He Who Tills His Land Will Have Plenty
Posted by foryourfaith on January 31, 2011
As the main occupation, agriculture was the driving force behind daily life in ancient Israel. It influenced not only the economy, but also religious life, law, social life, and art.
Archaeology has greatly increased our knowledge of agricultural practices. Several ancient texts, including the Bible itself, contain references to farming methods. In addition, farm implements and organic remains (such as seeds and animal bones) have been unearthed throughout the biblical lands.
Because ancient Israel was under the political and cultural influence of foreign powers, the Israelites undoubtedly adopted the agricultural practices of other peoples. We can learn about these methods from the art and writings of surrounding countries. For example, remains from ancient Egyptian tombs – wall paintings, papyri, statues, and reliefs – offer glimpses of daily life that include descriptions of agricultural activities. Mesopotamian archives and other remains also provide information about agriculture in antiquity. Within their own country, Israelite farmers inherited a large variety of domesticated plants and animals from their Canaanite neighbors.
From biblical and archaeological information, scholars have learned that the Israelite farmer cultivated mainly field crops and fruit trees. Cereals, (such as wheat and barley), legumes (such as lentils and chickpeas), flax, and sesame were among the field crops. The biblical orchard produced grapes, used also for wine and raisins; olives (used for oil); figs; pomegranates; and dates. Many farmers also raised nuts – almonds, pistachios, and walnuts – and herbs – onions, leeks, and garlic. Spices included cumin and coriander.
The ancient farmer gradually replaced his copper and stone plows and other implements with iron ones. However, he continued to use flint for sickle and knife blades, although it lacked durability. Desiring greater efficiency, he learned to fertilize and rotate his crops for better yield and pest-control. He also built agricultural terraces, harnessed runoff rainwater – collecting it in cisterns or diverting it through channels to water his fields.
Though tilling the land was his main concern, the Israelite farmer kept some animals. Goats and sheep were raised mostly for milk and wool. Oxen, mules, donkeys, and camels were used as draft animals in the field and for transportation. Animals were seldom slaughtered for food, since meat was generally reserved for such special occasions as festivals or visits of important guests.
The harvest was stored in private and pubic facilities, in silos or jars above ground and dry cisterns underground. In addition, storage pits and rooms were constructed in or near the farmer’s house to accommodate the daily needs of the family – flour for baking bread, oil for cooking and lighting, and wine for drinking. Dried fruit was stored in jars, mashed into cakes, or hung on strings.
The Bible said that it was the responsibility of the community to take care of the needy – the poor, the sojourner, the orphan, and the widow. Laws were therefore established to this end. These laws allowed the poor to participate in harvesting the seventh-year growth (Exodus 23:11; Leviticus 25:6); gave them an unharvested corner of the field (Leviticus 19:9; 23:22); allowed them to glean in the fields (Leviticus 19:9; 23:22), the vineyards (Leviticus 19:10; Deuteronomy 24:21), and the olive groves (Deuteronomy 24:21); left the small bunches of grapes for them in the vineyards (Leviticus 19:10); allowed them to have any sheaves left behind in the fields at the end of the day (Deuteronomy 24:19).
Agriculture was a major influence on the cultic calendar. The three main festivals were celebrated at the beginning and end of the growing season. Passover marked the beginning of spring, while the Feast of Weeks, 50 days later, marked the completion of the cereal harvest. Sukkoth, or the Feast of tabernacles, was observed at the end of the growing season.
Indeed, agriculture was so important that blessings and curses were spelled out in terms of the success and failure of crops. The Israelite dream was to be able to dwell “in safety, from Dan even to Beersheba, every man under his vine and under his fig tree” (1 Kings 4:25). The hope for the future was an age of peace in which the nations would “beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.”
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