I've been pondering this question for a while. With Easter right around the corner, I figured this is the perfect time to ask. See these verses:

Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
Matthew 21:8-9 (ESV)

The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”
John 12:12-13 (ESV)

Why did the people lay palm tree branches on the road that Jesus entered on? Did this have a special significance in Jewish culture at the time?

2 Answers 2


The tradition of palm branches on Palm Sunday actually originates with the Jewish festival of Sukkoth, also called the Festival of the Tabernacles or Booths, which was probably the most popular holiday among the Jews in the first century. In the observance of Sukkoth, worshippers processed through Jerusalem and in the Temple, waving in their right hands something called a lulab, which was a bunch of leafy branches made of willow, myrtle and palm. As they waved these branches in that procession, the worshippers recited words from Psalm 118, the psalm normally used at Sukkoth. Among these words were "Save us, we beseech you, O Lord." Save us in Hebrew is hosianna or hosanna. This is typically followed by “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. (Ps 118:25–6).”

John Shelby Spong says, in Jesus for the NonReligious, page 153, says that Mark transferred the Sukkoth traditions from autumn to the Passover season and adapted them to the Palm Sunday story. Mark 11:8–9 tells us:

Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. Those preceding him as well as those following kept crying out: "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

The author of Matthew omitted the word 'leafy', perhaps a sign that he was aware that this was the wrong season for leafy branches (excepts palms), and the King James Bible also omits the word in Mark's Gospel. Which brings us to John's Gospel. Its author aware that just before the Passover was too early for the leafy branches of Sukkoth, John 12:12–13 clearly states that they cut down palm branches, creating the basis for the Palm Sunday tradition.

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    +1 @Dick Harfield Interestingly up to 800 Ad/CE people of upper Middle East received persons of authority with palm branches.Even today people in some parts of Middle East lay fresh palm branches on the graves of their loved one!
    – nasraya
    Commented Apr 3, 2015 at 9:18
  • +1 Great answer. Am I mistaken, though, in thinking that your answer suggests that Mark was wrong, in some way? If so, is there any reason to believe that he would be any less aware of the growing seasons than any of the other Gospel writers? Commented Apr 3, 2015 at 14:13
  • @StevenDoggart The (anonymous) author of Mark was probably the most accomplished author of the first century and was well aware of the seasons. By riding a donkey into Jerusalem to the adoration of the crowds, Jesus was fulfilling some OT prophecies. Commented Apr 3, 2015 at 20:45
  • An anonymous poster suggested that the correct page number in Spong's book is actually 153, not 113. From the TOC it looks like that may be correct, so I'm editing, but feel free to revert if I'm incorrect. Thanks! Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 20:55

According to the Babylon Talmud the walls of the second temple were carved throughout with cherubim, palms, and open-faced flowers (inspired by Ezekiel's vision), and overlaid with gold. To the Jews the palms are a celebratory symbol that God, the victorious one, tabernacles with humanity. It wasn't the season for Sukkot, but those recognizing Jesus as messiah appropriately welcomed him with the same understanding and celebration. The culture at large recognized it like we would associate fireworks with Independence Day. From our perspective it's a little easier to comprehend... Jesus was not on earth to stay and reign (tabernacle) with humanity yet. Passover (crucifixion), First Fruits (reserrection), and Shavout (Pentecost) have been fulfilled, and Jesus will fulfill the feast of Trumpets and Sukkot when he returns for his bride.

Edit: 1 Kings says they were also carved throughout Solomon's temple.

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    Welcome to Christianity.SE. For a quick overview, please take the Site Tour. Thanks for offering an interesting answer. Can you provide some references or links to places in the Talmud and elsewhere where these things are said? If so, it would greatly strengthen your answer. See: What makes a good supported answer? Meanwhile, I hope you'll stick around and browse some of the other questions and answers here. Commented May 18, 2016 at 10:01

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