[Heb., ʽets sheʹmen].
The identification of this tree is doubtful. The Hebrew expression indicates a “fatwood” tree, rich in oil or similar substance. It has long been considered to be the oleaster (Elaeagnus angustifolia), which is a small tree or shrub common in Palestine, bearing gray-green leaves similar to those of the olive tree and producing a fruit from which an oil is obtained, much inferior to the oil of the olive. While its wood is hard and fine-grained, making it suitable for carving, it hardly seems to fit the description given of the ‘oil tree’ at 1 Kings 6:23, 31-33. There it is stated that, in the temple construction, the two cherubs, each standing 4.5 m (14.6 ft) tall, as well as the doors to the Most Holy and the “foursquare” doorposts for the main entrance to the temple, were made of the wood of the ‘oil tree.’ The oleaster seems much too small a plant to fit these requirements adequately.
The King James Version and Revised Standard Version refer to wood of the olive tree at 1 Kings 6:23, and it is suggested that the cherubs may have been constructed of several pieces joined together, since the olive’s short trunk does not provide timbers of great lengths. Still, the fact that the olive tree is alluded to as distinct from the oil tree at Nehemiah 8:15 would seem to rule out this suggestion.
For this reason some scholars recommend the Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis), which they believe could have been called the oil tree because of its producing tar and turpentine. This lofty pine is one of the most common evergreens in Palestine, and there is evidence to show that the region around Jerusalem once had a sizable forest of it. It grows up to 20 m (66 ft) tall, with smooth gray bark, light-green needles, and reddish-brown cones. Its wood is said to be of a quality approaching that of the cedar. This tree could, therefore, fit the requirements for the temple building; however, in view of the lack of positive evidence, the New World Translation renders the Hebrew expression simply as “oil tree.”
Branches of the oil tree, along with those of the olive, myrtle, and palm, were used in Jerusalem at the Festival of Booths. (Ne 8:15) The oil tree is also one of the trees foretold to grace the wilderness, in Isaiah’s restoration prophecy.—Isa 41:19.