Manners & Customs: Olives and Olive Oil
Olives and Olive Oil in ancient Bible times
Abundance of Olive Trees
Olive and Fig Tree Culture
THE OLIVE TREE -
ABUNDANCE OF OLIVE TREES IN BIBLE LANDS. For centuries the olive tree has been growing in lands bordering on the Mediterranean Sea, but its growth in Israel has been quite abundant. Moses told Israel that Canaan was "a land of oil olive" (Deuteronomy 8:8). He also told them that they would acquire olive trees which they had not planted (Deuteronomy 6:11). From that day down to the present day, the growth of the olive tree, and the use of its products, have played an important part in the history of the land.
[Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
Anointing with the Alabaster Flask
The Bible mentions an alabaster flask or box or more accurately "an alabastron", a small contaner which was filled with costly spikenard (perfumed oil). Mary came to the house of Simon the leper to anoint Jesus by breaking the jar and pouring the spikenard on his head in Mark 14. In the ancient world one of the purposes for anointing the head was to show respect and honor to the person receiving it. Alabaster was a soft stone resembling marble, and many of these jars came from Egypt. Alabaster jars contained many interesting colors, some were translucent with veins of yellow, brown, and red. The alabaster jar usually contained olive oil, or a costly ointment or perfume. It had a long neck designed to restrict the flow and prevent waste. Mary broke the top in order to pour out the spikenard. [Life of Jesus]
Description of an Olive Tree
Characteristics of the olive tree. The young olive tree only bears olives after seven years of growth, and it is about fourteen years before the crop reaches its maturity. Because of the injurious method of harvesting the olives by using sticks to knock off the fruit, the trees only bear a full crop every other year. Some twenty gallons of oil are often derived from the olives of one tree. The berries are harvested in the month of October.
After the olive tree reaches its maturity, its fruitfulness lasts for many years. Its longevity is one of the remarkable characteristics of the tree. It lives and bears fruit for centuries. The old Olive tree is often seen to have several thrifty young shoots springing up all around it from its roots. It was this picture that the Psalmist had in mind when he wrote: "Thy children like olive plants round about thy table" (Psalm 128:3).
The olive tree thrives in Palestinian soil which has so many rocks in it. Thomson says of it: "It insinuates its roots into the crevices of this flinty marl, and draws from thence its stores of oil."
Doubtless it is to this that the song of Moses alludes: "He made him to suck honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock" (Deuteronomy 32:13).
To the Occidental, the olive tree with its dull grayish color of foliage, does not seem to be a particularly beautiful tree, but the Oriental sees in it many charms.
Writers of Scripture often speak of the beauty and attractiveness of the olive. Concerning Israel, the prophet Jeremiah said: "the Lord called thy name, A green olive tree, fair, and of goodly fruit" (Jeremiah 11:16). The prophet Hosea said, "His beauty shall be as the olive tree" (Hosea 14:6). And David asserted concerning himself: "I am like a green olive tree in the house of God" (Psalm 52:8).
Olive trees have a remarkable number of blossoms, many of which fall without ever maturing into fruit. Sometimes the breeze blows upon the tree and the falling blossoms look like a shower of snowflakes.
The Book of Job makes a comparisoto this characteristic of the olive blossoms: "And shall cast off his flower as the olive" (Job 15:33).
[Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
Harvesting the olive crop. The Arabs harvest their crop of olives in the Holy Land by beating the trees with sticks in order to knock off the fruit. Instead of hand picking them, they beat the limbs and thus cause the fruit to fall. The tender shoots that would ordinarily bear fruit the following year are thus apt to be damaged, so as to interfere greatly with the next year's crop. This is no doubt the reason for the trees yielding a good crop only every other year. The reason why this method is used is because their forefathers have always done it this way, and they don't believe in change of customs.
As a matter of fact, Moses indicates that the same method was used by Israel when he gave the law concerning leaving some of the olive berries for the poor: "When thou beatest thine olive tree thou shalt not go over the boughs again: it shall be for the stranger, or the fatherless, and for the widow" (Deuteronomy 24:20).
Isaiah also speaks of the obtaining of berries left by the olive harvesters: "Yet gleaning grapes shall be left in it, as the shaking of an olive tree, two or three berries in the top of the uppermost bough, four or five in the outmost fruitful branches thereof" (Isaiah 17:6). [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
Making Olive Oil
The process of making olive oil. Olive mills are used for making oil. There have been many of these instruments for the manufacture of oil located in Israel.
