International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
2. Production and Storage
(1) As a Commodity of Exchange
(2) As a Cosmetic
(3) As a Medicine
(4) As a Food
(5) As an Illuminant
(6) In Religious Rites
4. Figurative Uses
Another Hebrew word,
2. Production and Storage:
Olive oil has been obtained, from the earliest times, by pressing the fruit in such a way as to filter out the oil and other liquids from the residue. The Scriptural references correspond so nearly to the methods practiced in Syria up to the present time, and the presses uncovered by excavators at such sites as Gezer substantiate so well the similarity of these methods, that a description of the oil presses and modes of expression still being employed in Syria will be equally true of those in use in early Israelite times.
The olives to yield the greatest amount of oil are allowed to ripen, although some oil is expressed from the green fruit. As the olive ripens it turns black. The fruit begins to fall from the trees in September, but the main crop is gathered after the first rains in November. The olives which have not fallen naturally or have not been blown off by the storms are beaten from the trees with long poles (compare Deuteronomy 24:20 ). The fruit is gathered from the ground into baskets and carried on the heads of the women, or on donkeys to the houses or oil presses. Those carried to the houses are preserved for eating. Those carried to the presses are piled in heaps until fermentation begins. This breaks down the oil cells and causes a more abundant flow of oil. The fruit thus softened may be trod out with the feet (Micah 6:15 ) - which is now seldom practiced - or crushed in a handmill. Such a mill was uncovered at Gezer beside an oil press. Stone mortars with wooden pestles are also used. Any of these methods crushes the fruit, leaving only the stone unbroken, and yields a purer oil (Exodus 27:20 ). The method now generally practiced of crushing the fruit and kernels with an edgerunner mill probably dates from Roman times. These mills are of crude construction. The stones are cut from native limestone and are turned by horses or mules. Remains of huge stones of this type are found near the old Roman presses in Mt. Lebanon and other districts.
The second step in the preparation of the oil is the expression. In districts where the olives are plentiful and there is no commercial demand for the oil, the householders crush the fruit in a mortar, 1009 the crushed mass with water, and after the solid portions have had time to settle, the pure sweet oil is skimmed from the surface of the water. This method gives a delicious oil, but is wasteful. This is no doubt the beaten oil referred to in connection with religious ceremonials (Exodus 27:20 ). Usually the crushed fruit is spread in portions on mats of reeds or goats' hair, the corners of which are folded over the mass, and the packets thus formed are piled one upon another between upright supports. These supports were formerly two stone columns or the two sections of a split stone cylinder hollowed out within to receive the mats. Large hollow tree trunks are still similarly used in Syria. A flat stone is next placed on top, and then a heavy log is placed on the pile in such a manner that one end can be fitted into a socket made in a wall or rock in close proximity to the pile. This socket becomes the fulcrum of a large lever of the second class. The lever is worked in the same manner as that used in the wine presses (see
(1) As a Commodity of Exchange.
Olive oil when properly made and stored will keep sweet for years, hence, was a good form of merchandise to hold. Oil is still sometimes given in payment (1 Kings 5:11; Ezekiel 27:17; Hosea 12:1; Luke 16:6; Revelation 18:13 ).
(2) As a Cosmetic.
From earliest times oil was used as a cosmetic, especially for oiling the limbs and head. Oil used in this way was usually scented (see OINTMENT ). Oil is still used in this manner by the Arabs, principally to keep the skin and scalp soft when traveling in dry desert regions where there is no opportunity to bathe. Sesame oil has replaced olive oil to some extent for this purpose. Homer, Pliny and other early writers mention its use for external application. Pliny claimed it was used to protect the body against the cold. Many Biblical references indicate the use of oil as a cosmetic (Exodus 25:6; Deuteronomy 28:40; Rth 3:3; 2 Samuel 12:20; 2 Samuel 14:2; Esther 2:12; Psalm 23:5; Psalm 92:10; Psalm 104:15; Psalm 141:5; Ezekiel 16:9; Micah 6:15; Luke 7:46 ).
(3) As a Medicine.
