How People Have Used Olive oil Over Centuries

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Since time immemorial, from generation to generation, for more than six millennia, man has used organic olive oil for healing – curing mind, body and spirit.


In ancient Greece a famous physician, Hippocrates, used the oil for therapy during 400 B.C. Herod bathed himself in olive oil to treat a terminal illness (Antiquities xvii.6.5 [172]). People also used the liquid to cure fever and health wounds (Isaiah 1:6; Luke 10:34).


Ancient Greeks smeared their bodies with the oil, since it gave their skin a radiant look. The pure oil found use in toiletry, because of sweet smell. We see people using it after bathing (Ruth 3:3; 2 Samuel 12:20). The scent kept flies and vermin away. The oil also served as a sunscreen. The oil layer also offered warmth, as people could wash the heads and feet of guests during a feast (Esther 2:12; Psalms 104:15; Ezekiel 16:9).


The Jews and the Greeks anointed their kings and priests using olive oil. Lighting up homes, sanctuaries, temples and tabernacles required fuel that burned for a long time. Buildings in the wilderness faced away from the glaring and scorching sunrays. Openings on walls didn’t serve to allow light; olive oil kept the lamp burning all the time (Exodus 25:6; 27:20).


The olive oil is one of the constituents of an anointing oil. Others are myrrh, cassia, cinnamon and scented cane (Exodus 30:22-33).


The people of Israel used virgin oil for consecration of tabernacles and their furniture: the ark, the altar, etc. (Exodus 40:9). We see the following instances of consecration:


  • Kings (1 Samuel 10:1; 1 Kings 1:39)
  • Priests (Exodus 29:7; Leviticus 8:12)
  • Prophets (1 Kings 19:16)
  • Tools of warfare (2 Samuel 1:21)
  • Stone of Israel (Genesis 28:18)
  • Pillar (Genesis 35:14)


There’s evidence to indicate that the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans preserved dead bodies using the olive oil. Jesus also made reference to it after resurrection (Matthew 26:12; Mark 14:3-8).


In the Bible, we come across the following rituals involving olive oils:


  • Cleansing of lepers (Leviticus 14:10)
  • Food offerings (Exodus 29:40; Leviticus 2:1; Numbers 28:5; Ezekiel 45:24)
  • Burnt offerings (Exodus 29: 38-42; Numbers 28:3-6)
  • Jealousy offering (Numbers 5:15)
  • Sin offering (Leviticus 5:11)
  • Firstfruits offerings (Deuteronomy 18:4; 2 Chronicles 31:5)
  • Tithes (Ezekiel 5:14; 46:25)


People stored organic olive oil for years, but its sweetness remained, so it was suitable for both domestic and export trade (2 Kings 4:7; Luke 16:6). Hiram assisted Solomon to build the temple. In return, Solomon sent large quantities of virgin oil to Tyre every year (1 Kings 5:11; 2 Chronicles 2:10).


Ancient Egyptians and Romans created medicines out of mixing the oil with herbs. In the Mediterranean, where most of the harvests come from, people used it for baking breads and cakes (1 Kings 17:12, 14, 16). The people also used it for improving fertility and strength. Even today, man has continued to discover new ways of using olive oil.


The Bible makes a lot of references to the olive oil, mentioning it directly more than 20 times. There are direct references to the tree  (Hosea 14:6). God associates the olive tree with abundance, as in the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 8:7-9). Pure olive oil goes hand in hand with fine flour, wine and honey (Leviticus 2:1; Ezekiel 16:13; Revelation 6:6).


What Virgin Oil Symbolizes


The oil points to extremes in the Bible:


  • Prosperity (Deuteronomy 32:13) versus poverty (Joel 1:10; Haggai 1:11).
  • Happiness and joy (Psalms 45:7) versus mourning (2 Samuel 14:2)
  • Friendship versus enmity (Psalms 133:1)
  • Honesty versus lies (Psalms 55:21)


How People of Israel Harvested Olive Oil


Israelites usually harvested during October-November, as most fruits ripened during the season, although they could pick the berries before they ripened fully to make the “beaten oil” (Exodus 27:20; Numbers 28:5; 1 Kings 5:11). Energetic harvesters, like young people, could shake or beat the olive tree to cause the berries to drop (Deuteronomy 24:20).


