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Thyine Wood

Tetraclinis articulata. Near Tamanara, Morocco. 11 October 2004

Tetraclinis articulata 15 km east of Tamanara, Morocco. These trees are coppices 12 years old. 11 October 2004.

THYINE WOOD One of the items of commerce for the Great Babylon in Revelation 18 is also among the last plant products mentioned in the Bible (the first is fig in Genesis 3:7). "Cargoes of...every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble;" (Revelation 18:12). The identity of the "citron wood" (NIV), translated "thyine wood" in other translations from the Greek thuinos remains the most obscure timber in the New Testament. The most likely candidate for thuinos is Tetraclinis articulata (Cupressaceae), formerly known as Callitris quadrivalvis, found in northwest Africa with a small population in Spain. Theophrastus mentions thyine (see below) as occurring in Cyrenaica (included in modern day Libya). To my knowledge, thyine is presently unknown from Libya. The following from Greek scholar Eleanor Irwin (personal communication) is helpful. "Thyine (GK. thyinos) is an adjective from thyon, the name of a tree. Theophrastus says that it is a hard wood tree like the wild cypress and was known for lasting a long time. It is native to Cyrene in North Africa and the area near the temple of Zeus Ammon, a famous oracle in North Africa. It had been used for roofing (like cedar shakes?). The way Theophrastus mentions this indicates that this was no longer the case. The wood was either too scarce or too expensive - or perhaps both. It was used for making valuable articles. It did not take as high a polish as cypress. The Loeb edition of Theophrastus has a list of Greek plants and their scientific equivalents done by Sir William Thiselton-Dyer who was the director of Kew Gardens in London at the beginning of this century. (He was not always right, even so). He says the thyon tree is Callitris quadravalvis. The name of the tree 'thyon' 'thyinos' suggests that it was scented. From Revelation, it probably wasn't native to Israel and the use of 'al' (pan thyinon) may indicate that it meant scented wood in general and not a specific tree. I noticed that various versions translate 'all kinds of scented wood.'" Theophrastus (Enquiry into Plants. Translated by Arthur Hort. Harvard University Press) in Book 5 (4:2) also notes that thyine is resistant to decay. To learn more about this mysterious tree, I visited Morocco in October 2004. Through the kindness of Mr Mustapha Bouhamidi, I met with Mr Mustapha Azeba, Chef du Cabinet, Haut Commissariat aux Eaux et ForLt et á la Lutte Contre la Desertification in Rabat and other forestry specialists who provided the following information about Tetraclinis articulata known in Moroccan Arabic as thyine and Moroccan French as Thuya de bérbérie (the tree) and araar (the wood). Mr Azeba made arrangements for me to visit the vicinity of Essaouira which is the center of the araar industry which provides employment for an estimated 6 000 artisans-an important contribution to the local economy. • About ten percent of the total forest cover of Morocco (700 000 ha) is Tetraclinis articulata with the most extensive forests in the south. • Sandarac, the fragrant resin of the tree, was once harvested by incising the tree, allowing the resin to exude, harden, and then was collected. This practice was outlawed more than fifty years ago. Despite this restriction some web sites still offer "sandarac" for sale. • The most valuable part of the tree is the root because of the "eyes" in the wood produced by root buds. • Most of the forests are on state land and the trees are sold by auction. • A remarkable feature of the tree is its ability to coppice, that is, to form new stems from the base of the tree. The trunks are cut and the trees are allowed to regenerate. Trees are cut after sixty years. • The center of the araar industry is the city of Essaouira on the Atlantic Ocean. The largest extant trees are in the vicinity of Agadir in southern Morocco.

Beam of thyine wood in artisans shop in Essaouira, Morocco. 12 October 2004.

Beam of thyine wood in the artisan's workshop in Essaourira, Morocco which is the center of this craft. The value of this piece of wood is about 100 Moroccan Dirhams (=US$ 8.69 at current exchange rate). 12 October 2004.

Objects made from Tetraclinis articulata wood (from the root). Essaouira, Morocco. 12 October 2004

Objects crafted from Tetraclinis articulata wood. The most desirable wood comes from the roots which have "eyes" formed by buds.

Click here for additional images of Tetraclinis articulata and its products.