From the Hebrew root signifying “mighty” are derived several names which are usually translated “oak,” or “plane,” in our Bible. All of them, however, appear to stand for trees remarkable for size and strength. There is a general agreement among interpreters that a part of these names refer to the terebinth tree, as they are translated in the Septuagint. The names seem to be used sometimes interchangeably (as in Genesis 25:4; Joshua 24:26; Judges 9:6), probably because all the trees indicated by them have a similar general appearance and a like correspondence, of course with a difference; but sometimes they are carefully distinguished, as in Isaiah 6:13.
Tristram says of the terebinth:
It is the Pistacia Terebinthus of botanists . . . well known in the Greek Islands as the turpentine tree. In Chios, especially, a considerable quantity of turpentine is extracted from it by tapping the trunk; but this is not practiced in Palestine, where the inhabitants seem to be ignorant of its commercial value. It is a very common tree in the southern and eastern parts of the country, being generally found in situations too warm or dry for the oak, whose place it there supplies, and which it much resembles in general appearance at a distance. It is seldom seen in clumps or groves, never in forests, but stands isolated and weirdlike in some bare ravine or on a hillside, where nothing else towers above the low brushwood. When it sheds its leaves at the beginning of winter, it still more recalls the familiar English oak, with its short and gnarled trunk, spreading and irregular limbs, and small twigs. . . . Many terebinths remain to this day objects of veneration in their neighborhood; and the favorite burying place of the Bedouin sheik is under a solitary tree. Eastern travelers will recall the “Mother of Rags” on the outskirts of the desert—a terebinth covered with the votive offerings of superstition or affection. The terebinth of Mamre, or its lineal successor, remained from the days of Abraham till the fourth century of the Christian Era; and on its site Constantine erected a Christian church, the ruins of which still remain.” (Natural History of the Bible, Article: “Teil Tree”)
As ordinarily met with today, the terebinth attains the stature of thirty or thirty-five feet. The root is substantial, and penetrates deeply into the ground; the boughs spread widely, and at a considerable angle, and being clothed, except in winter, with dark and shining foliage, the tree presents, during the larger portion of the year, a beautiful and conspicuous spectacle. The reddish hue of the branches and of the petioles, especially while the parts are young, contributes to the pleasing effect. The leaves, which individually are three or four inches long, consist of about seven ovate-lanceolate leaflets disposed in a pinnate manner. The flowers are borne in racemes, and though small and insignificant, somewhat like those of the grapevine, are pretty, being yellowish, with crimson stigmas. In due time, they are succeeded by dark blue drupes, the size of peas, but ovoid, in substance dry, and containing each a solitary and bony seed, the kernel of which is oleaginous and edible. The foliage and the flowers alike evolve a resinous odor, which is diffused like that of sweetbriar, especially towards evening, and when the day has been warm. Though deciduous, the terebinth is thus a tree of many attractions. . . . In the island of Scio, the resinous matter which diffuses the scent is collected in quantity by means of incisions made in the trunk. When extracted, it yields an odor resembling that of jessamine flowers, or the citron, and gradually hardens into a translucent solid—the Chian turpentine of commerce. (Grindon, Scripture Botany)
Lindley calls this turpentine “a limpid, fragrant, balsamic resin, with an odor between lemon and fennel” (Vegetable Kingdom, p. 467). He says, also, that trees of this family yield valuable varnishes, and that many members of the family are highly poisonous; among which are our poisonous ivy and sumac, which induce, and also relieve, painful skin and rheumatic diseases. As the oak represents a knowledge of natural teachings of right and wrong, as applied to the affairs of life, the terebinth seems to represent a knowledge of similar teachings which conduce to peace, to smoothness of living in society, and to the removal of irritation. Its balsamic resin shows the pleasant soothing thought of the intelligence which it represents; and the affection in it is further indicated by the combustible, heatgiving power of the resin. The use of kindred resins for varnishes points in the same direction; and it is manifest that the knowledge of human infirmities which is necessary to adjust our social relations to smooth and peaceful working, if used perversely, has power to produce irritation and inability to work at all, which appears to be represented by the highly poisonous effects, especially upon the skin, produced by some plants of the family.
Its representation is parallel with that of the oak; the one relating to what is right, and the other to what is good, on the same plane. The dry stone fruit of the terebinth further indicates its representation of a knowledge of what is good. The composite character of its leaves may indicate the perception of complex relations, as the strongly lobed oak leaves seem to represent a perception of the application of principles of right in various directions.
Author: JOHN WORCESTER 1875