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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

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Oliva, Fernand Perez de
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Olive, Pierre Jean
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(זִיַת, za'yith, probably from זוּת, to be pleasant, said esp. of odors; or, as Gesenius supposes, from זָהָה, to shine, from the gloss of the oil; Gr. ἐλαία, i.e. oil-tree. The Heb. name is essentially found in all the kindred languages-the Arabic, Syriac, Ethiopic, and Coptic; comp. the Spanish azeyte, oil).

The olive-tree is one of the chief vegetable products of Palestine, and an important source of that country's wealth and prosperity throughout the Scripture period. It was cultivated in olive-gardens (called in Hebrew זִיַתכֶּרֶם ), usually on high ground, and even on mountains (comp. Genesis 8:11; Shaw, Travels, p. 293), preferring a dry and sandy soil (see Virgil, Georg. 2:180 sq.; Colum. v. 8; De Arbor. 17; Pliny, 17:3); yet it appears also in wet soil, and even grows under water (Theophr. Plant. 4:8; Pliny, 13:50). The species are widely distributed in the warmer temperate parts of the globe. The common olive (Oliva Eusropcea), a native of Syria and other Asiatic countries, and perhaps also of the south of Europe, although probably it is there rather naturalized than indigenous, is in its wild state a thorny shrub or small tree, but through cultivation becomes a tree of twenty to forty feet high, destitute of spines. It attains a prodigious age. The cultivated varieties are very numerous, differing in the breadth of the leaves, and in other characters. The general appearance of the trees is that of an apple-orchard, as to the trunk, and the willow as to the stems and leaves. The olive is of slow growth (Virgil, .Georg. 2:3). It never becomes a very large tree, though sometimes two or three stems rise from the same root, and reach from twenty to thirty feet high, with spreading branches (comp. Hosea 14:7; Strabo, 16:769). The leaves are in pairs, lanceolate in shape, of a dull green on the upper, and hoary on the under surface (comp. Psalm 52:10; 128:3; Jeremiah 11:16; Ovid, Metamorph. 8:295; Theophr. Plant. 1:15; Pliny, 16:33; Diod. Sic. 1:17). Hence in countries where the olive is extensively cultivated the scenery is of a dull character from this color of the foliage. The flowers, which are white, appear in little tufts between the leaves. The fruit is an elliptical drupe, at first of a green color, but gradually becoming purple, and even black, with a hard, stony kernel, and is remarkable from the outer fleshy part being that in which much oil is lodged, and not, as is usual, in the almond of the seed. In Palestine the olive blossoms in June (Anderson, Bible Light, p. 202). It ripens from August to September. The tree is usually propagated by slips, and it bears very abundantly, with comparatively little care (Pliny, 17:19; comp. Jeremiah 11:16). As to the growth of the tree, it thrives. best. in warm and sunny situations. It is of a moderate spread, with a knotty, gnarled trunk, and a smooth ash-colored bark. Its look is singularly indicative of tenacious vigor; and this is the force of what is said in Scripture of its "greenness," as emblematic of strength and prosperity. The leaves, too, are not deciduous. Those who see olives for the first time are occasionally disappointed by the dusty color of their foliage; but those who are familiar with them find an inexpressible chaim in the rippling changes of these slender gray-green leaves. Mr. Ruskin's pages in the Stones of Venice (3:175-177) are not at all extravagant.

Of the olive-tree two varieties are particularly distinguished: the long- leafed, which is cultivated in the south of France and in Italy, and the broad-leafed in Spain, which has also much larger fruit than the former kind. On the wild olive-tree, as well as the practice of grafting, (See OLIVE, WILD).

