Jesus, fig trees and checking your car brakes

“Early in the morning, as he was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!”

Immediately the tree withered.”     – Matthew 21:18-22

Israel_Bethany_Stone_church_with_silver_domeThe excerpt is well known, the explanation less so.   Most religious researchers believe that Jesus was crucified probably on the 6th of April, 30 A.D.  Which means that when he met the above mentioned fig tree it was not meant to be in fruit anyway as it was long before summer.  However fig trees at that time produce taqsh, small hard, almond sized knobs on the plant which poor peasants were often forced to eat for lack of anything better.   If the tree has no such fig precursors it means that it will not bear fruit this season.  Jesus was not cursing the fig tree but simply announcing what any person who lived in those times would know.  After a long day walking, Jesus perhaps hoped to have a small snack, was disappointed, and thus pronounced the tree barren.

Google searches for “fig tree” are also, as expected seasonal.  From March through until September people are more interested in it either because they want to plant a fig tree, or take care of a fig tree.  A modern day Jesus could see the following pattern of seasonality in Google searches:

figly datachart seasonality of google searches for fig tree c 2015 figly

That green line is the amount of searches (U.S.) for “fig tree”.  Every year they spike from March to September.  But what is that blue line which follows them so closely?  It is the google searches for “brake caliper”!    In fact the correlation is extremely high at r=0.9069.  Similar in seasonality, yet not so exact in volume are searches for “paint code”, “oil filter”, “valve adjustment”, “oil drain” and “gear oil”.  It seems that as Americans come out of winter they have two things in mind:  fixing their car and tending to their fig trees!

Here is the full excerpt from the book “Hard Sayings of the Bible”, (Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce, Manfred Brauch)

“The problem is most satisfactorily cleared up in a discussion called “The Barren Fig Tree” published many years ago by W. M. Christie, a Church of Scotland minister in Palestine under the British mandatory regime. He pointed out first the time of year at which the incident is said to have occurred (if, as is probable, Jesus was crucified on April 6th, A.D. 30, the incident occurred during the first days of April). “Now,” wrote Christie, “the facts connected with the fig tree are these. Toward the end of March the leaves begin to appear, and in about a week the foliage coating is complete. Coincident with [this], and sometimes even before, there appears quite a crop of small knobs, not the real figs, but a kind of early forerunner.  They grow to the size of green almonds, in which condition they are eaten by peasants and others when hungry.

When they come to their own indefinite maturity they drop off.” These precursors of the true fig are called taqsh in
Palestinian Arabic. Their appearance is a harbinger of the fully formed appearance of the true fig some six weeks later.

So, as Mark says, the time for figs had not yet come. But if the leaves appear without any taqsh, that is a sign that
there will be no figs. Since Jesus found “nothing but leaves”—leaves without any taqsh—he knew that “it was an ab-
solutely hopeless, fruidess fig tree” and said as much. But if that is the true explanation of his words, why should anyone trouble to record the incident as though it had some special significance? Because it did have some special significance. As recorded by Mark, it is an acted parable with the same lesson as the spoken parable of the fruitess fig tree in Luke 13:6-9.

In that spoken parable a landowner came three years in succession expecting fruit from a fig tree on his property, and when year by year it proved to be fruidess, he told the man in charge of his vineyard to cut it down because it was using up the ground to no good purpose. In both the acted parable and the spoken parable it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the fig tree represents the city of Jerusalem, unresponsive to Jesus as he came to it with the message of God, and thereby incurring destruction. Elsewhere Luke records how Jesus wept over the city’s blindness to its true well-being and foretold its ruin “because you did not know the time of your visitation” (Lk 19:41-44 RSV). It is because the incident of the cursing of the fig tree was seen to convey the same lesson that Mark, followed by Matthew, recorded it.”


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