Pistacia or Terebinth
It is unfortunate that the word for this tree is translated in so 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 NASB), and "terebinth" (JND). Of these three terms, terebinth is the more accurate as one of the species of pistacia, although a species that does not occur in the Middle East, is frequently called terebinth. In I Chronicles 14:14, the same tree is called "balsam" (NIV), and "mulberry" (KJV and JND). The tree in which Absalom caught his head, not his hair as if often misquoted, (II Samuel 18:9) is a "large oak" (NIV), "great oak"(KJV), and "great terebinth" (JND). Balsam may be used as a name because of a resin extracted from the tree. Several plants with a fragrant resin are referred to as balsam. Balsam, oak, mulberry, and terebinth are not even superficially similar and are unrelated.
So what is a terebinth or, more correctly, pistacia? Two species occur in the Middle East, the Atlantic pistacia, Pistacia atlantica and the Palestine pistacia, P. palaestina. Atlantic pistacia is the larger of the two and therefore assumed to be the one referred to in the Scriptures although it is not possible to precisely label the species. When undisturbed (a rare occurrence in the Middle East) the trees reach a very large size and can live up to one thousand years. The Atlantic pistacia is recorded as the largest tree in Israel in recent history. Pistacia 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.
Additional references to pistacia are found in Genesis 35:4, Judges 6:11, I Chronicles 10:12, Isaiah 6:13 and 44:14. Because of its large size and great age, pistacia trees were well-known landmarks and were used as memorials for the dead, a practice followed until recently in some Arab villages. But the pistacia trees also became the object of idolatry (Hosea 4:13). Did Jacob bury the idols under the"oak" of Shechem because the tree was an object of veneration in itself?
As often in 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, was trapped in a large pistacia.
The small, hard fruits of the P. palaestina are sold in Arab markets as a condiment. They have a somewhat resinous taste and are known as butim in Arabic.