Israel a Leading Oil Producer?

Credit:, Galilee and the North

Olive oil was an important cash crop in the ancient Near East, and its importance is reflected in the Bible. In Exodus 27, one of the centerpieces of the Temple was the lampstand, which burned olive oil. “Command the Israelites to bring you clear oil of pressed olives for the light so that the lamps may be kept burning. In the tent of meeting, outside the curtain that shields the ark of the covenant law, Aaron and his sons are to keep the lamps burning before the Lord from evening till morning. This is to be a lasting ordinance among the Israelites for the generations to come.”

The Bible is replete with references to olives and oil production. In Micah 6, the prophet warns that “ You will plant but not harvest, you will press olives but not use the oil, you will crush grapes but not drink the wine. In Jeremiah 11, “The Lord called you a thriving olive tree with fruit beautiful in form. But with the roar of a mighty storm he will set it on fire, and its branches will be broken.” Later in Nehemiah 9 “They captured fortified cities and fertile land; they took possession of houses filled with all kinds of good things, wells already dug, vineyards, olive groves and fruit trees in abundance.” It also recognizes oil’s importance in trade, as Hosea 12 notes: “Ephraim feeds on the wind, he pursues the east wind all day, and multiplies lies and violence. He makes a treaty with Assyria and sends olive oil to Egypt.”

The hill country of Samaria and the Shephela are well suited for olive cultivation. The Mediterranean climate offers cold not but not too cold temperatures and hot summer temperatures that allow olives to collect oil.

In the Iron IIB period, olive oil production increased substantially in the regions of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. This is in evidence in the rise of a mass production olive oil industry that increased in size and in productive capacity. Oil production became central to town planning and entire industrial villages were founded around olive oil production. The centrality to town planning can be seen in the number of olive presses, in channels for waste drainage and storage buildings adjacent to production areas. Most of the oil was slated for export, likely to markets in Egypt, Mesopotamia and to the Aegean.

The image above is of an olive press at Hazor.