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By Rinat Harash

NEOT KEDUMIM, Israel (Reuters) – As the sun beats down on the bare hillsides around Jerusalem, a tree of the type believed to have provided the crown of thorns in the biblical accounts of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion stands untouched, bearing abundant fruit and its foliage green.

As pilgrims prepare to descend on the city for Easter to commemorate the Christian events, Israeli scientists are researching climate change in the surrounding hills and studying the Ziziphus spina-Christi, commonly known as the Christ thorn jujube.

They consider it a “pioneer species” in the fight against desertification because of its resilience to rising temperatures and drought. It can draw water from the depths and retains the ability to photosynthesize even when exposed to high temperatures and sunlight.

“It’s one of the few species we can plant on these slopes where there is nothing yet,” says Shabtai Cohen of Israel’s Volcani Agricultural Research Centre, who has worked with France’s National Institute for Agricultural Research and researchers at the Hebrew University of Israel.

“We know of perhaps only one or two other species that can do this.”

Various plants have been suggested as the origin of the crown of thorns that, according to the New Testament, was placed on Christ’s head prior to the crucifixion, but no one knows for sure. However, the consensus among Christian scholars tends toward Ziziphus Spina-Christi.

Just as the crown is associated with suffering and death and subsequent resurrection, researchers hope that the tree, which provides food for bees and insects, can help sustain life in areas threatened by deadly heat.

“Studying its properties and characteristics will help us breed the species we want in the future,” Cohen said.

(Edited by Stephen Farrell and John Stonestreet)

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