The Inhabited Tree
''The Terebinth''
 

(Left) Drawing of Balutat-Ibrahim or Abraham's terebinth-oak in Hebron

Among the sacred trees of the ancient Hebrews the oak seems to have held a foremost place. Scarcely any tree figures more largely in Biblical narrative and poetry than the oak.

The Mystery of the tree could be seen in one of the stories of Absalom. It was by such an oak that he was caught, "And Absalom rode upon a mule, and the mule went under the thick boughs of a great oak, and his head caught hold of the oak, and he was taken up between the heaven and the earth.

The oaks are still often regarded with veneration... almost every village in the wadis and on those mountains has one or more of such thick oaks which are believed to be inhabited by Benat Ya'kob - daughters of Jacob, seemingly an ancient pre-Islamic idolatry. Connected is the custom of burying their holy men under those trees and erecting domed shrines to the Wely there. Many of these are ancient high places, which have become groves of the saints, stations of Mukams.

At the site of ancient Shiloh is a large and noble oak tree called Balutat-Ibrahim - Abraham's oak - one of the 'inhabited trees' which the local inhabitants are afraid to sleep under.

If in later times of Israel the worship of the oak or terebinth was denounced by the
    prophets as a heathenish rite, at an earlier time it had played an important part in the history
    of the Hebrews, as Yahweh himself was closely associated with the oaks. In Genesis, Yahwehís first
    recorded appearance to Abraham (12:6) is at the oracular oak or Terebinth of Shechem where
    Abraham built Him an altar. Abraham dwelt beside the oaks or terebinths of Mamre at Hebron where he also built an altar to the Lord. And there, in the heat of the day, God appeared to him in the likeness of three men who under the shade of the oaks took sustenance with Abraham (13:18).

We similarly have an event with Gideon and the angel (Jud 6:11), also the oracular oak of the
    augurs near Shechem (Jud 9:37) which may have been used in a Druid-like way to interpret the rustling of the leaves and the birdsí calls. The beautiful vale of Shechem embossed with olives, orange-groves and palms and watered by plenteous rills, still presents perhaps the richest landscape in all Palestine, and of old it would seem to have been a great seat of tree worship. At all events, in its history, we meet again and again with the sacred oaks and terebinth. Thus Jacob took the "strange gods" of his household to bury the amulet earrings under the oak or terebinth at Shechem (Gen 35:4). Under such an oak at Shechem Joshua set up the stone as a witness (24:26), and it was at the oak of the pillar in Shechem that Abimelech was made king (Judg 9:6), and later in Joshus 19:26 we hear of the 'king's oak' on the border of Asher. Rebecca's nurse Deborah was buried under the oak of weeping (Gen 35:8), and Saul was buried under the oak at Jabesh (1 Chron 10:12). Shortly
    before his coronation, Saul met three men with loaves (1 Sam 10:3), suggesting a ritual role
    akin to Abrahamís three men and cementing his burial again as a sacred kingly cycle associated
    with the oak.

    Josephus tells us that in his day many monuments of Abraham were at Hebron and that six
    furlongs from the town grew a very large terebinth, which was said to have stood there since.

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*Written by Rami Sajdi, Copyright © Rami Sajdi All Rights Reserved
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