Woods of the Bible

37 specific names of trees are mentioned in the King James Version of the Bible. While most of the trees spoken of are native to Israel, some were brought there in antiquity by travelers who passed through Israel along their trade route between Asia Minor and Egypt.

Acacia: (acacia spp.)

Acacia was called Shittim wood in ancient times. This was a very significant wood in the bible. It is said the Ark of the Covenant and many tabernacles was made from this wood.

Today, the most commonly used acacias are Hawaiian koa and Australian blackwood. Koa has been a prized wood for many years and, in the last decade or so, has become increasingly difficult and expensive to obtain. Australian blackwood is frequently used as a substitute for koa.

Both are used in high end furniture, turnery and interior architectural millworks. Hawaiian koa and Australian blackwood are sorted for curly figure. The timber can be quite large as the tree can grow in excess of 80’ tall with diameters of over 3’.


King Soloman sent King Hiram’s navy on a voyage to procure cedar and fir from Lebanon. It is suspected that while in Ophir (present day India), they found algum – a wood with a wonderful fragrance and a heartwood with a brilliant reddish orange color. The wood was a pleasure to carve and work with hand tools.

Pterocarpus, aka present day padauk or vermillion, is very durable and has great structural integrity. It was used by the wealthy for elaborately carved pillars and in the construction of the house of Yahweh and other holy structures. Pterocarpus has wonderful tonal qualities and was used to build harps for the Kings. A red or vermillion-colored dye can be extracted from pterocarpus.

Pterocarus woods on the market today consists of African padauk, Asian padauk (aka narra), and amboyna, which is known in Asia as mai doo.

Carob (Ceratonia Spp)

The seeds of the carob tree were used to measure weight. The seeds were so uniform and consistent that one seed was equal to one carat. The seed pod is dried and ground to a fine powder and used as a sweetener. It is very similar to chocolate. Carob syrup is also used as a sweetener in Libya and Greece. Carob syrup has more calcium content than milk.

The wood of the carob tree is not widely available. However, some wood suppliers may carry it in small blanks. The color of carob wood ranges from a pinkish brown to a dark orange brown. The timber is small and often irregularly shaped making it difficult to yield lumber of any size.

Cedar of Lebanon

King soloman used cedar to build his great temple in Jerusalem. Cedar was also used in ship building. Hirams navy had great adventures procuring cedar. Cedar of Lebanon (cedrus libani) is protected and is displayed on the Lebanese flag and coat of arms.

Many commercially available woods today use cedar in their name, but are not true cedars: Northern white cedar is thuja occidentalis; Western red cedar is thuja plicata; Araomatic cedar is juniperus virginiana; Spanish cedar is cedrela oderata; and Port orford cedar is chamaecyparis lawsoniana. All of these woods have the durable, fragrant and light weight characteristics similar to Cedar of Lebanon, but are not true cedars.

Olive (olea spp.)

Olive wood, oil and fruit are quite significant in the bible. Being anointed in olive oil is a very sacred ritual in Christianity. Early Christians were called “Aramaic” meaning anointed in olive oil. Olive oil was used in for fuel in the lamps at the Temple of Jerusalem as well as homes and tabernacles. The olive branch has been a known as a symbol of peace since the days of Noah. Olive groves have been cultivated by man for over 6000 years.

Three of the most widely used olive species today are Mediterranean or Spanish olive, California olive and South African wild olive. Olive woods are a pleasure to turn as they have self-lubricating properties. However, it is check prone and difficult to dry.

The beautiful contrast of the grain and the occasional curly grain can make stunning furniture. Some Mediterranean and California olive trees can grow quite large – up to 40 feet tall and 30 inches in diameter, but the African wild olive is typically a small tree, not much more than 20 feet tall by 24 inches in diameter.


The Bible mentions that Zacchaeus climbed a sycamore to get a better view of Jesus as he passed. The tree was actually a fig tree (ficus sycomorus). It is believed that the fig was the first tree planted and cultivated for agricultural purposes. The wood of the fig tree is not widely used.

There are two woods that are commercially named sycamore – American sycamore and the English sycamore. The American sycamore (platanus spp.) is quite distinct as the bark has a splotchy pattern that resembles greyish colored camouflage. The lumber has large wood rays and displays a beautiful quarter sawn figure.

The American sycamore is closely related to the London plane tree. The English sycamore (acer spp.) is more closely related to North American maple. The English sycamore has a creamy white sapwood which often displays a curly figure that is often referred to as rippled sycamore.

6 thoughts on “Woods of the Bible”

  1. Hey Guys,
    My nephew is a preacher and has requested some pens made of fig tree wood and it must be from Israel.
    Do you guys have any insight as to where I can find some seasoned fig tree wood from Israel that would be acceptable for turning pens?
    I have searched quite a bit with no luck so far.

  2. We can certainly get fig wood, but we can’t guarantee that it will come from Israel. Feel free to give us a call if you want to discuss further: 1-877-232-3915

  3. Greetings in the Name of the Lord! I have just located this blog in my quest to find . . . which kind of wood the Babylonian made their idols from; the ones that were referred to as “groves” in the Old Testament . . . those which had to be removed when the ungodly altar was torn down and replaced with the Israelite altar. I have scanned my KJV and am unable to locate anything specific. I am also interested as to whether the grove trees were flowering and smell inducing. Were they put up around the altar to keep the blood and smell of sacrificial blood at bay? If you have any insight, I’d be most interested! Thank you so much!

  4. I’m afraid I really have no idea. Your best bet would be to look for extra-biblical historical sources that mention such facts, but beyond that I’m afraid I don’t have any advice to offer.

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