corner graphic   Hi,    
Facebook image
ver. 2.0.17.10.21
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to classic.studylight.org/

Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

Agriculture

Resource Toolbox
Additional Links


—Historical Aspects:

Israel Originally Pastoral.

Agriculture was the basis of the national life of the Israelites state and Temple in Palestine were alike founded on it. At the outset the Hebrews are represented as a pastoral tribe. "A roaming Aramean was my father," said the Israelite when offering his first-fruits as a thanksgiving before the Lord (Deuteronomy 26:5 , Heb. ). The Patriarchs are mainly herdsmen, pasturing their sheep and cattle on commons, without generally cultivating the soil: at the same time Isaac "sowed in that land [Gerar], and received in the same year a hundredfold" (Genesis 26:12 ) and Joseph's dream of sheaves of corn in the field (Genesis 37:6,7 ) seems to betoken familiarity with agricultural life. But Jacob and his sons enter Egypt as shepherds only (Genesis 47:3 ) and this pastoral life was adhered to until even a later period by the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and by half of the tribe of Manasseh, inhabiting the trans-Jordanic plain (Numbers 32:1 ), and by the clans dwelling in the highlands of western Palestine (1Samuel 25:2 ). A certain dislike to agricultural life was, however, manifested among the sons of Rechab (Jeremiah 35:7 ). The entire Mosaic legislation was conditioned upon Israel's possession of Canaan as the land promised to Abraham. The Sabbath had chief significance to a people that had passed the pastoral stage and that employed man and beast in agricultural labor (Exodus 34:21 ). Still more closely connected with agricultural life were the three festivals of the year (Exodus 23:14-16 ). The system of public provision for the poor was based upon agricultural life: the Law claimed the gleanings of the harvest, of the vineyard, and of the olive-grove for the poor and the stranger (Leviticus 19:9,10 Deuteronomy 24:19-21 ). The Sabbatical year of release— the produce of which was reserved for the poor, the stranger, and the cattle (Exodus 23: the Jubilee year, with its restitution of the ancestral possessions ( Leviticus 25:28 ), were based upon an agricultural economy (see Agrarian Laws Land Tenure Sabbatical Year ).

Direct Relations with God.
The whole conception of God as the bountiful giver, as well as that of His retributive justice— dealing blessings to the observer of the Law, and sorrows or "curses" to the transgressor— is founded altogether upon the fact of Israel's agricultural enjoyment of Canaan (Exodus 23:25 Leviticus 26: 20,26 Deuteronomy 8:7-10 , 28: etc.). Canaan was totally dependent for its fertility upon the rain of heaven, which God would grant or withhold according as Israel was faithful or unfaithful (see Driver, "Commentary on Deut." pp. 129 et seq. ). The impression which Palestine— with its brooks and fountains, its valleys and hills, its fields of wheat and barley, its plantations of vines and figtrees and pomegranates— made upon the Israelites, unaccustomed as they were to Agriculture, is vividly portrayed in the episode of the spies (Numbers 13:23 et seq. ). It appears that when the magnificent fruit of the country was shown to the people, far from awakening a desire to take possession of the land that "flowed with milk and honey," it filled them with fear by reason of its very size, just as did the uncommonly tall men and strong cities that the spies had seen. Canaanite agricultural development presented to the Hebrew shepherd-tribes a superiority from which they shrank with a self-depreciating awe.

Agriculture Learned from the Canaanites.
Centuries had to elapse before Judah and Israel could dwell safely "every man under his vine and under his fig-tree, from Dan even to Beer-sheba" (1Kings 4:25 ), and before the Hebrew farmer could feel that it was his God who instructed him how to plow and to sow and to cast in the wheat and the barley and the rye (Isaiah 28:26 ). The subjugated Canaanites no doubt were made to initiate their Israelitish conquerors into the practises of agricultural life. The land hitherto held to be watered and made fruitful by the Canaanite gods, Baal and Astarte, was conceived to be henceforth under the tutelage of the national deity of Israel, but the art of its cultivation had to be learned from its former owners, and here was a fruitful cause for the people's continual lapses into Canaanite idolatry. The unbridled joy of the harvest and the vintage filled the land with songs and dancing (Judges 9:27 ) and the "high places," as centers of idolatrous worship, continued to exert a baneful spell upon the farming population settled in the vicinity. This was in the main the contest between Baal and YHWH in the time of the early prophets and Hosea (ii:10) complained that Israel did not know that it was God, and not Baal, who gave the corn and wine and oil. Only when the name of Baal should no longer be mentioned (ib. 18) would the blessings of Agriculture have no admixture of loss and suffering. "Baal" remained the name for the fructifying rain down to the time of the Mishnah (see Sheb. 2:9, and elsewhere compare bet Baal , the expression for a field watered by rain see below).

