The Olive Tree in Biblical History

The Olive Tree in Biblical History
Olives long played a role in people’s life in the Holy Land during Biblical times. The trees spread from Crete to Palestine and then to surrounding areas in the region. Olive pits were found in ancient archaeological sites that date to 4300-3300 B.C.E. and the fourth and third millennium.

The olive was one of the species that the ancient Jews grew in the Holy Land. The trees grew on the hills of Galilee and Samaria. In the Old Testament, the olives were one of the fruits in the land of Canaan that were promised by God to the ancient Hebrews.

The olive tree, olive oil, or the fruits are mentioned at least thirty times in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. According to the former, Noah released a dove after the flood. The bird returned to the Ark with an olive branch in its beak, which was interpreted as a sign that the water had receded and it was now safe to leave the Ark.

In the Bible, Jeremiah compared Israel to “a green olive tree, fair, and of goodly fruit.” Olive trees were so important to the land of Israel that in King David’s time guards watched over the trees and warehouses where the precious oil was stored.

Sometimes, the archangel Gabriel was shown with an olive branch instead of the usual white lily. Such depictions were most commonly seen in paintings. This occurred most commonly in Europe.

The olive tree is a very suitable species for Biblical gardens. Several places or events mentioned in the Bible were named for olives. These include the Garden of Gethsemane, which can be translated as ‘garden of the oil press.’ According to the Bible, Jesus gave his famous Sermon on the Mount at the Mount of Olives.

Olive fruits and olive oil served as offerings and tithes in the tabernacle and later in the services at the temple. These were one of the offerings that the Jews made at harvest time. The oil was used to anoint the Jewish kings and priests as well as special guests and for ceremonial cleansing. Olive oil was also used for lighting the menorah because that was the method advocated by God in the Bible. The oil was also used as medicine. In the present day, the olive branch appears in the national emblem of Israel.

In Biblical times, olive oil was exported from the Holy Land to various places, such as Egypt and Canaan. King Solomon bartered olive oil for cedars from King Hiram of Tyre. In the New Testament, olive oil was used as a form of payment in lieu of currency.

One method the Jews used to crush and press the stone involved a stone that rotated over a stone basin. The oil press was wooden. The crushed olives were placed in porous baskets and pressed with a very large wooden screw. A stone basin placed below the press caught the oil as it drained from the pressed olives.

Pliny described the olive fruits produced in the Holy Land as being superior, smaller sized fruits that yielded a high oil content. Their flesh was described as being less meaty in comparison to those found in Egypt.

When an olive tree died in the Holy Land, the wood had many uses. Historically, this was used for part of the Jewish temple.

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