The Art of Bethlehem's Olive Wood Carving

Discover timeless art of Bethlehem's olive wood carving with Artza. Explore sacred traditions, master craftsmanship and more.

a stone arch on the beach with the ocean in the background
By Daniel Goodman

Updated April 21, 2024.

olive wood Israel nativity scene

In the heart of the Holy Land, Israel, amidst the ancient olive groves, lies a sacred tradition deeply cherished by all, especially by Christians around the world. It's the tradition of olive wood carving.

The tradition of crafting these special and beautifully handmade pieces of Olive Wood Carving art traces its origins back to the 4th century CE, during Byzantine rule in Bethlehem. During this time following the construction of the Church of the Nativity, the art of handicraft making started to blossom in Bethlehem and even today it is resonating as Bethlehem remains a primary city where these crafts are produced and created.

A Tradition of Olive Wood Carving

Artisans have honed their craft for generations in the timeless tradition of olive wood carving in Bethlehem. Explore the rich history behind this revered art form and learn about the significance it holds to the region's cultural heritage. For Christians, the significance of olive wood extends beyond its natural beauty for it is believed that Jesus himself walked among these olive trees during his time in Nazareth, where he spent much of his life and served as a carpenter by trade. Additionally, throughout the Bible, references to olive trees abound, symbolizing peace, abundance, and divine favor.

Olive wood art is a unique and artistic way to integrate faith and art into your home, with the proverb referring to the olive and its reputed power as the “tree of life to them that grasp it, and to them that uphold it, everyone is rendered happy.”

From finely detailed and elaborate crafts to captivating Nativity scenes, crosses, stars, cross necklaces, functional cutting boards and more, Bethlehem's olive wood carvings encompass a wide range of symbols. Each style and type of carving carries deep symbolism, reflecting spiritual beliefs and cultural traditions passed down through centuries, from father to son.

Master Craftsmen

Artza has partnered previously with master craftsmen and small family businesses based in Bethlehem who have dedicated their lives to preserving Bethlehem's olive wood carving tradition. Through their creativity and handcraftsmanship, they have the unique and special ability to create Nativity art from an olive tree that is over 150 years old.

In our Artza store, you are able to find a 'handmade Star of David Candle' that will illuminate your home, crafted from Bethlehem's olive wood by a tenth-generation local Bethlemite artisan Jamil. A biblical piece bringing the Holy Land's spirit into your living space.

Jamil has been carving some of the most beautiful olive wood and is one of the few who can claim to be a 6th generation Christian Bethlehemite. In the 40 years since, Jamil has been carving beautiful olive wood in Bethlehem, including the Christmas ornaments featured in Artza’s Christmas box, and no two ornaments are the same.

For Jamil, olive wood isn’t just a material – it’s a calling.

As he told us, “Wood crafting is a skill the people of Bethlehem picked up from the Crusaders in the 15th century. I love olive wood because no two pieces are the same. Each piece has its own character that spans generations, as the trees should be kept for 150 years before being used for carving. And, of course, the olive tree is mentioned in the Bible as a holy tree – it was, after all, an olive branch that the dove carried to signify the end of God’s wrath and the flood.”

Explore Bethlehem's Olive Wood Carving with Artza store

Embark on a heartfelt journey through the storied tradition of Bethlehem's Olive Wood Carving with Artza. Each meticulously crafted piece, from traditional symbols to modern designs, carries with it the essence of generations of craftsmanship, culture, and devotion. While exploring our collection, you are not just acquiring a piece of art; you're embracing a piece of Bethlehem's profound artistic legacy, infused with the spirit of its people and the rich history of olive wood craftsmanship. Explore our collection and bring a piece of Bethlehem's artistic heritage into your home today.