That the Israelites practised Agriculture with success is learned from the statement that Solomon sent to Hiram annually 40,000 kor (about 440,000 bushels) of wheat and barley and 40,000 baths (340,000 gallons) of oil (1Chronicles 2:9 [A. 5:10]). In Ezekiel's time Judah traded extensively with Tyre sending thither wheat, honey, oil, and balm ( Ezekiel 27:17 ). On the other hand, in the time of the Judges, the Midianites and Amalekites regularly destroyed the produce of the soil when the sowing-time had passed (Judges 6:2,3 ) and in King Saul's time there was no smith found in the land to sharpen the plowshares, because the Philistines would not allow the Israelites to furnish themselves with weapons of war (1Samuel 13:19,20 ). The great stride forward made during the reign of Solomon indicates that a very large class of the Canaanite population must have been subjugated to perform the main labor of farming for Israel.

Estimation of Agriculture in the Bible.
The cultivation of the soil is described by the Bible as the destiny and duty of man from the beginning. Adam is placed in the Garden of Eden to dress it and keep it and when expelled he is sent forth to till the ground (Genesis 2:15 , 3:23 Psalm 104:14 ). The millennium of peace will see a people given only to agricultural pursuits (Isaiah 2:4 Jeremiah 31:11 Hosea 14:7 Amos 9:13 Micah 4:4 Malachi 3:11 Psalm 81:17 [A. 5:16]). The blessings of the Patriarchs and the Prophets were founded upon agricultural life ( Genesis 8:22 , 27:28 Deuteronomy 33:13,16 , 28). Judges, prophets, and kings (Judges 6:11 1Kings 19:19 1Samuel 11:5 ) are called from the plow to be leaders in Israel. King Uzziah is especially mentioned as a lover of husbandry (2Chronicles 26:10 ). If at times the cultivation of the soil was regarded as a curse (Genesis 3:17 , 4:12 ), it was because the blessing of God was withdrawn from the soil for man's sin. If it was not always an easy task, all the greater was the joy of the harvest that rang through their psalms (Psalm 65 , lxxii. Isaiah 16: joy which expressed itself in gratitude to God and in making the needy to be sharers in His gifts ( Deuteronomy 16:11-15 , 26: that tilleth his land shall have plenty of bread," says the Book of Proverbs (xii:11, R. V.). "The king himself is served by the field" ( Ecclesiastes 5:8 ).


Division of Fields in Modern Palestine .
(From a photograph by Bonfils.)

In Post-exilic Times.
The love for Agriculture became so ingrained in the Jew that he contemptuously gave the trader the name of "Canaanite" (Zechariah 14:21 compare Hosea 12:8 [A. 5:7]). This attachment to the soil and its cultivation increased rather than diminished during the Babylonian Exile. "Houses and fields and vine-yards shall be possessed again in this land"— this was the divine message sent to the people through the prophet Jeremiah before the catastrophe came upon the land ( Jeremiah 32:15 ). In fact, it was only because the land did not have its Sabbath years of rest, as the Law prescribed, that the people were delivered into the hands of the enemy, according to the warning of Leviticus 26:34,43 . Every prophetic vision of the future contained the promise of great agricultural prosperity for the exiled Jew (Amos 9:13 et seq. Isaiah 35 1 Ezekiel 34:26 et seq. ). Not only those who wandered into Babylonian captivity, but those also who were left in Judea, became peaceful tillers of the soil (Jeremiah 29:5 2Kings 25:12 ). The words of Nehemiah 13:15 give us an insight into the wine and fruit production of the Judean colony, which was considerable enough to induce the Tyrians to erect markets in Jerusalem, where the Jews exchanged their produce with them even on the sacred Sabbath.

We have an excellent description of the fertility of the soil by a non-Jewish observer in the Letter of Aristeas (§ § 107-114), written in the second century b.c., and in Hecatæ us, fragments of which are preserved by Diodorus, xl. 3,7. Josephus ("Contra Apionem," 1:22) says: "Unlike other cities which, having a large population, neglect agriculture, the inhabitants of the highland of Samaria and the neighborhood of Idumæ a devote great labor to the cultivation of the soil. The land has large plantations of olive-trees, of wheat, barley, and other cereals, and an abundance of wine, dates, and other fruit. It is well adapted both for agriculture and commerce." In the same work (i:12) he says: "We neither inhabit a maritime country nor do we delight in merchandise having a fruitful country for our habitation, we take pains in cultivating that only." In his "B. J." 2:3, § § 2-4, he describes Galilee as "exceedingly fertile, full of plantations of trees of all sorts, no part of it lying idle its many villages full of people owing to the richness of the soil." So Perea, "in spite of its rougher soil, is richly planted with fruit-trees, chiefly the olive, the vine, and the palm-tree." "Still more fruitful are the hills and valleys of Samaria and Judea. Besides their abundance of trees, they are full of autumnal fruit, both such as grow wild and such as require cultivation." Especially of the Ḥ asidim or Essenes we are told by Philo ("On the Virtuous Being Free," xii., and in the fragment preserved by Eusebius, "Præ p. Ev." 8:10) that they devoted all their energy and skill to the cultivation of the soil as a truly peaceable pursuit of life. Indeed, it required no small share of self-sacrifice and piety to live as a farmer and observe the Mosaic laws concerning the tithes and other gifts claimed by priest and Levite, the altar and the poor, the Sabbatical year of release and similar precepts, while at the same time many a year's produce was spoiled by locusts and drought or other irresistible cause. What such a calamity meant for the nation may be learned from the Book of Joel and from Megillat Ta' anit. But, unlike the Israelites during the First Temple, the Jews of the second commonwealth conscientiously observed the seventh year of release (see Josephus, "Ant." 12:9, § 5 14:10, § 5). Still the rural population (' am ha areẓ ) was not as strict in these matters as the doctors of the law wished them to be, and they were consequently treated with suspicion. All the more rigorous were the Ḥ asidim or Pharisees in their exclusivism. It is chiefly owing to this feature that we find agricultural life so extensively treated of in the Mishnah, the whole first section, Zera' im (with the exception of the first treatise), being devoted to it.

