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The Enduring Olive Tree and its Precious Fruit: From Modern Day to Ancient Past1

While it is near impossible to coax out a distinct image for a specific woman from the Bible, there is at least one staple that was common to them all—the ever-present olive. In fact, as we shall see, its importance endures to this very day.



Photo by Mary Hendren

Outside the store, simple iron shelves held two rows of terra cotta pots, each pot containing a miniature olive tree. Less than a foot tall, the tiny trees were placed to catch the pedestrian’s eye. Pruned in the manner of Provence, every tree bore six to eight bright green olives—intriguing that such young trees produced fruit.

Certain varieties of olive trees do well in containers. Likely the miniature olive trees in Provence were the Picholine cultivar, widely available in France. Dwarf varieties are very prolific with green fruit and produce a crop two or three seasons after planting. Full-sized olive trees usually bear fruit at the fifth year and reach full fruit production in seven to eight years, depending on the care given the tree and whether grew from seed or from cutting.[1]

Olives—green, brown, black, stuffed with garlic, combined in tapenade—delicious in many ways, are secondary in importance to olive oil. From earliest record, it is oil that has been prized more than the fruit. For cooking, flavoring, lighting, healing, offering and anointing, olive oil has an incomparable history. From the time of ancient Israel up to now, olive trees remain “the most important oil-producing plant in the world.”[2]

Native to the Mediterranean basin, olive trees grow best on rocky, well-drained soil in sunny climates. Olive trees flourish in parts of Africa, Arabia, France, Spain, Asia, and in the United States, in California and Texas, as well as others. Olive trees can live for hundreds of years, accounting for the fact that family groves pass from one generation to another. It is said that olive trees have been around for thousands of years and that some of the olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane date back to the time of Christ. [3] Historian Oded Borowski states that olive pits (seeds) have been found dating back to 4000 years BCE.[4]

Olive trees in the traditional Garden of Geths...

Olive trees in the traditional Garden of Gethsemane, on the Mount of Olives. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Olive trees can be grown from seed (pits) but more successfully from cutting, potting and planting the shoots that spring up around an established tree. Psalm 128 likens children around a family table to healthy olive shoots ringing the parent tree. It is difficult to kill an olive tree by cutting it down because new sprouts arise from the roots of the stump. Isaiah probably had the olive tree in mind when he prophesied “There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots” (Isaiah 11:1).


 Olive oil in a variety of bottles lined shelves at the front of the shop. Tables in the center displayed oil-based lotions, creams, and cubes of embossed soap. Elsewhere were cruets of glass and porcelain, painted coasters, posters and articles of olive wood—cutting boards, cooking spoons and bowls smooth as satin.

The olive tree is an evergreen with hard, durable, lovely-grained wood, pale yellow to green-brown. Artists prize olive wood for carving because of its swirled grain. (For an interesting video demonstrating modern woodworking with olive wood go to As olive trees age they take on a spirally, twisted growth pattern reflected in the grain. It is thought that the olive tree’s propensity to twist and spiral enables it to live so long. The tree turns away from the prevailing wind toward its less disturbed side. As the trunks twist they are less likely to break. This may or may not explain the gnarled, twisted appearance of old olive trees, but it’s an interesting supposition.[5] Because the olive trees are important to the olive-oil industry, they are seldom cut down. Farmers prune them to improve productivity and remove dead trees from the groves. The wood from pruning and dead trees is sold to artists, as is explained in the video.

The book of Revelation states that a voice from heaven commands the rider of a black horse, “Do not harm the oil and the wine” (Rev. 6:5). Why was oil one of the two commodities protected in a time of global scarcity? In part 2 we’ll look at the importance of olive oil.—Mary Hendren


[1] http://www.eHow, “How Long Does It Take for an Olive Tree to Produce Fruit?”

[2], “Olive Trees, Yesterday and Today.”

[3], “Jerusalem olive trees among oldest in world.”

[4] Oded Borowski, Agriculture in Iron Age Israel (2009), p. 117.


About womenfromthebook

Mine is a life-long interest in the women of the Bible, and I enjoy exploring the world in which they lived, and discovering the challenges that they faced. I have enough curiosity about them to last the rest of my life.

One response

  1. Hello. I cant seem to find part 2 of the olive oil blog. Has it been uploaded yet?

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