The Cedars of Lebanon

The data reported in M‘Cheyne’s essay presented at the Exegetical Society while he was a student in the Divinity Hall makes for a very interesting study by an engineer used to handling numerical data for the assessment of trends. The data describes the number of ancient cedars remaining at the village of Eden in Lebanon, as recorded by various travellers in the Levant in the period 1550 to 1818. The data has been extracted to the table shown below.

reported by Robert Murray M‘Cheyne in “Lebanon – its Scenery and Allusions”

Year Cedars Remaining Traveller
-1005 ? Solomon
-715 ? Isaiah
30 ? Christ
1550 28 Belonius
1575 24 Rawolf
1600 23 Dandini
1650 23 Thevenot
1696 16 Maundrell
1738 15 Pococke
1810 11 or 12 Burckhardt
1818 7 Richardson

There is no reason to doubt the historical data quoted by M‘Cheyne in his essay. He gives the name of each traveller, and it is clear from his study that he was familiar with quite a range of material. The data is also quite consistent, even though it was reported by 8 different sources. M‘Cheyne did not require himself to assent to the belief of the Maronite Christian inhabitants of the area, that the remaining seven very ancient cedars were what was left of the forest which furnished the timber for Solomon’s temple to Jehovah in Jerusalem, and his own royal palace.

The scripture account of this building project is recorded in 1st Kings chapters 5 to 7.

I thought it would be an interesting exercise to see what would obtain if this data was plotted on a chart and also fitted to a best fit regression line.   I have assumed that the data might reasonably be thought to fit to an exponential decay curve. This would be consistent with a theory that the number of trees being lost in any given period would be proportional to the number of trees remaining.  The chart is plotted with the date in years AD on a linear scale, and the number of remaining trees on a logarithm scale. Years BC are considered as negative numbers, the absence of any year 0 BC being negligible for this purpose.

Chart of remaining cedars

Using this data and finding a best fit trend-line, the result of extrapolating backwards to the time of Solomon, who lived approximately 1000 years before Christ, is that there might possibly have been one million cedars in the forests of Lebanon at the time the temple was built. This is quite astounding!   Even discounting the last data point, which has the effect of increasing the negative slope of the trend-line, the revised trend-line would still give a figure of approximately one hundred thousand trees for circa 1000 BC.

Well – every engineer knows that it is always dangerous to rely upon extrapolations. No conclusive proof can be obtained by this method, unless it could be further corroborated by reliable data from an earlier historical period.  I submit this analysis as being suggestive of a line of further research which may be profitably pursued by students interested in the historical background of the Bible.  Even if the extrapolation is out by orders of magnitude, it is quite strong evidence of the abundance of magnificent lofty cedars for which Lebanon was famed.   The extrapolated data is quite fitting with the large numbers of men who were levied from Israel to perform the work of cutting the timber and transporting it back from Lebanon by sea on rafts. When Solomon required large amounts of timber to build the temple, Hiram king of Tyre was quite willing to supply it out of the abundant ancient forest of Lebanon.

Read in 1st Kings chapter 5 verses 1-18. “So Hiram gave Solomon cedar trees and fir trees, according to all his desire.” (verse 10).