In the East.
Love for Agriculture was assiduously inculcated by the Jewish sages. "Hate not toilsome occupation and husbandry appointed by the Most High" (Ecclus. [Sirach], 7:15, Greek ). In Vita Adæ et Evæ , 22, it is the archangel Michael who instructs Adam in paradise how to sow and to plant. In the Book of Jubilees, xi. Abraham is represented as the inventor of an improved method of plowing the field so as to protect the seeds against birds. In Ex. R. 39: are told that the faithful observance of the agricultural seasons by the inhabitants of Palestine induced Abraham to make his stay there. In the Testaments of the Patriarchs it is Issachar, the model of Essene piety (compare Gen. R. 98: Targ. Genesis 49:15 ), who says (Testament of Issachar, 3:5): "I became a husbandman for my parents and brethren, and brought in the fruits of the field according to the season, and my father blessed me, for he saw that I walked in simplicity. . . . Keep therefore the Law of God, my children, and get simplicity. Bow down your back unto husbandry and labor in tillage of the ground in all manners of husbandry, offering gifts unto the Lord with thanksgiving, for with the first-fruit of the earth did the Lord bless me, even as He blessed all the saints from Abel even until now." Accordingly, many prominent rabbis in Judea and in Babylonia were industrious cultivators of the soil, notwithstanding Sirach 38:25 : "How can he get wisdom that holdeth a plow?" (compare Ber. 35b ) many instances in the Talmud (Peah, 2:6 Shab. 150b Ḥ ul.105 a ) illustrate this fact. Rabba's pupils were exempted from attending his lectures in the months of Nisan and Tishri, as these sowing and harvest seasons required their presence in the field (Ber. 35b ).


Plowing and Hoeing .
(From Wilkinson, "Ancient Egyptians.")
The Jews were probably the chief producers of wine and oil also in Syria and all the lands colonized by them, or otherwise the rabbinical prohibition of the wine and oil prepared by the heathen (Shab. 17b ) could hardly have been adhered to. In Africa also the Jewish colonists produced wine, oil, and wheat, and the strange identification of the Egyptian god Serapis with Joseph made by both Jews (' Ab. Zarah, 43a Tos., ' Ab. Zarah, v. [vi.] 1) and Christians (see "Vita Saturnini," quoted by Mommsen, "Rö mische Geschichte," 5:585, and King, "Gnostics," p. 161) probably owes its origin to the fact that the wheat exported from Alexandria was shipped to the Serapeum in Ostia under the symbolic tutelage of Serapis, the god with a measure on his head, which suggested resemblance to Joseph, the seller of corn in ancient Egypt (Mommsen, ibid. 5:577 Suidas, s.v. "Serapis"). The Alexandrian Jews owned ships and were mariners themselves, undoubtedly owing to their living near the seashore and their being made exporters of corn by the Jewish farmers throughout Africa (see Grä tz, "Gesch." 1:387, note 3). That the Jews of Alexandria were both farmers and shipowners we learn from Philo ("Contra Flaccum," viii.). But Herzfeld ("Handelsgeschichte des Jü dischen Alterthums," pp. 76-102) has shown that the Jews in Palestine, too, from the time of the Maccabees until the destruction of the state, exported, partly in their own ships, their produce of crops, oil, and wine, of balsam, honey, spices, and of drugs of all kinds, and that the Jews remained tillers of the soil in all parts of the Roman empire, while pursuing other trades as well, as may be learned from the fact that they bought slaves and converted them to Judaism until they were forbidden to do so by Constantius in 339 and by Theodosius in 393 ("Codex Theodos." 16:8, § § 4,9).

In Arabia the Jews of Yemen were in the time of Mohammed thrifty farmers. The Jewish colonists of Ḥ aibar especially were very successful in the cultivation of wheat and of palm-trees, before their wholesale slaughter by Mohammed.

The Jews of Abyssinia have always been farmers, and the Ten Tribes are described as agriculturists in the mythical story of Eldad ha-Dani.

In Western Europe.
The Jews of southern France pursued an agricultural life and were possessed of ships for their wine trade from the sixth to the ninth century (Cassel, article "Juden" in Ersch and Gruber, "Encyklopä die," 27:61,64 Grä tz, "Gesch." 5:56, after Gregory of Tours. See also Stobbe, "Juden in Deutschland," p. 7). In Languedoc many were owners of the vineyards (J. Bé darride, "Les Juifs en France," p. 87 see Saige, "Les Juifs du Languedoc Anté rieurement au XIVe Siè cle, 1881," p. 70). In the time of Charlemagne, Jews used to farm large tracts of land for their Christian neighbors who had no experience in agricultural life, but the legislative measures of the king, intended to render the Jews as a merchant class more serviceable to the state, prohibited this (Bé darride, l.c. , p. 75). It was especially the wine trade which they controlled (Depping, "Die Juden im Mittelalter," p. 53).

