Trees of the Bible

Did you know that 37 specific names of trees are mentioned in the King James Version of the Bible? While most of the trees spoken of are native to Israel, some were brought by travelers who passed through Israel along their trade route between Asia Minor and Egypt.

Acacia: (Acacia sp.) was called Shittim wood in ancient times. This was a very significant wood in the Bible. It is said the Ark of the Covenant and many tabernacles were made from this wood.

Today, the most commonly used acacias are Hawaiian koa and Australian blackwood. Koa has been a prized wood for many years.  Australian blackwood is frequently used as a substitute for koa. 

Both are used in high end furniture, turnery and interior architectural millworks. Hawaiian koa and Australian blackwood are sorted for curly figure. The timber can be quite large as the tree can grow in excess of 80 ft. tall with diameters of over 3 ft.

Almug: King Soloman sent King Hiram’s navy on a voyage to procure cedar and fir from Lebanon. It is suspected that while in Ophir (present day India), they found algum – a wood with a wonderful fragrance and a heartwood with a brilliant reddish-orange color. The wood was a pleasure to carve and work with hand tools.

Pterocarpus, aka present day padauk or vermillion, is very durable and has great structural integrity. It was used by the wealthy for elaborately carved pillars and in the construction of the house of Yahweh and other holy structures. Pterocarpus has wonderful tonal qualities and was used to build harps for the Kings. A red or vermillion-colored dye can be extracted from pterocarpus.

Pterocarus woods on the market today consists of African padauk, Asian padauk (aka narra), and amboyna, which is known in Asia as mai doo.

Carob: (Ceratonia sp.) The seeds of the carob tree were used to measure weight. The seeds were so uniform and consistent that one seed was equal to one carat. The seed pod is dried and grinded to a fine powder and used as a sweetener. It is very similar to chocolate. Carob syrup is also used as a sweetener in Libya and Greece. Carob syrup has more calcium content than milk.

The wood of the carob tree is not widely available. However, some wood suppliers may carry it in small blanks. The color of carob wood ranges from a pinkish brown to a dark orange brown. The timber is small and often irregularly shaped making it difficult to yield lumber of any size.

Cedar of Lebanon: King Soloman used cedar to build his great temple in Jerusalem. Cedar was also used in ship building. Hirams navy had great adventures procuring cedar. Cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani) is protected and is displayed on the Lebanese flag and coat of arms.

Many commercially available woods today use cedar in their name but are not true cedars.  Northern white cedar is Thuja occidentalis; Western red cedar is Thuja plicata; Araomatic cedar is Juniperus virginiana; Spanish cedar is Cedrela oderata; and Port-orford cedar is Chamaecyparis lawsoniana. All of these woods have the durable, fragrant and light weight characteristics similar to Cedar of Lebanon but are not true cedars.  By the way, Douglas-fir is not a true fir either.  

Olive: (Olea sp.) Olive wood, oil and fruit are quite significant in the Bible. Being anointed in olive oil is a very sacred ritual in Christianity. Early Christians were called “Aramaic” meaning anointed in olive oil. Olive oil was used in for fuel in the lamps at the Temple of Jerusalem as well as homes and tabernacles. The olive branch has been a known as a symbol of peace since the days of Noah. Olive groves have been cultivated by man for over 6000 years.

Three of the most widely used olive species today are Mediterranean or Spanish olive, California olive and South African wild olive. Olive woods are a pleasure to turn as they have self-lubricating properties. However, it is check prone and difficult to dry. The beautiful contrast of the grain and the occasional curly grain can make stunning furniture. Some Mediterranean and California olive trees can grow quite large – up to 40 feet tall and 30 inches in diameter, but the African wild olive is typically a small tree, not much more than 20 feet tall by 24 inches in diameter.

Sycamore: The Bible mentions that Zacchaeus climbed a sycamore to get a better view of Jesus as he passed. The tree was actually a fig tree (Ficus sycomorus). It is believed that the fig was the first tree planted and cultivated for agricultural purposes. The wood of the fig tree is not widely used.

There are two woods that are commercially named sycamore – American sycamore and the English sycamore. The American sycamore (Platanus sp.) is quite distinct as the bark has a splotchy pattern that resembles greyish colored camouflage. The lumber has large wood rays and displays a beautiful quarter sawn figure. The American sycamore is closely related to the London plane tree.

Broom:   The brooms belong mainly in the three genera ChamaecytisusCytisus and Genista, but also in five other small genera.  There are two Biblical stories that mention the broom tree.  The first one was the story of Hagar and Ishmael in Genesis 21:8-20.   The second story involves Elijah in 1 Kings 19 and here it specifically says, “he came to a broom tree (Rottem) and sat under it.”  These stories both create a desert lesson involving heat and shade.  In both cases, the heat was unbearable and overwhelming and the characters look like they were not going to survive it.  But God came and provided a moment of shade in their desert experience, and they were able to continue on their life journey

About the Author:

Todd Shupe is the President of DrToddShupe.com and is a well recognized expert on wood-based housing and wood science.  Shupe worked as a  professor and lab director at LSU for over 20 years. He is active in several ministries including his Christian blog ToddShupe.com. Todd is the Secretary of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men, Database Coordinator for Gulf South Men, and volunteer for the Walk to Emmaus, Grace Camp, Iron Sharpens Iron, Open Air Ministries, HOPE Ministries food pantry. Todd is currently preparing to be a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men.