The cedar was considered the most important evergreen tree, and the oak the most important deciduous tree.
The oak always has been the symbol of strength, and it was for this reason that the Druids in Great Britain held their services in oak groves. There were idolatrous worshipers in oak groves in Pal. in the time of Ezekiel, who says, “Their slain men shall be among their idols round about their altars...under every thick oak” (Ezek 6:13, KJV). Thus, the heathen worshipers were like the Druids.
At least three of the prophets, Isaiah, Amos and Zechariah, took the trouble to compare cedars and oaks for their strength (Isa 2:13; Amos 2:9; Zech 11:2).
The first oak mentioned is in Genesis 35:4. The world would say that Jacob was “playing safe” when he hid the family’s “strange gods” under a special oak tree in Shechem.
An oak was chosen in Bethel, underneath which to bury Rebekah’s old nurse (Gen 35:8). Later, the Israelites buried King Saul under an oak at Jabesh (1 Chron 10:12).
Perhaps the most famous oak was the one in which Absalom’s hair got caught (2 Sam 18:9, 10 and 14).
Isaiah confirmed idol worship under oak trees—“You shall be ashamed of the oaks in which you delighted” (Isa 1:29). The old Germanic races believed that heathen gods resided in oak trees.
It is said that the Heb. words for “oak” really mean thick, large trees, and would normally be applied to oaks, though the terebinth comes as a good second, for it flourished throughout Pal.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
ok: Several Hebrew words are so translated, but there has always been great doubt as to which words should be translated "oak" and which "terebinth." This uncertainty appears in the Septuagint and all throughof the Bible; in recent revisions "terebinth" has been increasingly added in the margin. All the Hebrew words are closely allied and may originally have had simply the meaning of "tree" but it is clear that, when the was written, they indicated some special kind of tree.
1. Hebrew Words and References:
The words and references are as follows:
(2) ’allah (terebinthos, quercus (Vulgate)), apparently a slight variant for ’elah; only in Jos 24:26; Ge 35:4 (’elah) and in Jud 9:6 (’elon).
(3) ’elim or ’eylim, perhaps plural of ’elah occurs in Isa 1:29 (margin "terebinths"); Isa 57:5, margin "with idols," the King James Version "idols," margin "oaks"; Isa 61:3, "trees"; Eze 31:14 (text very doubtful), "height," the King James Version margin "upon themselves"; ’el, in El-paran Septuagint terebinthos) (Ge 14:6), probably means the "tree" or "terebinth" of Paran. Celsius (Hierob. 1,34 ff) argues at length that the above words apply well to the TEREBINTH (which see) in all the passages in which they occur.
(5) ’allon (commonly drus, or balanos), in Ge 35:8 (compare 35:4); Ho 4:13; Isa 6:13, is contrasted with ’elah, showing that ’allon and ’elah cannot be identical, so no marginal references occur; also in Isa 44:14; Am 2:9, but in all other passages, the margin "terebinth" or "terebinths" occurs. "Oaks of Bashan" occurs in Isa 2:13; Eze 27:6; Zec 11:2.
If (1) (2) (3) refer especially to the terebinth, then (4) and (5) are probably correctly translated "oak." If we may judge at all by present conditions, "oaks" of Bashan is far more correct than "terebinths" of Bashan.
2. Varieties of Oak:
There are, according to Post (Flora of Palestine, 737-41), no less than 9 species of oak (Natural Order Cupuliferae) in Syria, and he adds to these 12 sub-varieties. Many of these have no interest except to the botanist. The following species are widespread and distinctive: (1) The "Turkey oak," Quercus cerris, known in Arabic as Ballut, as its name implies, abounds all over European Turkey and Greece and is common in Palestine. Under favorable conditions it attains to great size, reaching as much as 60 ft. in height. It is distinguished by its large sessile acorns with hemispherical cups covered with long, narrow, almost bristly, scales, giving them a mossy aspect. The wood is hard and of fine grain. Galls are common upon its branches.
(2) Quercus lusitanica (or Ballota), also known in Arabic as Ballut, like the last is frequently found dwarfed to a bush, but, when protected, attains a height of 30 ft. or more. The leaves are denate or crenate and last late into the winter, but are shed before the new twigs are developed. The acorns are solitary or few in cluster, and the cupules are more or less smooth. Galls are common, and a variety of this species is often known as Q. infectoria, on account of its liability to infection with galls.
(3) The Valonica oak (Q. aceglops), known in Arabic as Mellut, has large oblong or ovate deciduous leaves, with deep serrations terminating in a bristle-like point, and very large acorns, globular, thick cupules covered with long reflexed scales. The cupules, known commercially as valonica, furnish one of the richest of tanning materials.
(4) The Evergreen oak is often classed under the general name "Ilex oak" or Holm (i.e. holly-like) oak. Several varieties are described as occurring in Palestine. Q. ilex usually has rather a shrublike growth, with abundant glossy, dark-green leaves, oval in shape and more or less prickly at the margins, though sometimes entire. The cupules of the acorns are woolly. It shows a marked predilection for the neighborhood of the sea. The Q. coccifera (with var. Q. pseudococcifera) is known in Arabic as Sindian. The leaves, like the last, usually are prickly. The acorns are solitary or twin, and the hemispherical cupules are more or less velvety. On the Q. coccifera are found the insects which make the well-known Kermes dye. These evergreen oaks are the common trees at sacred tombs, and the once magnificent, but now dying, "Abraham’s oak" at Hebron is one of this species.
3. Oaks in Modern Palestine:
Oaks occur in all parts of Palestine, in spite of the steady ruthless destruction which has been going on for centuries. All over Carmel, Tabor, around Banias and in the hills to the West of Nazareth, to mention well-known localities, there are forests of oak; great tracts of country, especially in Galilee and East of the Jordan, are covered by a stunted brushwood which, were it not for the wood-cutter, would grow into noble trees. Solitary oaks of magnificent proportions occur in many parts of the land, especially upon hilltops; such trees are saved from destruction because of their "sacred" character. To bury beneath such a tree has ever been a favorite custom (compare Ge 35:8; 1Ch 10:12). Large trees like these, seen often from great distances, are frequently landmarks (Jos 19:33) or places of meeting (compare " ," 1Sa 10:3). The custom of heathen worship beneath oaks or terebinths (Ho 4:13; Eze 6:13, etc.) finds its modern counterpart in the cult of the Wely in Palestine. The oak is sometimes connected with some historical event, as e.g. Abraham’s oak of Mamre now shown at Hebron, and "the oak of weeping," Allon bacuth, of Ge 35:8.