OLIVE OIL

Olive Oil

Since ancient times, olive oil has been considered the best of all oils. In biblical days, its unique taste, uses and properties have captured the hearts of many, and continue to do so today through Israel made olive oil, the product of traditions stretching back several millennia.

Olive trees adorn the entire country in abundance and the ancient connection between olives and the indigenous people is mentioned many times in the Scriptures. Olive oil is considered holy and unique since it is hard to harvest the required amount of olives to produce a lot of oil. Evidence of this is seen in the Bible, where it is described how olive oil is used for sacred purposes: Kings of Israel and Kings of Judea were anointed with olive oil while being enthroned;

“Then Samuel took the flask of oil, poured it on his head, kissed him and said, ‘Has not the LORD anointed you a ruler over His inheritance?'” 1 Samuel 10:1

It has a great role in a Psalm of David;

“Let the righteous smite me in kindness and reprove me; It is oil upon the head; Do not let my head refuse it, For still my prayer is against their wicked deeds.” Psalms 141:5

The instruments at the Temple were anointed with olive oil, the Temple’s lamp was lit using olive oil, and it was customary in synagogues to donate “oil for light”.

“You shall charge the sons of Israel, that they bring you clear oil of beaten olives for the light, to make a lamp burn continually.” Exodus 27:20

There is also evidence that it was used as raw material for making soap, body lubricants and different hair products, which teaches us about the importance of olive oil in local daily life in those days.

The oldest evidence for using olive oil in Israel, and maybe in the entire Mediterranean Basin, was discovered at the Ein Zippori Antiquities site, located in the Lower Galilee. Researchers from the Israel Antiquities Authority conducted a “rescue dig” prior to the expansion of Road 79, and the dig led to research which confirmed that olive oil was used in Israel 8,000 years ago – in 6,000 BC. The research sampled the pottery found while digging, and discovered that the old pottery pieces contained olive oil. The samples collected by the researches were compared to present day olive oil, and the results showed great similarity, which teaches us that ancient olive oil had a high level of conservation.

It is quite likely that olive oil was part of nutrition back then, and probably even used for lighting. While it cannot be determined with absolute certainty, it is quite possible that a variety of olive trees were domesticated and added to the other known crops: grains and beans. These crops are known from at least 2,000 years before the settlement at Ein Zippori. The basis of ancient Mediterranean nutrition became complete with the adoption of olive oil. Since then, Mediterranean economy is based on “pure oil, grain and wine”, the three crops frequently mentioned in the Bible.

Remnants of an olive oil industry from that era were previously found in underwater archeological digs off the coast of Kfar Samir, south of Haifa, and now, first evidence was found at Zippori for actual use of olive oil. Along with the Kfar Samir discovery, this is the most ancient evidence for olive oil production in Israel, and perhaps in the entire Mediterranean Basin.

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