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Shed a Little Light: Olive Oil and the Holy Land

Olive oil is one of the most prominent products that the Holy Land became famous for. To this very day, olive oil produced in modern Israel is considered among the world's finest oils, and this international renown dates back to ancient times. Researchers have revealed that soldiers in the army of ancient Egypt have asked for oil from the Holy Land as an improvement of their service conditions. This small examples shows the dominance of olive oil from the Holy Land in the lives of people in the ancient East – as part of their diet, and for other purposes as well.



The importance of olive oil as part of the everyday lives is evident in many passages of the Bible. For examples, in the description of King Rehoboam's fortification of Judah, it is said that "He strengthened their defenses and put commanders in them, with supplies of food, olive oil and wine" (2 Chronicles, 11:11). The dominance of olive oil production in the Holy Land is also evident by the very location in which Jesus Christ and his disciples have prayed the night before the crucifixion – Gethsemane, literally meaning "oil press", at the foot of the Mount of Olives.


Olive Trees in Gethsemane. Image source: Wikipedia


The importance of olive oil in ancient times is also evident by the fact that it was used for the anointment of the kings of Israel. But above all else, the great importance of olive oil was as a source of lighting, especially of holy sites.While wandering in the desert, before returning to the Holy Land from Egypt, the Israelites were instructed to construct the Tabernacle. One of the guidelines was: "Command the Israelites to bring you clear oil of pressed olives for the light so that the lamps may be kept burning" (Exodus, 27:20).

The lighting of the Menorah at the Temple in Jerusalem was also done using sanctified olive oil. The Hanukkah holiday, which celebrates the release and purification of the Temple from the Greeks, revolves around the miracle: the remaining one day's oil supply kept the Menorah alight for eight days until new supply of sanctified oil was available. As a tasty celebration of this miracle, it is customary to eat food fried in oil, notably sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) in Hanukkah.



The tradition of olive oil production continues in Israel to this very day, and you are welcome to join the many tours that explore it. See details in the following link:

Olive Oil and Olive Presses, Israel

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