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The Botany Behind the Crown of Thorns

by aquinasandmore on March 6, 2009

Are you interested in knowing more about the material source for Christ's Crown of Thorns? What was the Crown of Thorns made of? Where did it come from?

Fascinating stuff . . .

A tropical evergreen tree of Sudanese origin, the Christ's Thorn Jujube (Latin: Ziziphus spina-christi) today ranges from the Fertile Crescent to south Asia. The spiny tree grows in Israel in all valleys and lowlands, and usually is confined to low elevations. The tree and its parts appear to have been in industrial use during the time of the Pharoahs (for carpentry), diet, and in medicine. The fruits were sometimes made into bread, which may also have been used for dressings when warm. Egyptian peasants made a similar bread as late as the beginning of the 20 th century.

The Christ's Thorn Jujube has been mentioned in numerous classical sources. The Greek botanist, Theophrastus (4th-3rd centuries BC) wrote, "The (Egyptian) 'Christ Thorn' is more shrubby than the lotos (might be lotus); it has a leaf like the tree of the same name of our country, but the fruit is different, for it is not flat, but round and red, and in size as large as the fruit of the prickly cedar or a little larger; it has a stone which is not eaten with the fruit, as in the case of the pomegranate, but the fruit is sweet, and, if one pours wine over it, they say that it becomes sweeter and that it makes the wine sweeter". Pliny (1st century AD) mentions the tree in comparison with related species: "The region of Cryonic ranks the lotus below its own Christ-thorn tree."

This common species is frequently mentioned in Christian as well as Muslim traditions, and was also recorded by pilgrims who have visited the Holy Land throughout the ages. It can therefore be said that this species is "well soaked" in the local folklore as well as the ethno-medicine of almost all the peoples living in the Land of Israel.

Botanical experts in the Sacred Scriptures are constantly engaged in a great debate about what constitutes the "bramble" or "thorns" (Judges 9; 14-15), "thorns" (Matthew 27:27-29) and the "crown of thorn" (John 19:5). Based on venerable local traditions and many sources from antiquity, today these citations are commonly deemed to refer to Z. spina-christi, the Christ Thorn Jujube.

We recently started carrying rosaries and rosary bracelets which are made from the spiny Jujube tree. Perhaps they can offer you some aid in reflection and meditation on the Passion of Our Lord, not just during this holy season of Lent, but for as long as you may have them. To view our complete selection of Jujube rosaries, please click here.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

thomas starnes March 20, 2014 at 10:09 am

Can the crown of thorns be refined to produce an oil for medicinal use?

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Ian March 20, 2014 at 8:52 pm

I don’t think so. Typically the branches are dry.

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