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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament
OIL (שָׁמֶן, ἔλαιον), by which we are to understand olive oil, was from the very earliest times one of the main products of Palestine, for already in days prior to the Hebrew settlement, Canaan was ‘a land of oil olives’ (Deuteronomy 8:8). The importance of this valuable commodity cannot easily be overestimated. It afforded light (Matthew 25:3) and nourishment (1 Kings 17:12) to the household; it was valued for its healing and medicinal virtues (Is 1:6 Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 , Luke 10:34); it had its place in the Hebrew ritual (Exodus 29:40, Leviticus 2:1); and it was an important article of commerce (2 Kings 4:7, Luke 16:6).
The oil was obtained by subjecting the berries of the olive-tree to pressure. The earliest method of expression seems to have been that of treading the olives with the feet, to which allusion is made in Micah 6:15, and perhaps also in Deuteronomy 33:24 This process is unknown in modern times (Thomson, LB [Note: The Land and the Book.] pp. 207, 339). Van-Lennep, however, states that the pulp from the olive-press is still ‘trodden with the bare feet of women and girls’ (Bible Lands, p. 130). At what period this primitive method was abandoned, and made way for more thorough processes, we do not know. The OT has no references that are clear enough to guide us: those that occur (e.g. Job 24:11; Job 29:6) are vague and general, and in none of them is the oil-press specifically mentioned. But from the Mishna (Menâhôth viii. 14) we learn that the processes commonly employed were bruising in a mortar, find crushing in the oil-press and the oil-mill, these processes being consecutive, not alternative.
The quality of the oil depended partly on the time at which the olives were gathered, and partly on the mode of crushing. The best quality was that yielded by berries gathered before they became black (as they do when fully ripe), and pounded in a mortar. Of this kind was ‘beaten oil’ (Exodus 27:20; Exodus 29:40, Leviticus 24:2, Numbers 28:5). This first quality of oil was got by putting the pulp from the mortar into wicker baskets, through which the strained liquid ran into receptacles placed beneath. A second and a third quality were obtained by further crushing of the pulp in the oil-press, and then in the oil-mill.
In the NT allusions to oil are not very frequent; those occurring in the Gospels have reference to its use:—(1) As an illuminant (Matthew 25:3-4; Matthew 25:8). The lamps in common use were of earthenware, and small in size (see Lamp). When they had to be kept burning for any considerable period, it was necessary to replenish them with oil from time to time. (2) Medicinally (Luke 10:34, Mark 6:13, cf. James 5:14). The healing virtues of oil were highly esteemed by the Jews, and it was much employed by them and by other ancient nations. It was applied, e.g., to wounds (Isaiah 1:6 Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ) to soothe their pain and to hasten the process of healing. A similar usage is found in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:34). In this instance, wine as well as oil was employed, the added wine imparting to the mixture an antiseptic quality (cf, Pliny, HN xxxi. 47; Talm. [Note: Talmud.] Shabbâth xiv. 4). Oil-baths were sometimes used, as in the case of Herod the Great (Josephus Ant. xvii. vi. 5). The anointing of the sick with oil (Mark 6:13, James 5:14) was doubtless based on the current belief in its remedial powers, but may also have been a symbolic act, as was the anointing of lepers (Leviticus 14:15 ff.). Plumptre suggests that ‘it served as a help to the faith of the person healed; perhaps also, in the case of the Apostles, to that of the healer’ (‘St. James’ in Camb. Bible for Schools, p. 103). (3) For anointing (Matthew 6:17, Luke 7:46). The custom of anointing the head or the body with oil was a very common one in ancient times, and was practised by the Egyptians (Wilkinson, Anc. Egyp. [Note: Egyptian.] ii. 213), the Greeks (Homer, Il. x. 577), and others (Pliny, HN xiii. 1 ff.). Among the Jews the anointing of the head with oil seems to have accompanied the daily ablutions (Matthew 6:17, cf. Ruth 3:3, 2 Samuel 12:20), except in time of mourning (2 Samuel 14:2, Daniel 10:3). It was also a mark of honour paid to guests by their host (Luke 7:46, cf. Psalms 23:5). Anointing the feet (Luke 7:38; Luke 7:46, John 11:2) was very unusual. The dead were anointed as a tribute of respect (Mark 16:1, Luke 23:56; Luke 24:1, cf. John 12:3; John 12:7), aromatic spices being added. (4) As an article of merchandise (Matthew 25:9, Luke 16:6). In common and daily use, and to the Eastern one of the necessaries of life, oil played a large part in the home trade of Palestine (2 Kings 4:7), and was, further, a most valuable export. We find special mention made of trading in oil with the Tyrians (Ezekiel 27:17), who probably re-exported it, and with Egypt (Hosea 12:1). It formed an important part of the supplies sent by Solomon to Hiram in return for the timber and other materials furnished for the building of the Temple (1 Kings 5:11).
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Hastings, James. Entry for 'Oil'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/o/oil.html. 1906-1918.
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