The Wood of the Bible

Cedar's ease of working, finishing, and durability made it the favorite of Egyptian woodworkers and shipbuilders. Of the many building materials used in the ancient world, one stands out—the cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani). Wood historian Albert J. Constantine, Jr., in his book Know Your Woods (Charles Scribner's Son, New York, 1975), says the Old Testament alone cites it nearly 50 times. Psalms 92:12 states, "The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree; he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon."

In Lebanon and Syria during those early times, vast cedar forests grew. And there's no doubt that this Lebanese cedar was impressive. A mature tree could stand 120' tall and 8' in diameter. However, neighboring countries that were not similarly blessed coveted the towering timbers.

The Egyptians, for instance, drew heavily on the Lebanese cedars. During the reign of Pharoh Snefru along (2,000 B.C.), it is recorded that a fleet of 40 ships carried Lebanese logs to Egypt.

There, laborers hewed the cedar into timbers for royal river barges and seagoing vessels. An entire ship discovered by archaeologists inside a pyramid in 1954 contained cedar planks 75' long and 5' thick! Egyptian cabinetmakers and carpenters favored cedar of Lebanon, too, because of its workability and aroma. In fact, ancient tombs containing expertly crafted cedar furniture, shrines, and coffins bear this out.

Today, remnants of the once-vast cedar forest remain protected in the Cedars of Lebanon National Park, located about 90 miles north of Beirut. And the Lebanese still revere the tree—it appears on their flag as a national symbol.