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It Pays to Know Your Figs

More than a few readers of scripture have been troubled by Jesus’ cursing of the figless tree recorded in Mark 11:12-14.  Jesus has been accused of being ill-tempered and irrational for cursing a tree because it had not produced any fruit even though it was not the season for fruit.  Is it wise, though, to be so energetically critical of the Christ?

According to F. F. Bruce, such criticism is the product of insufficient acquaintance with fig trees.  In his The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?, Bruce points out that, “When the fig leaves appear about the end of March they are accompanied by a crop of small knobs, called taqsh by the Arabs, a sort of forerunner of the real figs.” (73).  Peasants and others hungry folks would eat these taqsh, which would drop off prior to the growth of the full fig.  The important point for understanding Jesus’ curse of the tree is that when taqsh do not appear along with the leaves, there will be no figs from that tree that year.  Thus, Jesus was not looking for the full fig but the taqsh.  And when he did not find it, he knew the tree would bear no fruit.  As Bruce says, the tree was both “fruitless and hopeless.” 

As it turns out, both Jesus and Mark knew a bit more about Palestinian fig trees than do many modern day commentators, which serves as a warning to those who think they know better than Jesus.

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