Teil Tree

But yet in it shall be a tenth, and it shall return, and shall be eaten: as a teil tree, and as an oak, whose substance is in them, when they cast their leaves: so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof, Isaiah 6:13.


Here we have a tough word. It's only in our text once and we have no modern equivalent for it. What is teil tree?

What we do know is that as the oak tree sheds its acorns when it sheds its leaves, the teil tree sheds its fruit in the same manner. If we go to the University of Toronto's LEME Online Lexicon, we can find one entry for the teil tree. Samuel Johnson's 1755 Dictionary of the English Language says: [tilia, Latin.] The same with linden or lime tree: which see. A teiltree and an oak have their substance in them when they cast their leaves. Isa. vi. 13.

My wife asked me about the teil tree the other day and after a short search, I had no answer. Accordingly, she emailed our friend Avi Gold in Israel. As our readers may remember, Avi Gold is a philologist (one who studies literary texts and oral meanings of words) of the first order and a Jew who maintains a good friendship with King James Bible believers. I cannot improve upon his answer and so I'll copy it in its entirety.

Thanks for your question. As far as I can tell, "teil" does indeed appear only once in the King James.


The word "teil" in English comes from the Latin "tilia" (by way of Old French), and it does refer to the linden, rather than oak.


As for the term "lime", when the linden is referred to as "lime", it's a variant spelling of "line". This tree is not a citrus tree, and is not connected with the tree which produces the lime fruit.


The linden tree is used for carving. It's a softwood tree. The tree contains tannins, which make it effective as an astringent. There is also a type of honey from this tree.


As to the strength of the tree, I'm not sure. I've seen linden trees in Europe, but I haven't experimented with them. I will say this, though: The linden trees I saw did look sturdy.


In terms of the Hebrew text, the word is אלה (pronounced e-LA), and that is a different species than linden. The אלה is a species of pistachio tree, very likely pistacia atlantica, in particular.


One notable feature which the pistachio and the linden have in common is the high concentration of tannins. This may be a clue as to why the King James chose linden as the translation.


I hope this helps.


I think that we can exclude the linden tree from being the tree to which Isaiah refers. The term "linden tree" was available to the translators. It is a term that was used in the late 1500s and even used in 1611. It is a term that they rejected. I see no evidence that it casts its fruit or substance with its leaves. However, the pistachio tree does.

I would suspect that Avi Gold is correct when he associates the European Linden with the pistachio tree. To Europeans, the similar use of tannins from each tree would have made the confounding of meanings plausible and early travelers may have easily confused them. I would also suspect that therein lies the reason that the translators did not use the term "linden". They knew there was difference and so used the latinized term "teil".

The context demands that we choose a tree whose substance is in them when they cast their leaves just as an oak tree does. Avi's pistachio tree meets that qualification. We can reject the linden tree because the translators rejected it.

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