IV -- Pilgrimage
30 And he said, How shall we
liken the kingdom of God? or in what parable shall we set it forth?
31 It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown
upon the earth, though it be less than all the seeds that are upon the
32 yet when it is sown,
groweth up, and becometh greater than all the herbs, and putteth out
great branches; so that the birds of the heaven can lodge under the
33 And with many such parables spake he the word unto them, as
they were able to hear it;
34 and without a parable
spake he not unto them: but privately to his own disciples he expounded
31 He told them another
parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took
and planted in his field.
32 Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it
grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that
the birds of the air come and perch in its branches."
Here the mustard seed is described as an herb or garden plant. Its
height was great and in Matthew compared to a tree. I found one
growing above ten feet and it was not likely the tallest mustard that
ever grew. A taller one was even more like a tree than a lowly
herb low to the ground. The truth of the parable is that though
faith might be too small to see, it might produce miracles if it will
grow, then its works will be seen.
Jordan River Delta Plain, below Bethsaida April 2008
Having read few accounts of very tall mustard plants in early books I
traveled to Israel praying that
I might see the giant mustard. I have seen them flowering as early as
March, yet they typically reached maximum height around Lake Tiberias (Sea of
Galilee/Yam Chinnereth) in April. I have tasted both the seeds and
the leaves of the plant and have verified it is a species of the mustard
family, a short pod black mustard. The seed is black. The
pod typically contained 1-3 seeds.
I spent vacation time roaming through Israel by car and on foot.
One day I was driving in the Golan above the eastern shore of Lake
Tiberias and found mustard plants in a thick group; some over eight feet
tall. I knew it was thick enough to provide cover for birds from
their enemies the hawks and the owls. Years later I traveled again
and found the tall type of mustard in the Jordan Delta not the great
height of trees, but of a shape similar to a tree with sturdy branches.
The same day I found a ten foot mustard shoot along the road from
Bethsaida to the Golan within a few kilometers of Bethsaida. The
stands of mustard are very dense in places and a natural place for the
chukar partridges to dwell. The partridges were quite common and
walked and ran along the ground in coveys. When startled they
either ran for cover or took to the air.
The Talmud described use of mustard for sauce, but not too much at
once as it was bitter. There was wild and domesticated mustard in
those days. The Jews were not allowed to mix their fields with two
types of seeds, i.e. wheat and cucumbers. They were supposed to
set aside a separate plot for each crop defined by borders. The
wild and domestic mustard were considered two different types of seeds.
In the summer the mustard was in dry brittle seed pods and I sampled it
in various places across Israel. The seeds were not uniform in
flavor. This mustard plant grew along the coastal plain north of
the Ben Gurion Airport region and in Galilee north from the lake, up the
Jordan Valley, all the way to the Lebanese border and up to the sides of
Mt. Hermon as far as the upper villages. Mustard grew very
quickly; this type of mustard was not to be shaded out by other annuals.
It was soon ten feet tall. Nothing stopped it. Its leaves
for salad, its seeds were heavy with vegetable oil. The long
shoots may have been used to thatch roofs in Talmudic times as they may
have grown in excess of ten feet in some places. The field birds
sought its cover.
April 6, 2008 at the side of Rte. 888 above Bethsaida --
This year the mustard reached a peak height in early April near the Sea of
Galilee. The end of the rainy season and onset of high temperatures
determined when the mustard stopped growing, died, and started to dry
The Land and the Book, William Thomson, 1882, New York
The land between the ford (Jordan River near the Zarqa/Jabbok Brook) and the
bridge is so thickly overgrown with bushes as to quite conceal the ruins, and
vegetation grows rank about them, especially the wild mustard. With the
help of my guide, I uprooted a veritable mustard-tree which was more than twelve
feet high. In the presence of such stout bushes, which overtop all the
surrounding "herbs," one feels that there was no exaggeration in the parable
about the "mustard seed:" "Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but
when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that
the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof."
A description of a place near Lake Huleh in Galilee: "The thistles are
higher than our heads even on horseback, and so thorny that the horses hesitate
to pass through them. Wild mustard grows equally tall; and I saw little
birds, mostly finches, 'lodge in the branches thereof.'"
The Natural History of the Bible, H.B. Tristram, 1880, London
The Common Mustard of Palestine is Sinapis nigra of the order Cruciferae, the
Black Mustard, which is found abundantly in a wild state, and is also cultivated
in the gardens for its seed. It is the same as our own Mustard, but grows
especially in the richer soils of the Jordan Valley to a much greater size than
in this country. We noticed its great height on the banks of the Jordan as
have several other travelers; and Dr. Thomson remarks that in the plain of Acre
he has seen it as tall as a horse and its rider...A difficulty has been raised
against any Sinapis being the mustard of the parable, because it is called; 'a
tree' and 'a great tree,' in the branches of which the fowls of the air lodge.
But, in the first place, we must remember that the expression is a proverbial
Oriental figure, in which literal exactitude is not to be looked for; and at the
same time the Mustard is called a tree, it is expressly stated to be a 'herb,' a
'garden herb' and in comparison with the other herbs of the garden which it so
much surpasses in size, it is alone called a 'tree,' though with respect to
trees properly so termed it could not be one at all. Again, we are told
that "the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof." This
does not mean, nor is there the slightest ground for supposing it to mean that
the birds build their nest in it, but simply that they lodge or perch there, and
settle in the branches of it; as the goldfinches and linnets do in flocks, for
the sake of the seed, of which they are very fond. The Greek word merely
means 'to settle' or 'rest upon' for a longer or shorter time.
The Holy Land and the Bible, Geikie, Cassel &
In the description of Magdala in the NW corner of the Lake
Tiberias shore, the author described a scene:
"The houses, or
huts of which there are not more than a dozen altogether, are built of mud and
stone, and are of one story and flat roofed, with no light except from the door;
a rough pillar of mud and stone in the one room holds up the ceiling of reeds
and branches, and two levels in the mud floor mark the respective bounds of man
and beast; for fowls, goats, and perhaps an ass, or some other creature, share
the premises with the family. Some unspeakably dirty, almost naked children
followed us about. The ground was rank with brambles, wild mustard, coarse
The Holy Land in the Light of Recent Surveys and
Explorations, Edited by H. B. Waterman, 1895, Chicago (after two visits to
"This plant grows on the rich plain of Accho (Israel) as
tall as the horse and his rider. Plants of much lower stature would afford
shelter to the birds of the air."
No matter how many miles one must travel, no matter how far off one
has wandered, if one calls on God's name with knowledge of the teachings
of Christ and repentance in mind, one might get directions. The
kingdom of God is like the small seed that seemed to have little chance;
until it took the form of something much greater than what it was
And Jesus rebuked him; and
the demon went out of him: and the boy was cured from that hour.
Then came the disciples to
Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast it out?
And he saith unto
them, Because of your little faith: for verily I say unto you, If ye
have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain,
Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be
impossible unto you.
But this kind goeth not out save by prayer and fasting.
Cicero (106-43 BC): "Faith makes good on its
Churches of the Annunciation
Latin Tradition -- Mount of Precipitation
Nazareth Aerial View
Museum of the Basilica
Hot Springs at Tiberias
Stone Water Jars at Capernaum
A 1909 Galilee Fishing Description
The Giant Mustard Plant
Kursi and the
Jar of Ointment