In Spain, in the early Middle Ages, the Jews were the chief agriculturists, and remained such, notwithstanding Visigoth legislation prohibiting them from working in the field on Sunday, and buying slaves and the like (see Grä tz, "Gesch. der Juden," 5:70,168). Under Egica, in 694, they were forbidden to own land and carry trade in their own ships, but in 711 the Arabs, after the invasion under Al-Tarik, restored the rights of the Jews, and the latter were quick to learn from their Moorish neighbors how to improve the method of irrigating the soil by hydraulic machines and the like (see Bé darride, l.c. , p. 94 and note 24 on p. 463). The great silk industry of the Spanish Jews (see Grä tz, "Gesch. der Juden," 5:396 et seq. ) makes it probable that they had also plantations of mulberry-trees, or perhaps the Sicilian Jews provided them with the raw material.

In Portugal the Jews were always allowed to cultivate the land and produce wine, while they were forbidden to do so in Spain under Christian rulers (see Kayserling, "Gesch. d. Juden in Portugal," p. 58).

In Greece the Jews during the twelfth century, says Hertzberg in his "Gesch. Griechenlands," were most prosperous as agriculturists. Benjamin of Tudela found Jews inhabiting the vicinity of Mount Parnassus occupied in tilling the soil ("Travels," ed. Asher, p. 16). In Italy the Jews were encouraged by Pope Gregory V. to be owners of land, though he would not countenance their having Christian slaves (Gü demann, "Gesch. d. Jü d. Cultur in Italien," p. 30). The Jews, first of Greece, then of Italy, devoted particular care to the culture of silk, which involved the plantation of mulberry-trees, and helped toward the improvement of land and commerce (see Grä tz, "Gesch." 5:272, note 4 and Gü demann, "Gesch. d. Jü d. Cultur in Italien," p. 240).

In his "Gesch. d. Jü d. Cultur in Italien," p. 52, Gü demann calls attention to the warnings of the work PirḲ e Rabbi Eliezer against the wandering life of the trader, wherein occurs this sentence, A. ii.: "God particularly promised fertility of the land to the Israelites in order that they might lead a contented and quiet domestic life, and not be required to travel about from town to town."

In Central and Eastern Europe.
In Germany the Jews, being compelled by the Jewish law, which forbids the use of non-Jewish wine, to manufacture their own, produced sufficient to sell some of their own wine to non-Jews also. A decree of Henry IV. permitted the Jews to sell their own wine and drugs— revoking thereby one of Charlemagne forbidding the sale of the same (see Stobbe, "Gesch. d. Juden in Deutschland," p. 231, note 90). Henry IV. also permitted the Jews of Speyer to own vineyards and gardens, which fact makes it probable that they superintended the work themselves. The Jews of Silesia, Austria, Switzerland, and Frankfort-on-the-Main likewise possessed vineyards (see the quotation in Stobbe, "Gesch. d. Juden in Deutschland," pp. 177,276, note 171).

In modern Europe the Jews— partly under the impulse of the governments, partly of their own free will— have endeavored to reawaken their ancient love for agricultural pursuits. The Jewish communities of Warsaw and Kalish in 1842, in response to a memorandum by Prince Paskyevitch, organized societies for the promotion of Agriculture with apparently great success, for the time (see Jost, "Neuere Gesch." 2:293-313 Cassel, article "Juden," in Ersch and Gruber, p. 139). Still greater was the success of such efforts made in Bavaria (Scheidler, "Juden Emancipation," in Ersch and Gruber, p. 307, note 5, where reference is made to statistics showing that more than 20 per cent of the Jewish population of Bavaria were devoting themselves in 1844 to agricultural and artisan pursuits).

Among the Jews in the Caucasus many were formerly large owners of orchards and vineyards some produced wine, others a species of tobacco (Andree, "Zur Volkskunde der Juden," p. 281). According to J. J. Benjamin ("Eight Years in Asia and Africa," 2d ed., 1858, pp. 96 et seq. ), the more prosperous Jews in Kurdistan are farmers they go with their wives and children to the fields and the vineyards in the morning, and return only in the evening. They literally observe the law of leaving the corners of the field and some of the grapes for the widows and orphans (Leviticus 19:9,10 ).

In America.
On the virgin soil of America the Jews were among the pioneers of Agriculture. While Louis de Torres introduced tobacco into use for civilized mankind (Kayserling, "Columbus," p. 95), Jews transplanted the sugar-cane from Madeira to Brazil in 1548 (according to Fishell see M. J. Kohler "Publ. Am. Jew. Hist. Soc." 2:94) or in 1531 (Lindo, in G. A. Kohut's article, ibid. 3:135 compare Joseph ha-Kohen, in R. Gottheil's translation, ibid. 2:133). During the seventeenth century the sugar industry was monopolized by the Jews, and with their expulsion from Brazil it was transplanted to the West Indies, where, in 1663, David de Mercato's invention of new sugar-mills benefited the sugar-trade in Barbados. The Jews in Georgia, chief among them Abraham de Lyon, transplanted vine and silk culture from Portugal to America ("Publ. Am. Jew. Hist. Soc." 1:10). But while De Lyon cherished great expectations in that direction, the Jews of Georgia in general found the production of indigo, rice, corn, tobacco, and cotton more profitable ( ibid. p. 12). In fact, the cotton-plantations in many parts of the South were wholly in the hands of the Jews, and as a consequence slavery found its advocates among them. K.

