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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Olive, Wild

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(Gr. Ἀγριελαία , Dioscorides, 1:125; N.T. Ἀγριέλαιςο; Lat. Oleaster), a tree mentioned by the apostle Paul as the basis of one of his most forcible allegories in the argumentation concerning the relative positions of the Jews and Gentiles in the counsels of God (Romans 11:16-25). The Gentiles are the "wild olive" (ἀγριέλαιος ), grafted in upon the "good olive" (καλλιέλαιος ),-to which once the Jews belonged, and with which they may again be incorporated.

"Here different opinions have been entertained with respect not only to the plant, but also as to the explanation of the metaphor. One great difficulty has arisen from the same name having been applied to different plants. Thus by Dioscorides (De Mater. Med. 1:137) it is stated that the Ἀγριελαία , or wild olive-tree, is by some called Cotinus, and by others the Ethiopic olive. So in the notes to Theoph. (ed. Boda Stapel, p. 224), we read that κότινος, Cotinus, is to be rendered Oleaster, or wild olive. Hence the wild olive-tree has been confounded with Rhuscotinus, or Venetian sumach, to which it has no point of resemblance. Further confusion has arisen from the present Elceagnus angustifolia of botanists having been at one time called Olea sylvestris. Hence it has been inferred that the Ἀγριελαία is this very Elaeagnus, E. angustifolia, or the narrowleaved Oleaster-tree of Paradise of the Portuguese. In many points it certainly somewhat resembles the true olive-tree-that is. in the form and appearance of the leaves, in the oblong-shaped fruit (edible in some of the species), also in an oil being expressed from the kernels; but it will not explain the present passage, as no process of grafting will enable the Elseagnus to bear olives of any kind.

If we examine a little further the account given by Dioscorides of the Ἀγριελαία , we find in 1:141, Upon the tears of the Ethiopian olive,' that our olives and wild olives exude tears-that is, a gum or resinlike the Ethiopian olive. Here it is important to remark that the wild olive of the Grecians is distinguished from the wild olive of Ethiopia. What plant the latter may be, it is not perhaps easy to determine with certainty; but Arabian authors translate the name by zait el- Sudan, or the olive of Ethiopia. Other synonymes for it are tuz el-bur, or wild almond; and badam-kohi, i.e. mountain almond. The last name is given to the kernels of the apricot in Northern India, and it is applied in Persian works as one of the synonymes of the bur-kukh, or apricot. which was originally called apricock and prsecocia, no doubt from the Arabic bur-kukh. The apricot is extensively cultivated in the Himalayas, chiefly on account of the clear, beautiful oil yielded by its kernels, on which account it might well be compared with the olive-tree. But it does not serve better than the Elaeagnus to explain the passage of Paul. From the account of Dioscorides, however, it is clear that the Ethiopic was distinguished from the wild, and this from the cultivated olive; and as the plant was well known both to the Greeks and Romans, there was no danger of mistaking it for any other plant except itself in a wild state, that is, the true Ἀγριελαία, the common olive, or Olea Europcea, in a wild state. That this is the very plant alluded to by the apostle seems to be proved from its having been the practice of the ancients to graft the wild upon the cultivated olive-tree (see Colum. v. 9, 16; Pliny, Hist. Nat. 17:18; Pallad. R. R. 14:53; comp. Hoffmannsegg, Flore Portug. 1:287). (See OLIVE).

"The apostle, therefore, in comparing the Romans to the wild olive-tree grafted on a cultivated stock, made use of language which was most intelligible, and referred to a practice with which they must have been perfectly familiar" (Kitto). It is to be noticed, however, that in the comparison of Paul, the wild branch is grafted on the garden tree in order to partake of its sap and life; while in the actual cultivation of the olive no- such grafting took place; the wild graft being really inserted in the tree as it became exhausted, in order to communicate its new vigor to the trunk. Still the grafting of which Paul speaks is not only not inconceivable in inature, but is really that which God has employed in his spiritual dealings with his people, "It must, moreover, occur to any one that the natural process of grafting is here inverted, the custom being to graft a good branch upon a bad stock, It has, indeed, been contended (see above) that in the case of the olive-tree the inverse process is sometimes practiced, a wild twig being engrafted to strengthen the cultivated olive. Thus Mr. Ewbank (Comm. on Rom., 2:112) quotes from Palladius:

Fecundat sterilis pingues oleaster olivas,

Et qune non novit munera ferre docet.'

But whatever the fact may be, it is unnecessary to have recourse to this supposition; and indeed it confuses the allegory. Nor is it likely that Paul would hold himself tied by horticultural laws in using such an image as this. Perhaps the very stress of the allegory is in this, that the grafting is contrary to nature (παρὰ φύσιν ἐνεκντρίσθης , v. 24)." (See GRAFT).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Olive, Wild'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/o/olive-wild.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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