Avinoam Danin

A sacred tree, belonging to the species Pistacia atlantica, provides an oasis of shade against the Middle Eastern sun. Many such trees escaped the axe because the grave of a holy man lay nearby. In centuries past, trees such as these were frequently worshipped in Judea and the Galilee, as well as in the Negev and Sinai. They were often associated with fertility rituals, and the symbol for the Canaanite goddess Asherah was none other than a tree. Equally telling is the double meaning in Hebrew of the word ‘elim: it can mean either “terebinths” or “gods.” Author Ackerman argues that post-Exilic Isaiah censures the Israelites who engage in sexual intercourse within tree groves in hopes of stimulating fertility gods.