The word for this tree is translated in many different ways. For example, the tree under which King Saul was buried (I Chronicles 10:12) is termed “the great tree” (NIV), “oak” (KJV), and “terebinth” (JND). Of those three terms terebinth is the more correct as one of the species of pistacia. The same tree is called “balsam and “mulberry”. Balsam may be used as a name because of a resin extracted from the tree. Several plants are referred to as balsam. Balsam, oak, mulberry and terebinth are not even superficially similar and are unrelated.

There are two species of “terebinth” in the Middle East, “the Atlantic pistacia” (Pistacia atlantica) and the “Palestine pistacia” (Pistacia palaestina; Hebrew: elah). The terebinth tree continues to be abundant in the Middle East, growing even in desert areas. The Atlantic Pistacia is the larger one and therefore assumed to be the one referred to in the Scriptures. The trees reach a very large size and can live up to one thousand years. The Atlantic Pistacia is the largest tree in Israel in recent history; a single tree can grow as much as 12 meters high, can yield up to 2 kilograms of resin (turpentine). The terebinth develops a very deep and extensive root system and therefore remains green even in years of drought. It often sprouts from the stump after being cut, as noted in Isaiah (6:13).

Because of it’s large size and great age, pistacia trees were well-known landmarks and were used as memorials for the dead.

A new project to record all sites in which sacred or holy trees are found was begun in 1997 by Rotem. A holy tree is a tree or small group of trees adjacent to prayer or holy burial sites. These trees or groups of trees are usually very large and old and are often connected to the graves of sheikhs. It is estimated that there are approximately 1000 holy trees in Israel. The protection of these sites is important for the cultural heritage of Israel, for environmental protection and for ecological and historical research.

As often in the Scripture, great trees are associated with great men. Gideon was by a large pistacia when he was called by God (Judges 6:11). David faced Goliath in the Valley of the Pistacias (I Samuel 17:2) (elah in Hebrew). Absalom, great in his own eyes, his head was trapped in a large pistacia (II Samuel 18: 9).