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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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(ἐλαία, ἀγριέλαιος, καλλιέλαιος)

The only passages in which the olive is referred to in the NT are Romans 11:17; Romans 11:24, James 3:12, Revelation 11:4. (For Romans 11:17; Romans 11:24 see article Grafting.) For the proverb in James 3:12 -‘Can the fig-tree, my brethren, bear olive berries?’-cf. Seneca, Ep. 87, ‘non nascitur ex malo bonum non magis quam ficus ex olea’; see also Epict. Diss. ii. 20 and Plut. Mor. p. 472. A like simile is found in Matthew 7:16; Matthew 12:33. The reference to the two olive-trees in Revelation 11:4 is after Zechariah 4:2 f. In the latter passage the λυχνία is Israel, and the two olive-trees which feed it are probably the monarchy and the priesthood as represented by Zerubbabel and Joshua. The writer of Revelation 11:4 has adapted the imagery of Zechariah 4:2 f. In Revelation 1:12; Revelation 1:20 he has likened the seven churches to seven golden λυχνίαι. These λυχνίαι are kept burning by the oil of the Spirit with which the true members of the Church are imbued (cf. Matthew 25:4, Romans 11:17). These stand before the God of the earth (Revelation 11:4). In James 5:14 reference is made to the early Christian custom of anointing the sick with oil (ἔλαιον).

Of recent years olive-trees have been largely destroyed, chiefly with a view to avoiding taxation, but also in part for the supply of fire-wood. The extent to which the olive was cultivated in Palestine in ancient times may be gauged by the large number of olive-presses that are to be seen all over the country. Many of these presses were cut in the rock before houses were built upon it. They are often found in immediate association with Troglodyte caves, while a press was actually found inside one cave. In the earliest times the presses were of a simple character and generally consisted of a single circular or rectangular vat with one or two cup-holes in the floor. These appear both on the hill-sides and also on the rock-surface. The olive-presses of a later time show greater elaboration, and in Roman times or after, the receiving-vats were sometimes lined with Mosaic tesserae. The fruit was apparently crushed on the surface of the press with stones, rollers, or pestles, the juice being subsequently expressed by boards placed over the fruit and weighed down with weights. The juice thus extracted was collected in a receiving-vat of greater depth than the press itself. The receiving-vat was sometimes sunk in the press, while sometimes it lay outside, and communicated with it by a channel. The pressing-surface is nearly always square or rectangular, and never more than from 1 to 1½ ft. deep; the receiving-vat is generally square but occasionally circular. There were often several receiving-vats to a single press. In the larger presses, the fruit was not crushed by the aid of movable hand-stones, but by a large, massive stone wheel rotated round a central staple by an ox or horse. One of these wheels that has been recovered has a diameter of 4 ft. 8 in. The rock in the press-surface was usually left bare, but the receiving-vat was often cemented.

But olive-presses of an entirely different character were also in use in all the Semitic periods. They consisted of movable slabs or boulders of stone. They are generally circular in shape and have a diameter of from 4 ft. 9 in. to 6 ft. 6 in. The rim within which the fruit was crushed is raised, the juice being collected in a cup hollowed out within the rim. Apart from the natural use of the olive as a fruit, it supplies the place of butter and is used for cooking. The oil is used for lamps as well as for anointing the body, while the soap of the country is made exclusively from it. The wood is used for cabinet-work. See also article Grafting.

Literature.-J. B. Mayor, The Epistle of St. James3, 1913, pp. 125, 170 ff.; Sanday-Headlam, International Critical Commentary , ‘Romans,’51902, p. 326 ff.; H. B. Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John2, 1907, p. 135; W. M. Thomson, The Land and the Book, 3 vols., ed. 1881-86, passim; ed. 1910, pp. 31-36; J. C. Geikie, The Holy Land and the Bible, 1903, pp. 50-52, 74; H. B. Tristram, The Natural History of the Bible10, 1911, pp. 373, 377; Hastings’ Single-vol. Dictionary of the Bible , p. 667; Encyclopaedia Biblica iii. 3495-3496; Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) iii. 616; and especially R. A. S. Macalister, The Excavation of Gezer, 1912, ii. 48-67.

P. S. P. Handcock.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Olive'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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