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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Field

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FIELD

The three Greek words (ἀγρός, χώρα, χωρίον) rendered ‘field’ in the Gospels are distinguishable in meaning, and sometimes require more specific renderings. ἀγρος in general means ‘field’ in the sense of cultivated land, or open country thought of as subject to cultivation: e.g. ‘sowed good seed in his field’ (Matthew 13:24), ‘lilies of the field,’ ‘grass of the field’ (Matthew 6:28; Matthew 6:30), etc. χώρα denotes generally a region, or district of country, as ‘the region of Trachonitis’ (Luke 3:1), ‘the country of the Gadarenes’ (Mark 5:1); χωρίον is more distinctly locative, as ‘a place called Gethsemane’ (Matthew 26:36), ‘the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to Joseph’ (John 4:5), etc. But, on the other hand, we find ἀγρός used also of the country in distinction from the city (Mark 5:14; Mark 6:56, Luke 8:34; Luke 9:12; Luke 23:26), χώρα used of fields of ripened grain, as in John 4:35 ‘Look on the fields, for they are white’ (cf. James 5:4 ‘who have reaped down your fields’); and where St. Matthew uses ἀγρός of ‘the field of blood’ (Matthew 27:8), St. Luke uses χωρίον (Acts 1:19).

A knowledge of certain peculiarities of the fields of Palestine is helpful to the full understanding of several of the parables of our Lord and some other passages in the Gospels. There are now, as there were of old, numerous fields in Palestine where ‘the lilies’ and many other flowers grow in gorgeous profusion without human care or culture, and where ‘the grass of the field,’ including fibrous weeds as well as shortlived flowers, when dried by the tropical sun, are still gathered as fuel, and used to heat ovens for baking bread (cf. Matthew 6:28; Matthew 6:30). The argument of the Master, drawn from ‘the grass of the field which to-day is and to-morrow is cast into the oven,’ still holds good, and still finds abundant illustration. It is true occasionally now, also, that after the owner of the land has ‘sowed good seed in his field,’ an enemy will in sheer spite creep in secretly and ‘sow tares,’ the noxions darnel (Lolium temulentum); but see Tares.

In Palestine, as in all unsettled countries, it was common, and in parts of the land it is still common, to resort to the field (the cultivated land or the open country) as a fit place in which to hide treasure (cf. Matthew 13:44) In ancient times the land was peculiarly subject to revolutions, exposed to raids from wandering tribes, and, in some districts, liable to plunder from robbers at home. So, in the absence of safety vaults and the like, owners of treasure who feared robbery or thievery (Matthew 25:25), or who were setting off on a journey to a distant country, would bury their money, jewellery, etc., in the field. Then, if the owner were killed in battle, or died in a far country, no one might know where his treasures were hid; and, according to usage, such valuables when found, if no owner appeared to claim them, belonged to the owner of the land—a fact which gives point to the parable of the Hid Treasure (Matthew 13:44, cf. Job 3:21, Proverbs 2:4). Many persons are found digging for hid treasure in Egypt and Palestine to-day, and not a few spend their last farthing in the effort (cf. Thomson, LB [Note: The Land and the Book.] ii. p. 640).

In the parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:4, Mark 4:4, Luke 8:5), where the Authorized Version has ‘some (seeds) fell by the wayside,’ the picture is really of grains of wheat or barley which fell on the trodden pathway leading across the field, and so were left exposed where the birds could see and devour them (cf. Luke 8:5 ‘trodden under foot’). It is still common in Palestine to see flocks of birds following the peasant as he sows his seed, eagerly picking up every grain that is not covered by the quick-following harrow. And where it is said ‘some fell upon stony places’ (Authorized Version), the real allusion is to the underlying rock of limestone. The traveller finds numberless places where a broad, flat, limestone rock lies just beneath the surface of the field, with only a thin layer of earth upon it (cf. Luke 8:6; Luke 8:13 ‘the rock’). ‘Stony ground’ (Authorized Version, following early English versions) suggests a soil abounding in loose stones, such as is often found there producing good wheat; but the picture is rather of a soil into which the seeds could not sink deep, and, the film of earth being readily heated because of the underlying rock, they would come up sooner than elsewhere, and at first would look uncommonly flourishing; but, not being able to send roots deep into the moist earth (cf. Luke 8:6), when the hot, dry weather came the stalks would wither, and thus show that the fair promise of a crop there had been deceptive (cf. Psalms 129:6 ‘grass upon the house-tops’).

In the fields of Palestine, too, there are still found spots that are rich, but are peculiarly infested with briars and thorn-bushes, where one may see the wheat in scattered and spindling stalks struggling for life (cf. Matthew 13:7). In Mark 2:23 and Luke 6:1 (Authorized Version) we have ‘corn-fields’ where the Gr. word (σπόριμα) is the same as in Matthew 12:1, where it is rendered simply ‘corn,’—‘through the corn’ (after Tindale). It is literally ‘through the sown (places),’ i.e. the grain-fields, as Noyes and Bib. Un. Vers. render it, fields of wheat or barley, not of maize or Indian corn, of course. The picture is of Jesus and His disciples going along, either through the standing grain, or by a footpath which bounded the fields, the grain in either case being within easy reach. It was customary then, as it is now, in Palestine, for the lands of different owners to be separated, not by fences or walls, but usually only by crude individual stones set up at intervals on the surface of the ground as landmarks (cf. Deuteronomy 19:14); and the roads, mere footpaths as a rule, were not distinct from the fields, as they are with us, but ran through them, so that the grain grew right up to the edge of the path. We are not meant to think of Jesus and His disciples as going ruthlessly through the fields and trampling down the grain, but as following one of these paths over or between the fields. But neither plucking the ears of wheat to eat, nor even walking across a pathless field, was, according to Jewish ideas (cf. Deuteronomy 23:25), a violation of the rights of property any more than it is to-day among the Arabs. It was not of this, but of Sabbath-breaking, that the Pharisees complained.

Geo. B. Eager.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Field'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/f/field.html. 1906-1918.

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