Oil-presses comprised, in addition to the vat, an upright stone with a large hole in it. In this hole a beam was inserted. This beam rested on the olives which were to be pressed, extending far beyond the receptacle containing the olives, and weights were hung on the end farthest from the stone.
The Garden of Gethsemane was in reality an olive orchard, and the word, "Gethsemane," means "Oil-Press." Another Bible-time way of making oil was to tread the olive berries with the feet. This primitive method was mentioned by the prophet Micah: "Thou shalt tread the olives, but thou shalt not anoint thee with oil" (Micah 6:15).
[Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
Olive in Easton's Bible Dictionary
the fruit of the olive-tree. This tree yielded oil which was
highly valued. The best oil was from olives that were
before being fully ripe, and then beaten or squeezed
24:20; Isa. 17:6; 24:13). It was called "beaten," or
(Ex. 27:20). There were also oil-presses, in which the
trodden out by the feet (Micah 6:15). James (3:12)
fruit "olive berries." The phrase "vineyards and
15:5, A.V.) should be simply "olive-yard," or "olive-
in the Revised Version. (See OIL -T0002774.)
Olive in Fausset's Bible Dictionary
Its foliage is the earliest mentioned (Genesis 8:11).
Tradition from Noah's days has ever made it symbolize peace.
It is the emblem of "fatness" in the oldest parable (Judges
9:8-9). Emblem of the godly (Psalm 52:5; Psalm 52:8), in
spirit constantly dwelling "in the house of God"; in
contrast to slave-like formalists now sojourning outwardly
in it for a time, but not abiding ever (John 8:34-35; Psalm
15:1; Psalm 23:6; Psalm 27:4-5; Psalm 36:8); the wicked and
antichrist shall be "rooted out of (God's) dwelling place,"
literally, 5 ('ohel). The Septuagint, Chaldee, Vulgate, and
Aben Ezra interpret 'ohel "the tabernacle" (2 Thessalonians
2:4; Daniel 11:44-45). The saint's children are "like olive
plants round about his table" (Psalm 128:3).
The old olive sends out young suckers which spring
up round the parent tree, and which in after ages, when the
parent's strength fails, shelter it on every side from the
blast. It is the characteristic tree of Judea on Roman
coins, Deuteronomy 8:8. Asher "dipped his foot in oil"
(Deuteronomy 33:24). Emblem of Judah's adoption of God by
grace (Jeremiah 11:16; Romans 11:17), also of joy and
prosperity. The Gentile church is the wild twig "engrafted
contrary to nature" on the original Jewish olive stock; it
marks supernatural virtue in the stock that it enables those
wild by nature to bear good fruit; ordinarily it is only a
superior scion that is grafted on an inferior. The two
witnesses for God (antitypes to Elijah and Moses, Zerubbabel
and Joshua, the civil ruler and the priest: Malachi 4:5-6;
Matthew 17:11; Acts 3:21; Judges 1:6) are "the two olive
trees," channels of the oil (the Holy Spirit in them)
feeding the church (Revelation 11:3-4; Zechariah 4:11-12).
The wood, fine grained, solid, and yellowish, was
used for the cherubim, doors, and posts (1 Kings 6:23; 1
Kings 6:31-33). The tree was shaken to get the remnant left
after the general gathering (by "beating," Deuteronomy
24:20), Isaiah 24:13; image of Israel's "remnant according
to the election of grace." The least breeze makes the
flowers fall; compare Job 15:33, "he shall cast off his
flower as the olive," i.e. the least blast sweeps away in a
moment the sinner's prosperity. The tree poetically is made
to cast off its own blossom, to mark that the sinner brings
on his own ruin (Isaiah 3:11; Jeremiah 6:19). It thrives
best in a sunny position. A rocky calcareous subsoil suits
it; compare "oil out of the flinty rock" (Deuteronomy
32:13). The trunk is knotty and gnarled, the bark smooth and
ash colored. Its growth is slow, but it lives very long. The
leaves are grey green, not deciduous, suggestive of
Olive in Naves Topical Bible
(A fruit tree)
-Branch of, brought by the dove to Noah's ark
-Common to the land of Canaan
Ex 23:11; De 6:11; 8:8
-Israelites commanded to cultivate in the land of promise
-Branches of, used for booths (huts)
-Precepts concerning gleaning the fruit of
De 24:20; Isa 17:6
-The cherubs made of the wood of
The wild, a figure of the Gentiles; the cultivated, of
Zec 4:2-12; Re 11:4
Oil extracted from, used as illuminating oil in the
Ex 39:37; Le 24:2; Zec 4:12
Olive in Smiths Bible Dictionary
The olive was among the most abundant and characteristic
vegetation of Judea. The olive tree grows freely almost
everywhere on the shores of the Mediterranean, but it was