In Rabbinical Literature.
The following pithy sentences, culled from rabbinical literature, will serve to show the estimation in which Agriculture was held in the latter days of Jewish national life: "In time to come all handicrafts-men will turn to the working of the soil: for the soil is the surest source of sustenance to those that work it and such occupation brings with it, moreover, health of body and case of mind" (Yeb. 63a ). "He that owns no land is no man" (ib. ). "The verse, Deuteronomy 28:66 , is to be thus expounded: ' Thy life shall hang in doubt before thee' : this refers to him that buys his food-supplies from year to year ' thou shalt fear day and night' : this refers to him that buys them from week to week ' thou shalt have none assurance of thy life' : this refers to him that depends upon the store-keeper" (Men. 103b Yer. Shab. 8:11 a Yer. SheḲ . 8:51a Esther R., introduction). "He that toils and strives after money, the while he has no land of his own, what enjoyment hath he from all his travail?" (Lev. R. 22: trading gives greater profits, these may all be lost in a moment therefore, never hesitate to buy land." "Sow, but do not buy grain, even though grain be cheap and thy land be poor" (Yeb. 63 a ). "A man may not sell his field and put the money in his purse, or buy a beast, or furniture, or a house, except he be a poor man" (Sifra, Behar, 5). "When a man sold a field out of his patrimony, his relatives would bring barrels filled with cabbage-stalks and nut-shells and break them before him the children would gather up the contents and shout, ' N.N. has cut himself off from his inheritance!' and when he took it back again they did the same, shouting, ' N. N. has got back his patrimony' " (Yer. Ket. 2:26d ). "He that hath a little garden of his own, and fertilizes it, digs it, and enjoys its produce, is far better off than he that works a large garden upon shares" (Lev. R. 3: thou a field? work it with all thy might: if a man make himself a slave unto his field, he will be satisfied with bread" (Sanh. 58 b ). "He that inspects his field every day will find a stater [Greek coin] in it" (Ḥ ul. 105a ). In Eccl. R. 2:20 , a story is told of a very old man who labored early and late at planting trees, though, as the emperor Hadrian taunted him, he could not expect to enjoy their fruit: the moral of the interesting narrative being that every man is bound to till the ground, even though he may not expect to reap the fruit of his labor for when he came into the world, he found that other men had subdued and cultivated it for him: therefore shall he not allow his portion to run wild or lie barren for there are others that shall come after him.


Plowing in Palestine .
(After Benzinger, "Hebrä ische Archä ologie.")
F. de S. M.

—Physical Aspects:

The various Physical Aspects of Agriculture among the Jews may properly be treated in their natural order of consideration: first as to the soil and climate next as to the operations necessary to produce and secure crops.

Soil Conditions.
The soil of Palestine is of a most varied character and composition, consisting of alluvial deposits in the maritime plains and in the Jordan valley, and of the products of cretaceous limestone and basaltic rocks in the more elevated regions. The natural fertility of the former districts was carried into mountain regions by building low walls of "shoulder-stones" (Mishnah Sheb. 3:9), and filling in the rock-ledges behind them with the inexhaustible alluvial earth of the valleys (ib. 3:8). In this manner the mountainous districts of Samaria, Gilboa, Carmel, and other ranges were celebrated in ancient times for their fertility. But such artificial arrangements needed constant attention to keep them in condition and to protect them against heavy rains (see Anderlind, in "Zeit. Deutsch. Palä st. Ver." 9:37) so that warfare and the subsequent depopulation have considerably diminished the productiveness of such regions. The lofty plain between Lake Gennesaret on the west and the Hauran range on the east, with its underlying volcanic substratum, proved a most fertile soil for wheat, as many as two and three crops a year being gathered. The most fertile fields, however, were liable to be more or less thickly strewn with boulders ( Matthew 13:5 and parallels Mishnah Kil. 2:10,7:1), the Mishnah mentioning that occasionally these were too large for a man's unaided strength to remove (Sheb. 3:7). The easiest and best use that could be made of the troublesome smaller stones which abounded in rich, rocky soil was to lay them up in fence-rows, as protection against roaming cattle: such stone-rows were numerous in the extreme — if one may judge from the fields of to-day (see illustration on p. 263). In some regions stones were so abundant that they had to be removed after each annual plowing (see Vogelstein, "Die Landwirtschaft in Palä stina," p. 10, note 14).