Alternatively, they could climb the tree and handpick the berries. Then, they would put the fruits on a basket, which they carry on their heads to a place of processing, or use donkeys. The harvested fruits were of finest quality. The poor harvested the remaining for their consumption (Deuteronomy 24:20).


How Israelites Processed Virgin Oil


In Micah 6:5, we see how the people of Israel used a special stone press to squeeze the “liquid gold” out of the fruit in Jerusalem, at the famous (or infamous) garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives, along whose slopes olive trees abound (1 Kings 11:7; Ezekiel 11:23; Zechariah 14:4).


In some cases, people crushed the fruit under their empty feet (Micah 6:15). Sometimes, they pounded the fruits in mortars. For a large number of fruits, the Israelites used mills, which were round stone basins whose diameters measured about 8 feet (2.5m) wide.


At the center pivot was a revolving vertical millstone whose center had an extension of a long pole. The mill required two people who rotated the stone around the basin below, so the other side of the beam moves.


Afterwards, people would place bruised fruits on special baskets under which vats or jars trapped the remaining oil under the influence of gravity. The dripping process took between several hours and 48 hours. The remaining pulp required further processing. And so, Israelites carried it to a press on goat-hair mats or in baskets.


The press usually contained a pole whose lower side was supported by a wedge in a hole of a stone. Rocks supported the upper side. After, placing the bruised olives on top of a stone surface, one would place a pole on them to exert pressure, squeezing oil out of the pulp drop-by-drop into a stone basin below. Refinement involved allowing the oil to settle for some time before storing it. Alternatively, one could sprinkle hot water to bring the oil to the surface.


After the first hour, the purest of the pure oil is usually harvested. Numbers 28:5 describes it as “first oil”, “fine oil” or “beaten oil” but today we call it “extra virgin oil”. We simply name the remaining as “virgin oil”. To remove impurities, people would decant the liquid.


We can infer from the Bible why virgin oil has to be 100% pure, as it’s a source of divine light and brightness. And because of purity, and its role as a symbol of the Holy Spirit, the olive oil has a connection with “the Anointed One”: “Messiah” (Ezra 6:9; 7:22; 1 John 2:27).


We see the healing powers of the virgin oil in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:34). Robbers beat a traveler, take his possessions, and leave him for dead. After several passers-by ignore him, a kind man from Samaritan picks him up and nurses his wounds using the oil and wine. Miraculously, the traveler recuperates, and thanks him for his kindness.


How Israelites Stored Olive Oil


The Bible makes references to different purposes the people of Israel held basic infused olive oil in the following containers:


  • Horns for anointing use (1 Samuel 16:13; 1 Kings 1:39)
  • Cruses or small jars for domestic use (1 Kings 17:12; 2 Kings 4:2)
  • Cisterns for feasts, royal treasury and temples (2 Kings 20:13; 1 Chronicles 27:28; 2 Chronicles 11:11; Nehemiah 13:5-8)


Health Benefits of Olive Oil


Olive oil contains polyphenol, an active ingredient, which is responsible for its special properties. This is especially more so with extra virgin olive oil, which is rich in the compound. Increasingly, as research shows the benefits of pure olive oil, so are growing awareness and popularity. There are several known benefits of using olive oil:

  • The risk of cancer, diabetes and heart disease reduces.
  • The strength of your immune system increases.
  • The rate of aging decreases; hence, prolongs your life.
  • Body fat reduces.


Backed by scientific evidence, the healing powers of olive oil aren’t folk tales.


In Summary…


The olive oil has a lot of purposes. You can use it for internal and external purposes. For a long time, people have found uses of the liquid gold. The oil fuels lamps, heals wounds, consecrates people, places and furniture, bakes food, and preserves dead bodies.

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