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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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OLIVE ( zayith , cf. Arab [Note: Arabic.] , zeit ‘oil,’ and zeitûn ‘olive tree’). This tree ( Olea europea ) is the first-named ‘king of the trees’ ( Judges 9:8-9 ), and is, in Palestine at any rate, by far the most important. The scantily covered terraced hillsides, the long rainless summer of blazing sunshine, and the heavy night moisture of late summer, afford climatic conditions which appear in a very special degree favourable to the olive. This has been so in all history: the children of Israel were to inherit ‘olive-yards’ which they planted not ( Joshua 24:13 , Deuteronomy 6:11 ), and the wide-spread remains of ruined terraces and olive-presses in every part of the land witness to the extent of olive culture that existed in the past. A large proportion of the fuel consumed to-day consists of the roots of ancient olive trees. In recent years this cultivation has been largely revived, and extensive groves of olives may be found in many parts, notably near Beit Jala on the Bethlehem road, and near Nâblus . The peculiar grey-green foliage with its silver sheen, and the wonderful twisted and often hollow trunks of the tree, are very characteristic of Palestine scenery. The OT writers admired the beauty of the olive (see Hosea 14:6 , Psalms 52:8; Psalms 128:3 , Jeremiah 11:16 ). In some parts, notably at Nâblus , a large proportion of the trees are invaded by parasitic mistletoe. The cultivation of the olive requires patience, and presupposes a certain degree of settlement and peace: perhaps for this reason it was the emblem of peace. Destruction of a harvest of cereals is a temporary loss, but when the vines and, still more, the olives are destroyed, the loss takes many years to make good ( Revelation 6:5-6 ).

The olive tree, grown from a slip taken from below the grafted branches of a selected fruitful olive, has to be grafted when three years old, but it does not bear fruit for some three or four years more, and not plentifully until it is about seventeen or eighteen years old; it may then, when well cared for, continue bearing for many years. The soil, however, must be carefully ploughed and manured every spring, and on the hillsides the water of the early rains must be conducted to the very roots by carefully arranged channels. When, after some years, the stem becomes too hollow from rotting of the wood, and the crop fails, it is sometimes cut sharp off at the root, and new shoots are allowed to spring up, which, after re-grafting, become a fruitful tree. It has been stated by Prof. Ramsay ( Expositor , Jan. and Feb. 1905) that it is a custom in Syria to graft a branch of wild olive into the stem of a cultivated tree (cf. Romans 11:17-24 ). How this can be of any benefit to the tree it is difficult to see. Nor can the present writer, after careful inquiries all over Palestine, find any knowledge of such a custom. Cf. art. Grafting.

The wild olive is a kind of reversion to the primitive plant such as occurs also with the fig and the almond and it takes place whenever the growth of the olive is neglected. Thus the little shoots which grow around the main trunk (perhaps the origin of Psalms 128:3 ) are of the wild variety, and also those growing from the self-sown drupe. According to the fellahîn of Galilee, the drupe germinates in the soil only after passing through the alimentary canal of the hooded crow.

In most neglected olive groves numerous little bushes of the ‘wild olive’ may be seen, which, though very unlike the cultivated tree having a shorter, smaller, and greener leaf and a stirrer, more prickly stem are nevertheless derived from it. As a rule the wild olive is but a shrub, but it may grow into a tree and have small but useless ‘berries.’ Where groves of wild olives are found in Palestine, they are probably always the descendants of cultivated trees long ago destroyed.

The young wild olive trees, scattered over the mountains in Galilee, are gathered by the fellahîn and sold for olive plantations. Such plants are grafted three years after transplantation, and always in the late spring or early summer.

The ‘ olive berries ’ ( James 3:12 AV [Note: Authorized Version.] ) ripen in the autumn, and are harvested in November or December. They are beaten from the trees with a long pole ( Deuteronomy 24:20 ) and collected in baskets. Olives are eaten pickled in hrine, either when green and unripe or when soft and black. They are universally eaten by the fellahîn with bread sometimes the oil is eaten instead, much as butter is used in our home lands. The oil is also used extensively for making soup, for frying meat, and for illumination. See Oil.

E. W. G. Masterman.

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Olive'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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