Posts Tagged ‘Noah’

On Olive Branches and Peace Offerings

June 15, 2010 1 comment

Having had a small spat with a co-worker the other day, I decided to extend an olive branch.  That got me thinking.  Why is the olive branch a peace offering?  Can you plant them and they become olive trees?  What if the person to whom you’re giving the branch, doesn’t like olives?  Where does one find an olive branch?

You can google “olive branches” all day long and never really find out the exact origins of the connection between peace and this ancient agricultural product.  But the connection is real and widespread.

Governments, Bibles and Greek Mythology

Got a dollar handy?  Look at the back of the bill at the Great Seal of the United States.  That’s our mighty eagle there, clutching a batch of arrows in one talon and a branch in the other with thirteen olives and leaves.   The symbolism is inescapable.  We are a gentle, peaceful people who can crush you. 

There are a lot of olive branches in the Bible.  Noah, of Ark fame, was given great hope by a dove he had sent out on a scouting mission to check out if there was any dry land out there.  First time, the dove came back empty-beaked.  Not a good sign.  Flood waters still everywhere.  The second time, the dove comes back with a little something in its mouth; why it’s an olive leaf; signs of life and great hope for Noah and all the critters on the crowded ark.  Third time, the dove does not return, indicating things were dry enough now that the little bird had found a place to live.  But it was the olive leaf that heralded the promise of an end to the great flood.

Zeus liked olives too.  The Greek God wanted to give his new city named Athens to the one of his junior Gods who gave him the best gift.  You would think Poseidon would have been the front-runner having cast down a lightening bolt and brought forth a spring.  Water—hello?  But no.  Athena comes along (and frankly with that name you’d think she might have been disqualified from the contest) and creates the olive tree.  Not just one measly olive branch, mind you.  This is a tree full of them.  Guess who got Athens?

The Long-lived Olive Tree

As for growing olive trees (which is still the best way of finding actual olive branches), my investigation has revealed the following.  You cannot grow an olive tree from the seeds of store-bought olives.  The brine the olives are sitting in has killed the little seeds. 

But you can buy tiny little olive trees from nurseries and even grown them on your balcony.  If you want actual olives, you will have to wait about five years before the tree produces any.

It’s at this point, that I think I discovered what the big deal is about olive branches.  In Mediterranean climates, olive trees can live a thousand years.  A thousand years!  Ten centuries producing fruit and looking pretty.  Now that is one useful plant.  Is there absolutely anything else you can give someone that lasts that long? 

Well, actually there is.  You could give them a container of uranium which depending on whether its uranium 238 or uranium 235 has a half-life of 4.5 billion and 704 million years, respectively.  But giving someone a radioactive present is neither sensible nor appreciated.

In Conclusion

In review, we now know olive trees can live a thousand years.  We know a dove brought back an olive branch to Noah which tipped him off that the great flood was abating.  We know Athena actually invented the olive tree and got herself an entire city for her efforts.  We know the American eagle can either wipe us out with a slew of arrows or offer 13 olives and branches and nestle peacefully at our side.

But here is the true power of the olive branch.  My little office spat was, frankly, not big enough to merit the actual purchase of an olive tree and the attendant branches.  But it should be noted that my mere mention of wishing to offer an olive branch was enough to wipe away all tensions and start us off on a path toward a new era of goodwill and understanding. 

Olives are good in salads too.