In Mishnaic times various kinds of soil were distinguished and classified, such as ' idit , soil of first quality benonit , medium and zibburit , poor soil (Giṭ . 5:1) also according to degree of moisture, "dry," "middling," and "arable" (Baraita, Ta' anit, 25b ). Stones were held to show the fertility of the soil: if they were hard and flint-like (ẓ unama ), the soil was good if of clayey consistency (ḥ arsit ), it was likely to be poor, forming hard clods and baking in the sun (Num. R. xvi. Tan. Shelaḥ Leka, 12). Land which naturally produced thorn-bushes was good for wheat: if it grew weeds, it was fit for barley only (YalḲ uṭ , Job, § 918 compare Jeremiah 12:13 ). A soil which had produced a crop of flax was held to be excellent for wheat and land was sometimes tested by sowing a small piece in flax (Kil. 2:7). A southern exposure was found to be beneficial but such land required irrigation (Joshua 15:19 , Men. 85a ).

Climate.
In contrast with Egyptian agriculture (which depended solely upon the river Nile), in Canaan the "first rains and the latter rains" became necessarily matters of especial importance and significant blessing (Leviticus 26:3-5 Deuteronomy 11:13,14 ). The first (autumn) rains began in the middle of November (Ḥ eshwan, or Kislew) and were called yoreh or moreh ( Deuteronomy 11:14 , Jeremiah 5:24 ). These were succeeded by the heavy and continuous winter rains, and, finally, by the malḲ osh , or spring showers, in the month of Nisan (Joel 2:23 Ta' anit, 6 a ). So important was the rain after the long Syrian summer of extreme heat had parched the land, that the blessing asked for in the formula of Deuteronomy 26:15 was interpreted as a petition for rain and dew— prayers for which were likewise interpolated in the daily ritual (Mishnah Ta' anit, 1:1). Fast-days were appointed in times of drought ( ib. 4-7). The fall rains were considered requisite to soften the ground preparatory to plowing and seeding and the spring rains were equally necessary for the filling up of the grain in the ear, as expressed by the fellahin's proverb of to-day: "A shower in April is worth more than a plow and a yoke of oxen" (Klein, in "Zeit. Deutsch. Palä st. Ver." 4:72, quoted by Vogelstein, l.c. 4, note 23). The transition from the rainy period of spring to the drought of summer is gradual, the showers growing lighter and less frequent. The mountain streams, however, continue to run high for a brief period, and then gradually slacken and dry up entirely. From Nisan to Tishri a rainstorm is a rarity, moisture being furnished by the heavy night-dews, which sometimes wet the ground to such an extent as to give it the appearance of having been rained upon.


Water-wheel in Palestine.
(From a photograph by Bonfils.)

Crops.
Of all the crops planted wheat (ḥ iṭ ṭ ah ) was the most important in Palestine as elsewhere: so great was the fertility of the land that more wheat was produced than was required for home consumption and it was exported in considerable quantities (1Kings 5:25 Ezra 3:7 Ezekiel 27:17 Acts 12:20 ). Two kinds were distinguished, light and dark (B. B. 5:6). Barley (se' orah ) was used for bread mainly by the poorer classes (Ruth 3:15 Mishnah Neg. 13:9), and was also used for feed for animals (Tosef., Soṭ ah 3:4). Spelt ( kusemet ), an intermediate grain between wheat and barley, was customarily sown in the borders of fields. Oats (shifon ) were not much grown. Millet (doḥ an ), beans (pol ), and lentils (' adashim ) were also widely cultivated for food (2Samuel 17:28 , Ezekiel 4:9 ). Flax (pishtah ) was certainly grown (Joshua 2:6 ), and possibly cotton (karpas ). See Barley , Beans , Lentils , Millet , Spelt , and Wheat .

The first crops planted were the pulse varieties, early in Ḥ eshwan (October) barley followed a few days later, and wheat last of all. A noteworthy statute prohibited the sowing of a field "with mingled seed" (kilayim , Leviticus 19:19 ), an operation which in one harvest might exhaust the soil of all its fertile chemical constituents. Alongside of this may be placed the various humanitarian laws, reserving the corners of the harvest-field for the poor and the stranger (Leviticus 19:9 ), concerning the forgotten sheaf (Deuteronomy 24:19 ), and other similar regulations. The harvesting seasons were Nisan (April) for barley, Siwan (early June) for wheat, Tishri (September) for fruits. Concerning these latter, see the articles Fig , Olive , Sycamore , and Vine .

Clearing and Preparing the Land.
The various processes in Agriculture may now be considered. To cultivate land for the first time, it was necessary to clear it either of forest timber (Joshua 17:18 ) or of stones (Isaiah 5:2 ). When thus cleared it was ready for plowing, variously called in Hebrew nir, ḥ arash (to cut into), palaḥ (to cleave asunder), pataḥ (to open), etc. If the soil was clayey, the resulting clods were broken up with mattock or hoe for in the subsequent harrowing ( sadad , Job 39:10 ) only a light harrow, probably a thorn-bush, was employed. Manure was used: it consisted of wood-ashes (Mishnah Sheb. 2:4), leaves (ib. ' Ab. Zarah, 3:8), the blood of slaughtered animals ( ib. Yoma, 5:6 Yer. Sheb. 3:34), oil-scum, or of the usual house and farmyard refuse, into which straw or other litter had been trodden by cattle ( Isaiah 25:10 ) but whether it was applied before or after plowing does not appear. Manuring is referred to in Psalm 83:10 Jeremiah 8:2 , and 9:21. It was applied to trees, about their roots, to preserve them and to stimulate them into fruitfulness (B. ḳ . 3:3). The passages Isaiah 5:24 and 47:14 refer rather to clearing the field of standing stubble by fire than to the direct use of ashes as a fertilizer. The institution of the seventh-year fallow was also a valuable factor in maintaining the fertility of the soil.

