Olive (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 כֶּרֶם זִיַת), usually on high ground, and even on mountains (comp. Ge 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. Ho 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. Ps 52:9; Ps 128:3; Jer 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. Jer 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 Ge 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 (Jg 9:8-9). The olive, being an evergreen, was adduced as an emblem of prosperity (Ps 52:8;
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 (Ho 14:6; Jer 11:6; comp. Ecclesiasticus 1, 10). The olive is always enumerated among the valued trees of Palestine; which Moses describes (De 6:11; De 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 (2Ch 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 Ho 12:12, and Jerome, ad loc.; Echa Rabb. 85:3). The Phoenicians also received much oil from Palestine (Eze 27:17; comp. 1Ki 5:11; Ezr 3:7). The kings of Israel raised a part of their revenue in oil (2Ch 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 (Ne 8:15). SEE OLIVET. The wood also was used (1Ki 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 (Jas 3:12; Esdras 16:29), which produce the oil, were sometimes gathered by shaking the tree (Isa 24:13), sometimes by beating it (De 24:20). Then followed the treading of the fruit (De 33:24; Mic 6:15). Hence the mention of "oil- fats!' (Joe 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).
Thus we see the force of the words of Eliphaz the Temanite: "He shall cast off his flower like the olive" (Job 15:33). It is needless to add that the locust was a formidable enemy of the olive (Am 4:9). It happened not unfrequently that hopes were disappointed, and that "the labor of the olive failed" (Hab 3:17). SEE FLOWER. "Of all fruit-bearing trees it is the most prodigal in flowers. It literally bends under the load of them. But then not one in a hundred comes to maturity. The tree casts them off by millions, as if they were of no more value than flakes of snow, which they closely resemble. So will it be with those who put their trust in vanity. Cast off, they melt away, and no one takes the trouble to ask after such empty, useless things — just as our olive seems to throw off in contempt the myriads of flowers that signify nothing, and turns all her fatness to those which will mature into fruit" (Thomson, Land and Book, 1:525). SEE BLAST.
That the olive grows to a great age has long been known. Pliny mentions one which the Athenians of his time considered to be coeval with their city, and therefore 1600 years old. Near Terni, in the vale of the cascade of Marmora, there is a plantation of very old trees, supposed to consist of the same plants that were growing there in the time of Pliny. Lady Calcott states that at Tericoncio, on the mountain road between Tivoli and Palestrina, there is an ancient olive-tree of large dimensions, which, unless the documents are purposely falsified, stood as a boundary between two possessions even before the Christian sera, and in the 2d century was looked upon as very ancient. The difficulty on this point arises from a fresh tree springing up from the old stump. Chateaubriand says: "Those in the garden of Olivet (or Gethsemane) are at least of the times of the Eastern empire, as is demonstrated by the following circumstance. In Turkey every olive tree found standing by the Mussulmans when they conquered Asia pays one medina to the treasury, while each of those planted since the conquest is taxed half its produce. The eight olives of which we are speaking are charged only eight medinas.". By some, especially by Dr. Martin, it is supposed that these olive-trees may have been in existence even in the time of our Savior. Dr. Wilde describes the largest of them as being twenty-four feet in girth above the roots, though its topmost branch is not thirty feet from the ground; Bove, who traveled as a naturalist, asserts that the largest are at least six yards in circumference, and nine or ten yards high; so large, indeed, that he calculates their age at 2000 years. SEE GETHSEMANE.
It is more than probable that the olive was introduced from Asia into Europe. The Greeks, indeed, had a tradition that the first branch of it was carried by a dove from Phoenicia to the temple of Jupiter in Epirus, where the priests received and planted it; and Pliny states that there were no olive-trees in Italy or Spain before the 173d year from the foundation of the city of Rome. Though the olive continues to be much cultivated in Syria, it is much more extensively so in the south of Europe, whence the rest of the world is chiefly supplied with olive-oil. SEE OLIVE-OIL.
No tree is more frequently mentioned by ancient authors, nor was any one more highly honored by ancient nations. By the Greeks it was dedicated to Minerva, and even employed in crowning Jove, Apollo, and Hercules, as well as emperors, philosophers, and orators, and all others whom the people delighted to honor. By the Romans also it was highly honored; and Columells describes it as "the chief of trees." It is not wonderful that almost all the ancient authors, from the time of Homer, so frequently mention it, and that, as Horac( says, to win it seemed the sole aim some men had in life (Carm. 1:7). The olive still continues to be one of the most extensively cultivated of plants. Kitto mentions that in a list he had made of references to all the notices of plants by the different travelers in Palestine those of the presence of the olive exceed one hundred and fifty, and are more numerous by far than those to any other tree or plant (Phys. Hist. of Palest. p. 203), The references to vines, fig-trees, mulberries, and oaks rank next in frequency. These depend partly upon the knowledge of plants the several travelers have. Botanists, even from Europe, neglect tropical species with Which they are unacquainted. See Tristram, Nat. Hist, of the Bible, p, 337; Thomson, Land and Book, 1:70. SEE TREE.