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Bible Dictionaries

Holman Bible Dictionary

Irrigation


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Transportation of water by man-made means such as canals, dams, aqueducts, and cisterns.

Old Testament The dry climate of the Ancient Near East made the transportation of water, often across long distances, a necessity. Large canal systems crossed the lands of Egypt and Mesopotamia, providing the vast amounts of water necessary to support crops during the dry months of March to October. In Egypt, the second highest official, the vizier, oversaw the maintenance of canals and the allocation of water to the provinces. Joseph may have fulfilled this role during his service for Pharaoh. Water was drawn from the Nile River and offshoot irrigation canals by means of a hinged pole with a hanging bucket on the end. Egypt's canal system allowed agricultural use of the highly fertile desert lands that the annual flooding of the Nile did not cover. During the Exile of Judah in Babylon, canals as large as twenty-five yards wide and several miles long carried the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates to field and city. Commercial ships used these waterways to transport produce between outlying farms and major cities.

The irrigation of fields was not widely practiced in ancient Israel. Instead, farmers relied upon the winter rains to provide all the water necessary for crops during the coming year. Fields and gardens close to water sources may have used small irrigation channels, and some fields may have been watered by hand in particularly dry years. Runoff from the rains was collected and diverted through conduits to both communal and private cisterns for drinking water. In larger cities such as Gezer, Megiddo, Hazor, and Jerusalem engineers and workmen produced huge underground tunnel systems to provide the citizens with ample supplies of water. These tunnels maintained the cities needs in times of siege.

New Testament During Intertestamental and New Testament times massive Roman aqueducts were built to provide fresh water for the growing cities. A two-channeled canal ran fifteen miles from its source to the coastal city of Caesarea. Water for Jerusalem was carried northward through an elaborate series of canals and pools from the Bethlehem area. Along the Dead Sea, where rain seldom fell, communities with elaborate canals and catchponds thrived by capturing the runoff of rains that fell in the hill country and drained towards the Jordan Valley. Cities in the Negev developed an extensive network of dams to collect infrequent rains, allowing them to turn the desert into thriving orchards and wheat fields.

David Maltsberger


Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Irrigation'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hbd/i/irrigation.html. 1991.

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