The olive is one of the earliest of the plants specifically mentioned in the Bible, the fig being the first Thus in Genesis 8:11 the dove is described as bringing the olive-branch to Noah. How far this early incident may have suggested the later emblematical meanings of the leaf it is impossible to say; but now it is as difficult for us to disconnect the thought of peace from this scene of primitive patriarchal history as from a multitude of allusions in the Greek and Roman poets. Next, we find it the most prominent tree in the earliest allegory. When the trees invited it to reign over them, its sagacious answer sets it before us in its characteristic relations to divine worship and domestic life (Judges 9:8-9). The olive, being an evergreen, was adduced as an emblem of prosperity (Psalms 52:8; Psalms 128:3), and it has continued, from the earliest ages, to be an emblem of peace among all civilized nations. Thus among the Greeks the olives was sacred to Pallas Athene (Minerva), who was honored as the bestower of it; it was also the emblem of chastity. A crown of olive-twigs was the highest distinction of a citizen who had merited well of his country, and the highest prize of the victor in the Olympic games. The different passages of Scripture in which the olive is mentioned are elucidated by Celsius (Hierobot. 2:330). So with the later prophets it is the symbol of beauty, luxuriance, and strength; and hence the symbol of religious privileges (Hosea 14:6; Jeremiah 11:6; comp. Sirach 1, 10). The olive is always enumerated among the valued trees of Palestine; which Moses describes (Deuteronomy 6:11; Deuteronomy 8:8) as "a land of oil-olive and honey" (so in 28:40, etc.). Solomon gave to the laborers sent him by Hiram, king of Tyre, 20,000 baths of oil (2 Chronicles 2:10). Besides this, immense quantities must have been required for home consumption, as it was extensively used as an article of diet, for burning in lamps, and for the ritual service. The oil of Palestine was highly prized, and large quantities were exported to Egypt, where the tree has been little cultivated (Ritter, Erdk. 11:519; see Hosea 12:12, and Jerome, ad loc.; Echa Rabb. 85:3). The Phoenicians also received much oil from Palestine (Ezekiel 27:17; comp. 1 Kings 5:11; Ezra 3:7). The kings of Israel raised a part of their revenue in oil (2 Chronicles 32:28). The best olives grew in the region of Tekoa (Mishna, Menach. 8:3). It was not unusual to eat the olives themselves, either raw, softened in salt water (comp. Burckhardt, Travels, 1:85), or preserved (Dioscor. 1:138). On the method of preserving olives, see Colum. 12:47. (See OIL).

Not only the olive-oil, but the branches of the tree were employed at the Feast of Tabernacles (Nehemiah 8:15). (See OLIVET). The wood also was used (1 Kings 6:23) by Solomon for making the cherubim (vers. 31, 32), and for doors and posts "for the entering of the oracle," the former of which were carved with cherubim and palm-trees and open flowers;. The wood of the olive-tree, which is imported chiefly from Leghorn, is like that of the box, but softer, with darker gray-colored veins. The roots have a very pretty knotted and curly character; they are much esteemed on the Continent for making embossed boxes, pressed into engraved metallic molds. Furniture is made of the olive-tree in Italy, and the closeness of the grain fits it even for painters palettes. The bark of the tree is bitter and astringent; and both it and the leaves have febrifuge properties. A gum- resin exudes from old stems, which much resembles storax, has an odor like vanilla, and is used in all parts of Italy for perfumery. This was known to the ancients, and is now sometimes called olive-gum. But the fruit, with its oil, is that which renders the tree especially valuable. The green unripe fruit is preserved in a solution of salt, and is well known at desserts. The fruit when ripe is bruised in mills, and the oil pressed out of the paste. Different qualities are known in commerce, varying partly in the quality of the fruit, partly in the care with which the oil is extracted. (See OLIVE- BERRY). The berries (James 3:12; Esdras 16:29), which produce the oil, were sometimes gathered by shaking the tree (Isaiah 24:13), sometimes by beating it (Deuteronomy 24:20). Then followed the treading of the fruit (Deuteronomy 33:24; Micah 6:15). Hence the mention of "oil- fats!' (Joel 2:24). (See OIL-MILL). Nor must the flower be passed over without notice:

"Si belle floruerint olese, nitidissimus ainnus" (Ovid, Fast. v. 265).

The wind was dreaded by the cultivator of the olive, for the least ruffling of a breeze is apt to cause the flowers to fall:

"Florebant olea: yenti nocuere protervi" (Ibid. 321).

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