Different translations from Hebrew manuscripts result in different Biblical texts. In the context of the bay tree, some translations suggest a tree resembling the bay-tree, rather than the bay-tree itself. The commonly accepted name however is identified with the horticultural title for the laurel tree (Laurus Nobilis), commonly called 'the sweet bay tree’. The Laurus Nobilis was to be found on the land running from the coast into the middle mountain regions of Israel.
The bay tree is specifically mentioned only in Psalm 37:35 of the King James Version “I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree - the evergreen bay laurel". The equivalent reference in the New Revised Standard Version is: “I have seen the wicked oppressing, and towering like a cedar of Lebanon.”
In the Bible, the laurel is often seen as a symbol of posterity and fame, and in Christian tradition it symbolises the resurrection of Christ.
In Canaan, the leaves and berries of the laurel, as well as the bark and the root, had medicinal uses, and its leaves were (and still are) used as seasoning in soups and stocks. Dried laurel berries and pressed leaf oil could be used as spices, and the wood could be burnt for strong smoke flavouring. Bay leaves are still commonly used as seasoning.
In ancient Greek mythology, the bay tree symbolised courage and strength. The Roman gods wore wreaths of bay leaves on their heads to represent their high status, and wreaths were given to winners in athletic competitions. The apostle Paul was strongly influenced by Greek culture. He talked about the use of a laurel wreath on three occasions, most memorably in II Timothy 2:5: And in the case of an athlete, no one is crowned without competing according to the rules”. In Italy, graduating college students still wear crowns of laurel in their graduation ceremonies instead of the normal graduation hats, hence the term “baccalaureate” - from which the term “bachelor” is derived.