peculiarly abundant in Israel. See De 6:11; 8:8; 28:40
Oliveyards are a matter of course in descriptions of the
country like vines and cornfields. Jud 15:5; 1Sa 8:14 The
kings had very extensive ones. 1Ch 27:28 Even now the is
very abundant in the country. Almost every village has its
olive grove. Certain districts may be specified where at
various times this tree been very luxuriant. The cultivation
of the olive tree had the closest connection with the
domestic life of the Israelites 2Ch 2:10 their trade, Eze
27:17; Ho 12:1 and even their Public ceremonies and
religious worship. In Solomon's temple the cherubim were "of
olive tree," 1Ki 6:23 as also the doors, vs. 1Ki 6:31,32 and
posts. ver. 1Ki 6:33 For the various uses of olive oil see
OIL. The wind was dreaded by the cultivator of the olive for
the least ruffling of a breeze is apt to cause the flowers
Job 15:33 It is needless to add that the locust was
a formidable enemy of the olive. It happened not
unfrequently that hopes were disappointed, and that "the
labor of the olive failed." Hab 3:17
As to the growth of the tree, it thrives best in
warm and sunny situations. It is of moderate height, with
knotty gnarled trunk and a smooth ash-colored bark. It grows
slowly, but lives to an immense age. Its look is singularly
indicative of tenacious vigor, and this is the force of what
is said in Scripture of its "greenness, as emblematic of
strength and prosperity. The leaves, too, are not deciduous.
Those who see olives for the first time are occasionally
disappointed by the dusty color of their foilage; but those
who are familiar with them find an inexpressible charm in
the rippling changes of their slender gray-green leaves.
(See Ruskin's "Stones of Venice," iii. 175-177.) The olive
furnishes the basis of one of Paul's allegories. Ro 11:16-25
The Gentiles are the "wild olive" grafted in upon the "good
olive," to which once the Jews belonged, and with which they
may again be incorporated, (The olive grows from 20 to 40
feet high. In general appearance it resembles the apple
tree; in leaves and sterns, the willow. The flowers are
white and appear in June, The fruit is like a plum in shape
and size, and at first is green, but gradually becomes
purple, and even black, with a hard stony kernel, and is
remarkable from the outer fleshy part being that in which
much oil is lodged, and not, as is usual, in the almond of
the seed. The fruit ripens from August to September. It is
sometimes eaten green, but its chief value is in its oil.
The wood is hard, fine beautifully veined, and is open used
for cabinet work. Olive trees were so abundant in Galilee
that at the siege of Jotapata by Vespasian the Roman army
were driven from the ascent of the walls by hot olive oil
poured upon them and scalding them underneath their armor. -
-Josephus, Wars, 3; 7:28. --ED.)
Olive Oil and Olives
Olives and olive oil. Some use is made of the pickled berry of the olive, but the bulk of the fruit is used to make oil. In the Orient, olive oil usually takes the place of butter, and is largely used in cooking meals. A survey of several Scriptures will indicate how important a food olive oil was considered to be. The widow who fed Elijah said to him: "I have not a cake, but an handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse" (I Kings 17:12). She had been depending largely on bread and oil for her food, but the supply of both was about gone. The miracle of Elijah was the multiplication of that supply, "And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD, which he spake by Elijah" (I Kings 17:16). The Meal Offering of the Mosaic law called for unleavened fine flour mingled with oil baked in a pan (Leviticus 2:5). And the prophet Ezekiel in reciting to Jerusalem all its past blessings from JEHOVAH said of her, "Thou didst eat fine flour, and honey, and oil" (Ezekiel 16:13). [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
Olive Oil in Bible Times
The wide use of olive oil in Bible lands. Olive oil was considered to be one of the great sources of wealth in the days of King Solomon (cf. I Kings 5:11; II Chronicles 2:10). Solomon gave to Hiram each year in return for services rendered by his men, among other things, twenty thousand baths of oil, one bath being about seven and one-half gallons.
The prophets Ezekiel and Hosea make mention of the exporting of oil to other lands (Ezekiel 27:17; Hosea 12:1). Oil has been used for a great variety of purposes in the Orient. It largely took the place of butter in eating, and for cooking purposes it was used in place of animal fat.
