Terebinth - just a tree?


During my reading of Genesis this morning, I kept coming across the word “terebinth” in the accounts of Abram (Abraham). Later looked it up on dictionary.com and got the definition of “a Mediterranean tree”.

So, is it just a descriptive word, included in Scripture by tradition with little or no other meaning or significance as sometimes happens, or is there more to it?

At the moment I’m looking at Gen 12:6 which includes “by the terebinth of Moreh”. Were these rare trees that helped mark locations? (Such as someone might say “by the large weeping willow along Main St.”) It also appeared in other passages in my reading (this was the one I found first).

:shrug: Sorry if this sounds like a silly question but I’ve learned enough through bible studies to know that sometimes even a small detail is indicative of much more than the uninformed reader may realize. And then again, sometimes a tree is just a tree :slight_smile:

Thanks for any help you may be able to offer!


Prominent natural features of the landscape were and are often regarded as holy. In a semi-arid climate, a large tree would be quite prominent. Even in the forests of ancient/early medieval Europe, there were sacred oaks, etc.



Is that right? Any of those oaks still around?

And no, I don’t think it’s a silly question. Now you have me curious.


Well, St. Boniface chopped at least one of them down:eek:



Having been to Israel, I can say that large trees would be quite prominent, particularly in the central zone of Judaea. There aren’t many of them.

There is a species of tree in the region known in English as the terebinth, although I couldn’t identify it by sight.



did You mean the teribinth Gen 12:6 ? Hebrewish ו וַיַּעֲבֹר אַבְרָם, בָּאָרֶץ, עַד מְקוֹם שְׁכֶם, עַד" אֵלוֹן מוֹרֶה; וְהַכְּנַעֲנִי, אָז בָּאָרֶץ."
classical greek "καὶ διώδευσεν Αβραμ τὴν γῆν εἰς τὸ μῆκος αὐτῆς ἕως τοῦ τόπου Συχεμ ἐπὶ τὴν δρῦν τὴν ὑψηλήν οἱ δὲ Χαναναῖοι τότε κατῴκουν τὴν γῆν "

"The valley of “Elah” where Saul and the Israelites prepared to battle the Philistines received its name from terebinth trees growing there. The Hebrew word êlâh refers to Pistacia. The pistacia of the Valley of Elah was the Pistacia terebinthus variation palaestina, also known as the Pistacia palestina, terebinth tree, turpentine tree, and by its Arabic name butm. Terebinth trees grows on the lower slopes of mountains and in the hills Israel, where it is thought to be a native plant. Generally, the terebinth grows as a solitary tree rather than in thickets or forests. When left undisturbed, the terebinth can reach a height of 30–33 feet tall and live up to 1000 years. In ancient Israel, terebinth trees were well-known landmarks and sometimes used as memorials for the dead. The terebinth develops a very deep and extensive root system; consequently, leaves are green even in years of drought. Terebinths are deciduous trees, often with a short gnarled trunks and spreading boughs. Limbs can be irregular and sharply angled. Young branches are red in color as are sprouting leaf stems (petioles). Terebinth trees can reproduce by fertilized seed, semi-woody cuttings, or by layering. Even after being cut back to a small trunk, P. terebinthus may sprout and re-grow. " the Symbolism: Solitary
Several authors identified a symbolic meaning for the P.terebinthus to include as memorials to death, mighty or sturdy, and as representing knowledge of right and wrong which leads to peace and smoothness when living in society. Although these meanings have value, the terebinth in the Valley of Elah is better associated with the word “solitary.” Solitary means occurring singly, or being, or going alone without companions. In the ancient Middle East, terebinth trees did not grow in groves or groups. Usually, they grew alone without other trees around; thus, can be seen from far distances and used to identify locations. Similar to the terebinth growing alone, David went out to meet and to slay Goliath alone and without companions.

Sheep-herding was largely a solitary job and David was alone as he tended his father’s flock. Tending sheep allowed David to solve problem alone; e.g., David encountered wild animals, sudden storms, and all types of sheep-induced situations."

"To bury beneath such a tree has ever been a favorite custom (compare Genesis 35:8; 1 Chronicles 10:12). Large trees like these, seen often from great distances, are frequently landmarks (Joshua 19:33) or places of meeting (compare “Oak of Tabor,” 1 Samuel 10:3). The custom of heathen worship beneath oaks or terebinths (Hosea 4:13; Ezekiel 6:13, etc.) finds its modern counterpart in the cult of the Wely in Palestine. The oak is sometimes connected with some historical event, as e.g. Abraham’s oak of Mamre now shown at Hebron, and “the oak of weeping,” Allon bacuth, of Genesis 35:8. "

God bless


Thanks! Definitely gives me a better grasp of the reading. I’m rather “un-traveled” and come from the Midwest where the land is flat, and the trees are common and rarely notable. Also will bookmark the site referenced for further review. :slight_smile:


k, glad you are on the way to being satisfied.

God bless


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.