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A Scarcity of Wood

Wood is scarce in Israel. Modern Israelis have planted millions of trees, but naturally, trees and wood have been very precious in the country. Anciently, Israel was involved in many wars during a time when conquerors pulled up trees and salted the ground when they attacked an area. Israel also has a Mediterranean climate with no rain at all between mid-April and mid-September. Trees must be very hardy to go for six months at a time without rain.

When we think of trees in Israel, we think of olive trees. There are varieties of olive trees. Some are best for black olives, some are best for green olives, and some are best for wood. The wood can break easily, however, along the color striations. 

An olive tree. Via LivingStonesPilgrimage.org

An olivewood bowl

Israel also has some pine, tamarisk, carob, acacia, fig, almond, date palms, myrtle, and eucalyptus. These flourish now because of the care they are given, but anciently, whatever grew was the hardiest. Remember that kings David and Solomon imported cedar from Lebanon to build palaces and the temple. The very rich could afford furniture and interior design elements made of wood. The drawing below is what a Sadducee’s house may have looked like at the time of Christ. The Sadduccees were wealthy. (Note the Greek decor.) There is very little wood in the room—the sofa frame, the chest, and a few other items.

So people in ancient Israel were very careful with how they used their wood. They never built houses from wood. Joseph and his sons may have constructed furniture. Tables were not necessary, as most people sat on the ground or on rugs and pillows on the floor. Tables were mostly a few inches off the floor and people reclined around them to eat. Also, people used sticks of wood to support tents and shelters for shade, for gates, and other things. Fences were made of stone. 

A stone wall in western Galilee