Ezekiel mentions three important items of diet of which oil is one, and flour and honey are the other two (Ezekiel 16:13). And olive oil was used almost exclusively for light in lamps. The most famous example of this is "the ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom" (Matthew 25:1). Also oil is used today in Bible lands in the manufacture of soap, and it is quite likely that it was so used in Bible days. And oil was often used for anointing the body.
Naomi told Ruth, "Wash thyself therefore, and anoint thee, and put thy raiment upon thee, and get thee down to the floor" (Ruth 3:3).
Then oil was many times used in various religious ceremonies. It formed a part of the meal offering (Leviticus 2:1). The prophet was anointed with oil when he took over his duties (I Kings 19:16). The priest was also anointed with oil when he took over his duties (Leviticus 8:12). And the king was anointed either by a prophet or by the priest (I Samuel 16:13; I Kings 1:34).
In New Testament times the sick were anointed for the healing of their bodies (Mark 6:13; James 5:14).
[Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
Olives Scripture - Judges 15:5
And when he had set the brands on fire, he let [them] go into
the standing corn of the Philistines, and burnt up both the
shocks, and also the standing corn, with the vineyards [and]
Olives Scripture - Luke 19:29
And it came to pass, when he was come nigh to Bethphage and
Bethany, at the mount called [the mount] of Olives, he sent
two of his disciples,
Olives Scripture - Luke 19:37
And when he was come nigh, even now at the descent of the
mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to
rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty
works that they had seen;
Olives Scripture - Luke 21:37
And in the day time he was teaching in the temple; and at
night he went out, and abode in the mount that is called [the
mount] of Olives.
Olives Scripture - Mark 11:1
And when they came nigh to Jerusalem, unto Bethphage and
Bethany, at the mount of Olives, he sendeth forth two of his
Olives Scripture - Mark 13:3
And as he sat upon the mount of Olives over against the
temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him
Olives Scripture - Matthew 21:1
And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to
Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two
Olives Scripture - Matthew 24:3
And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came
unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things
be? and what [shall be] the sign of thy coming, and of the end
of the world?
Olives Scripture - Matthew 26:30
And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount
Olives Scripture - Micah 6:15
Thou shalt sow, but thou shalt not reap; thou shalt tread the
olives, but thou shalt not anoint thee with oil; and sweet
wine, but shalt not drink wine.
Rams Horn to Carry Oil
Rams' horns. The horns of the rams are considered to be of great value. In many Western lands, growers of sheep have endeavored to develop a hornless breed, but in the East the horns are thought of as an important part of the animal. The ram's horn has been used chiefly as a vessel in which liquids have been carried. For carrying purposes a wooden plug is driven into the large end of the horn so as to close it, and sometimes it is covered with raw hide to hold it in place. The small part of the pointed end of the horn is cut off, and the opening closed with a stopper. The ram's horn was used in Bible times to carry oil.
Samuel was told to take his horn of oil and anoint David to be the future king (I Samuel 16:1). Solomon was anointed king by the oil in the horn of Zadok the priest (I Kings 1:39). Reference has already been made to the shepherd's use of oil with his sheep, and this was carried in a ram's horn.
[Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
Symbolism of Olives
The symbolic use of the olive. The olive tree has been thought of as a symbol of peace, ever since the dove sent out by Noah from the ark came back, and "Lo, in her mouth an olive leaf plucked off" (Genesis 8:11). Throughout the Bible, oil is often used symbolically of the HOLY SPIRIT. And when the Apostle John speaks of the "anointing which ye have received" (I John 2:27), he means by it the enduement with power of the HOLY SPIRIT. Also oil was considered a symbol of abundance (Deuteronomy 8:8), and a lack of it was a symbol of want (Joel 1:10). [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
Traveling with Food
Food taken by travelers. Travelers going a distance will carry food with them, which will include bread, parched grain, dried olives, dried figs, and dates. Most travelers in the East now, as in the days of JESUS, will not go any distance from home without taking barley bread or meal or parched grain sufficient to last for one or two days. When JESUS performed the miracle of feeding the four thousand, he said, "I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with me now three days, and have nothing to eat: and I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way" (Matthew 15:32). According to custom, the multitude would have a day or two's supply of food with them when they flocked to hear JESUS. But on the third day, seven loaves and a few small fish was all that was left. [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
Uses of Olives
Use of olives for eating. The natives of Bible lands have made large use of a form of dried olives. The pickled olive berry so much used in the Occident, is gradually being introduced by the returning Jews. It has been said that bread and olives are used in Syria today, much like porridge and mi1k are used in Scotland.
The workingman of the East usually has some olives in his bag when he leaves home for his daily work.
[Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
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