From early Egyptian literature down to late Arabic medical works, oil is mentioned as a valuable remedy. Many queer prescriptions contain olive oil as one of their ingredients. The good Samaritan used oil mingled with wine to dress the wounds of the man who fell among robbers (Mark 6:13; Luke 10:34 .)
(4) As a Food.
Olive oil replaces butter to a large extent in the diet of the people of the Mediterranean countries. In Bible lands food is fried in it, it is added to stews, and is poured over boiled vegetables, such as beans, peas and lentils, and over salads, sour milk, cheese and other foods as a dressing. A cake is prepared from ordinary bread dough which is smeared with oil and sprinkled with herbs before baking (Leviticus 2:4 ). At times of fasting oriental Christians use only vegetable oils, usually olive oil, for cooking. For Biblical references to the use of oil as food see Numbers 11:8; Deuteronomy 7:13; Deuteronomy 14:23; Deuteronomy 32:13; 1 Kings 17:12 , 1 Kings 17:14 , 1 Kings 17:16; 2 Kings 4:2 , 2 Kings 4:6 , 2 Kings 4:7; 1 Chronicles 12:40; 2 Chronicles 2:10 , 2 Chronicles 2:15; Ezra 3:7; Proverbs 21:17; Ezekiel 16:13 , Ezekiel 16:18; Hosea 2:5 , Hosea 2:8 , Hosea 2:22; Haggai 2:12; Revelation 6:6 .
(5) As an Illuminant.
Olive oil until recent years was universally used for lighting purposes (see
(6) In Religious Rites.
Consecration of officials or sacred things (Genesis 28:18; Genesis 35:14; Exodus 29:7 , Exodus 29:21 ff; Leviticus 2:1 ff; Numbers 4:9 ff; 1 Samuel 10:1; 1 Samuel 16:1 , 1 Samuel 16:13; 2 Samuel 1:21; 1 Kings 1:39; 2 Kings 9:1 , 2 Kings 9:3 , 2 Kings 9:1; Psalm 89:20 ): This was adopted by the early Christians in their ceremonies (James 5:14 ), and is still used in the consecration of crowned rulers and church dignitaries.
Offerings, votive and otherwise: The custom of making offerings of oil to holy places still survives in oriental religions. One may see burning before the shrines along a Syrian roadside or in the churches, small lamps whose supply of oil is kept renewed by pious adherents. In Israelite times oil was used in the meal offering, in the consecration offerings, offerings of purification from leprosy, etc. (Exodus 29:2; Exodus 40:9 ff; Leviticus 2:2 ff; Numbers 4:9 ff; Deuteronomy 18:4; 1 Chronicles 9:29; 2 Chronicles 31:5; Nehemiah 10:37 , Nehemiah 10:39; Nehemiah 13:5 , Nehemiah 13:12; Ezekiel 16:18 , Ezekiel 16:19; 45; 46; Micah 6:7 ).
In connection with the burial of the dead: Egyptian papyri mention this use. In the Old Testament no direct mention is made of the custom. Jesus referred to it in connection with His own burial (Matthew 26:12; Mark 14:3-8; Luke 23:56; John 12:3-8; John 19:40 ).
4. Figurative Uses:
Abundant oil was a figure of general prosperity (Deuteronomy 32:13; Deuteronomy 33:24; 2 Kings 18:32; Job 29:6; Joel 2:19 , Joel 2:24 ). Languishing of the oil indicated general famine (Joel 1:10; Haggai 1:11 ). Joy is described as the oil of joy (Isaiah 61:3 ), or the oil of gladness (Psalm 45:7; Hebrews 1:9 ). Ezekiel prophesies that the rivers shall run like oil, i.e. become viscous (Ezekiel 32:14 ). Words of deceit are softer than oil (Psalm 55:21; Proverbs 5:3 ). Cursing becomes a habit with the wicked as readily as oil soaks into bones (Psalm 109:18 ). Excessive use of oil indicates wastefulness (Proverbs 21:17 ), while the saving of it is a characteristic of the wise (Proverbs 21:20 ). Oil was carried into Egypt, i.e. a treaty was made with that country (Hosea 12:1 ).
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Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Oil'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/isb/o/oil.html. 1915.