The implements used in the subsequent processes were the plow, the hoe or mattock, and a harrow of some kind. The hoe (' eder ) was used to break up fields too steep or too cramped for plowing. The plow, which was of wood, usually oak, was of the simplest and lightest construction, being carried to and from the field on a man's shoulder. Its essential feature was the upright J-shaped timber, shod sometimes with iron at the point (1Samuel 13:20 ), and with a short crosshead at the top to serve as a guiding handle. This upright passed through a hole in a horizontal beam, which consisted of two stout poles lashed together, to the further end of which the yoke was secured. Consisting of so many pieces (see illustration p. 266), and these connected not strictly in the direct line of draft, the work can not have been very perfectly done: no greater depth of soil than four or five inches being penetrated and torn up. For stony or rooty ground it was of course altogether useless such had to be "picked" with a heavy hoe (Isaiah 7:25 ). This was shaped something like the American corn-knife, but, the blade being set at a very acute angle to the handle, it was possible to reenforce it for its rough work by a thong or rope, as shown in the illustration (p. 264).

While the farmer's right hand grasped the handle of the plow, the team (ẓ emed ) of oxen (Amos 6:12 ), of cows (Job 1:14 , Heb. ), or, sometimes, of asses (Deuteronomy 22:10 , Isaiah 30:24 ), was urged onward with a goad (malmad, dorban )— a staff some eight feet long, provided with a sharp point for that purpose at one end, and at the other with a flat blade for cleaning the plow-point (Mishnah Oholot, 17:2) or for breaking chance clods— held in the plowman's left hand. As many as twelve teams were employed in the same field at one time each, no doubt, in its own "land" or section (1Kings 19:19 ).

In Isaiah 28:25 three words are used for the act of sowing: namely, hefiẓ (to scatter) for sowing "fitches" zaraḲ (to scatter) for sowing cumin and sum (to place) for wheat and barley the first two expressions evidently referring to broadcast sowing, the latter to drilling in the furrows. After sowing, the seed was plowed or brushed in with the light harrow to protect it from birds, mice, ants, and from the scorching sunshine. Sometimes the seed was sown broadcast before plowing, and covered in at one operation.

Egypt depended for irrigation upon Nile water lifted into elevated reservoirs, whence it was distributed to the fields through channels closed or opened by a hillock of earth, pushed into place by the foot (Deuteronomy 11:10 ). Palestine, on the contrary, had an abundance of brooks and rock-springs, ("fountains") and was blessed with copious rains. From all these sources water was collected in cisterns, to guard against dry seasons when rain would be scarce and brooks and springs be dried up. An idea of the machinery used in Bible times may be obtained from that employed to raise the water from wells or springs in Palestine to-day. It consists of a horizontal wheel of roughly framed timbers, turned by a bullock or other animal tied to a sweep beneath it. This wheel connects directly with a vertical one of equally rude construction, carrying earthen jars, or other receptacles, fastened to its periphery. As these jars rise to the top they turn over and empty their contents into the conducting channels.(See illustration, p. 267.)

In addition, systems of channels and gutters were arranged to catch the heavy rains on inclined ground, and to distribute the water slowly and evenly over the soil. Such an artificially watered field was called bet ha-shelaḥ in (place of pouring see Job 5:10 , Heb. ), while a field watered by rain was called bet ha-ba' al (place of rain see B. B. 3:1).

Crops ripe for harvesting were sometimes pulled up by the roots (Mishnah Peah, 4:10), particularly pulse. Grain was sometimes dug up with the hoe, thus preparing the field for the next sowing (ib. Peah, 4:4 B. M. 9:1), but was more frequently cut with a ḥ ermesh (Deuteronomy 16:9 , 23:26), or a maggal , or sickle (Joel, iii. Heb. , 4:13 Jeremiah 50:16 ). Iron sickles of the earliest times have been found in the Tell el-Hesy excavations, as also some set with a cutting edge composed of flakes of flint (Mishnah Sheb. 5:6 see illus.). Barley was harvested at Nisan, Pass-over-time (Tosef., Suk. 3,18) wheat and spelt a few weeks later (Tan., Wayḥ 1:15 see also Exodus 9:32 ) and grain-harvesting was finished by Pentecost (Siwan Tosef., Suk. ib. ).


Modern Sickle.
(From Benzinger, "Hebrä ische Archä ologie.")
The single handfuls (ẓ ebatim , Ruth 2:16 ) were tied into sheaves (alummim or alummot , Genesis 37:7 Psalm 126:6 ) by their own straw, were piled into heaps (' omer , Leviticus 23:10 Job 24:10 ) and in due course were transported to the barns (mezawim , Psalm 144:13 ) or the threshing-floor (goren ), possibly in wagons (Amos 2:13 ), or, when in smaller quantity, in baskets or in panniers on asses, as in Egypt to-day.

