies old age.
One of the most enduring and prolific symbolic uses of part of the almond tree is found on the Hebrew menorah, or candelabra. In Exodus 25:31-40, God instructs Moses to make a lampstand. Seven lamp bowls shaped like almond blossoms hold the lamp oil. The blossoms are designed so the light shines in front of the lampstand.
In Greek mythology, Phyllis, the queen of Thrace, thinks her lover has abandoned her. Rather than leaving her, he is slow to return from a battle but on his way back to Thrace. Despondent over her apparent loss, Phyllis commits suicide. The gods change her into an almond tree. When her lover returns, he embraces the almond tree. It bursts into bloom, a symbol of hope and constancy.
In addition to Biblical references, Greek mythology and Roman crop yield indicators, the almond is also represented in dream interpretation. Dreaming of an almond represents a journey. A prosperous journey is denoted by sweet almonds. Bitter almonds suggest the journey will carry misfortune.
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