Threshing and Winnowing.
There were two methods of threshing: ḥ abaṭ (to beat out with a stick) and dush (to trample) the former evidently referring to the primitive practise of beating the full ears (or pods of pulse) with a rod or fiail to extract the grain from the husks the latter, to the trampling of them by cattle upon a hard and level floor ( goren , Numbers 15:20 , 18:27,30 Ruth 3:2 2Samuel 24:16 ). Sometimes the ears alone may have been stricken off the straw by the sickle and thrown upon the threshing-floor (Job 24:24 ) but the usual method was to scatter the loosened bundles of grain-bearing straw, as they came from the barn, upon the goren, to be threshed out, either by oxen, driven over them repeatedly (Hosea 10:11)— therebytrampling them with their hoofs— or by causing cattle to draw certain heavy implements over the mass with the same result. These implements were the ḥ aruẓ ( Isaiah 28:27 Job 41:22 ) and the morag ( Isaiah 41:15 , 1Chronicles 21:23 ), both of which, to judge from their modern representatives, were heavy wooden drags, weighted additionally with large stones or with the driver's person see illustration. The driver to-day not infrequently reposes at full length upon the drag, and even slumbers, while the docile oxen follow their monotonous round over the straw. The under side of these drags was fortified either with revolving metal disks, or, more commonly, with projecting teeth of stone (Isaiah 41: blocks of basalt, the size of a walnut in thickness— securely inserted in holes in the drag, and protruding a couple of inches (see Jastrow, "Dict." s v. , p. 526, for citations).

These instruments are referred to figuratively in Amos 1:3 and 2Kings 13:7 . The humane legislation of the Pentateuch in Deuteronomy 25:7 forbids the muzzling of the oxen while treading out the corn and the Talmud (Kelim, 16:7) similarly enjoins that they be blindfolded as a safeguard against dizziness.


Threshing in Palestine .
The result of so crude a system of threshing naturally was a large amount of worthless straw, torn into short lengths by the weighted teeth of the morag. Winnowing, as a consequence, became a very necessary and tedious operation. When sufficiently trampled and torn to pieces, the resultant mass of mingled grain, chaff, and short straw was tossed into the air with the mizreh (from zarah , to scatter A. V. "fan," Isaiah 30:24 , Jeremiah 15:7 ) and the raḥ at (connected with ruaḥ = wind), properly a fork or a shovel: implements under these names are used in Palestine to-day. When a shovelful of the mingled mass upon the floor was lifted and thrown against the wind, the chaff () was blown away ( Psalm 1:4 ) the short straw would collect some distance away on the outer edge of the heap, and was used for provender (teben Isaiah 11:7 ) while the heavier grain would fall at the winnower's feet (' aremah , Ruth 3:7 Song of Song of Song of Song of Solomon 7:2 ). This grain was still further cleansed from ears which still held kernels, and from stubble, by being shaken through a sieve (kebarah , Amos 9:9 ). It is doubtful whether the word nafah (Isaiah 30:28 A. V. "sieve") means a sieve at all. The mesh of the Palestinian sieve of today is made of slips of dried camel-hide, and is fine enough to pass the kernels and to hold the unthreshed ears which are then collected and again thrown upon the threshing-floor.

Various names for storehouses or barns are given: maabus , Jeremiah 1 . 26 asam , Deuteronomy 28:8 , Proverbs 3:10 mammegurot , Joel 1:17 mezawim , Psalm 144:13 miskenot , Exodus 1:11 1Kings 9:19 in rabbinical writings also oẓ ar, goren, megurah , and apoteki , N. T. π ο φ ή κ η , all denoting magazines or granaries. Grain was sometimes stored in the field (Jeremiah 41:8 , Maksh. 1:6 ), probably in caves or cisterns, as is still the practise in such receptacles it will remain good for years.

For a description of the various adverse influences to which the growing crops used to be exposed see Drought , East Wind , Locusts , Mildew .

Bibliography : Ugolino, Commentarius de Re Rustica Veterum Hebrœ orum , in his Thesaurus Antiquitatum Sacrarum , 1765,29:1-518 Stade, Gesch. d. Volkes Israel , 1:7 Nowack, Lehrbuch der Hebrä ischen Archä ologie , s.v. Ackerbau Benzinger, Hebrä ische Arch. i. B, 1894, pp. 207-213 Thomson, The Land and the Book (popular ed., 1880), under Manners and Customs , on Harvest, Irrigation, Planting, Plowing Zeit. Deutsch. Palä st. Ver. ix.: Ackerbau und Viehzucht Quarterly Statements of the Pal. Explor. Fund (see indexes) H. Vogelstein, Die Landwirtschaft in Palä stina zur Zeit der Mischnah , Berlin, 1894 Adler and Casanowicz, Biblical Antiquities , p. 1005.F. de S. M.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Agriculture'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tje/a/agriculture.html. 1901.


Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, October 21st, 2017
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
Search for…
Enter query in the box:
 or 
Choose a letter to browse:
A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M 
N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  Y  Z 

 
ADVERTISEMENT
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology