Manners & Customs: Agriculture
Agriculture in the ancient World.
Ancient Agriculture. In ancient times agriculture was considered both an art and a science. Cultivating the ground and producing crops, or raising livestock on your own land or farm, go back thousands of years. It is mentioned often in the early chapters of Genesis, especially with Adam, Cain, and Noah. Abraham the first Hebrew considered himself a pilgrim in the promised land, and it was not until his descendents became a nation and settled in the land of Israel that people took up farming. In fact the land that had been previously maintained by the ancient Canaanites was a beautiful land, and perfect for farming. Neighboring countries like Egypt and Mesopotamia had to irrigate their crops in the desert heat, but Israel could rely on the cool winter rains (Deut 11:10-11). The land of Israel under Joshua's leadership was divided between the 12 tribes, and the family heritage of land was considered very important. Land would revert back to its original owner every Jubilee year according to God's law. Land could only be leased for a period of time (Leviticus 25:8-16, 23-35). In biblical times there were three types of agriculture: growing grain, tending vineyards, and raising flocks and herds. The Bible mentions the grain crops: wheat, barley, rye, and millet. The land was plowed using a yoke of oxen and the seeds were sown by hand. At the time of harvest grain was reaped using a sickle. They were then bound in sheaves, or gathered into bundles and brought to the threshing floor. The threshing "floor" was a circle of ground where the grain was placed and then trampled by animals or people, or some heavy threshing instrument. Afterward the grain was tossed in the air "winnowed" so that the wind would blow away the chaff and only the grain would remain. The grain was then shaken around to remove any particles of dirt or debris. Vineyards were well cared for and families worked hard at pruning and maintaining a choice vineyard. Isaiah 5:1-6 provides good information regarding the vine. Keeping flocks was something that the more wealthy landowners were concerned with. Flocks provided many things: food, milk, cheese, clothing, sheepskin, woven garments made of wool, etc. much of the ancient techniques of farming has not changed in the countries of the Middle East. - Bible History Online
Agriculture in Easton's Bible Dictionary
Tilling the ground (Gen. 2:15; 4:2, 3, 12) and rearing
were the chief employments in ancient times. The
excelled in agriculture. And after the Israelites
the possession of the Promised Land, their
favoured in the highest degree a remarkable
development of this
art. Agriculture became indeed the basis of the
The year in Israel was divided into six
I. SOWING TIME.
Tisri, latter half
(beginning about the autumnal equinox.)
Kisleu, former half.
Early rain due = first showers of autumn.
II. UNRIPE TIME.
Kisleu, latter half.
Sebat, former half.
III. COLD SEASON.
Sebat, latter half.
Nisan, former half.
Latter rain due (Deut. 11:14; Jer. 5:24; Hos. 6:3;
James 5:7; Job 29:23).
IV. HARVEST TIME.
Nisan, latter half.
(Beginning about vernal equinox. Barley green.
Sivan, former half., Wheat ripe. Pentecost.
V. SUMMER (total absence of rain)
Sivan, latter half.
Ab, former half.
VI. SULTRY SEASON
Ab, latter half.
Tisri, former half., Ingathering of fruits.
The six months from the middle of Tisri to the
middle of Nisan
were occupied with the work of cultivation, and the
rest of the
year mainly with the gathering in of the fruits. The
and easily-arranged system of irrigation from the
streams from the mountains made the soil in every
Israel richly productive (Ps. 1:3; 65:10; Prov.
30:25; 32:2, 20; Hos. 12:11), and the appliances of
cultivation and of manure increased its fertility to
extent that in the days of Solomon, when there was
Agriculture in Fausset's Bible Dictionary
While the patriarchs were in Canaan, they led a pastoral
life, and little attended to tillage; Isaac and Jacob indeed
tilled at times (Genesis 26:12; Genesis 37:7), but the
herdsmen strove with Isaac for his wells not for his crops.
The wealth of Gerar and Shechem was chiefly pastoral
(Genesis 20:14; Genesis 34:28). The recurrence of famines
and intercourse with Egypt taught the Canaanites
subsequently to attend more to tillage, so that by the time
of the spies who brought samples of the land's produce from
Eshcol much progress had been made (Deuteronomy 8:8; Numbers
13:23). Providence happily arranged it so that Israel, while
yet a family, was kept by the pastoral life from blending
with and settling among idolaters around. In Egypt the
native prejudice against shepherds kept them separate in
Goshen (Genesis 47:4-6; Genesis 46:34). But there they
unlearned the exclusively pastoral life and learned
husbandry (Deuteronomy 11:10), while the deserts beyond
supplied pasture for their cattle (1 Chronicles 7:21).
On the other hand, when they became a nation,
occupying Canaan, their agriculture learned in Egypt made
them a self subsisting nation, independent of external
supplies, and so less open to external corrupting
influences. Agriculture was the basis of the Mosaic
commonwealth; it checked the tendency to the roving habits
of nomad tribes, gave each man a stake in the soil by the
law of inalienable inheritances, and made a numerous
offspring profitable as to the culture of the land. God
claimed the lordship of the soil (Leviticus 25:23), so that
each held by a divine tenure; subject to the tithe, a quit
rent to the theocratic head landlord, also subject to the
sabbatical year. Accumulation of debt was obviated by
prohibiting interest on principal lent to fellow citizens
(Leviticus 25:8-16; Leviticus 25:28-87). Every seventh,
sabbatic year, or the year of Jubilee, every 50th year,
lands alienated for a time reverted to the original owner.
Compare Isaiah's "woe" to them who "add field to
field," clearing away families (1 Kings 21) to absorb all,
as Ahab did to Naboth. Houses in towns, if not redeemed in a
year, were alienated for ever; thus land property had an
advantage over city property, an inducement to cultivate and
reside on one's own land. The husband of an heiress passed
by adoption into the family into which he married, so as not
to alienate the land. The condition of military service was
attached to the land, but with merciful qualifications
(Deuteronomy 20); thus a national yeomanry of infantry,
officered by its own hereditary chiefs, was secured. Horses
were forbidden to be multiplied (Deuteronomy 17:16).
Purificatory rites for a day after warfare were required
(Numbers 19:16; Numbers 31:19). These regulations, and that
of attendance thrice a year at Jerusalem for the great
feasts, discouraged the appetite for war. The soil is
fertile still, wherever industry is secure. The Hauran
(Peraea) is highly reputed for productiveness.
The soil of Gaza is dark and rich, though light, and
retains rain; olives abound in it. The Israelites cleared
away most of the wood which they found in Canaan (Joshua
17:18), and seem to have had a scanty supply, as they
imported but little; compare such extreme expedients for
getting wood for sacrifice as in 1 Samuel 6:14; 2 Samuel
24:22; 1 Kings 19:21; dung and hay fuel heated their ovens
(Ezekiel 4:12; Ezekiel 4:15; Matthew 6:30). The water
Agriculture in Naves Topical Bible
Divine institution of
Ge 2:15; 3:19,23
-Practiced by Cain
-Practiced by Noah
-Practiced by Elisha
-Practiced by David
-Practiced by Uzziah
-Practiced by Solomon
-God to be acknowledged in
Jer 5:24; Ho 2:8
Pr 27:23,27; Ec 11:6
-Persons engaged in, called husbandmen
-Called tiller of the ground
-Planters of vineyards, exempted from military service
-Fruits blasted because of sin
Isa 5:10; 7:23; Jer 12:13; Joe 1:10,11
Ex 20:9; 22:5,6; 23:10-12; 34:21,22; Le
25:2-12,15,16,19-28; De 5:13,14; 22:9,10; 23:24,25;
24:19-21; Pr 3:9,10; Ec 5:9; Pr 27:23-27; Mt 12:1
Ge 8:22; 1Sa 13:19-21; Isa 28:24-28; Mt 13:3-8; 2Co
Sowing wheat, but reaping thorns
Of the sower
Mt 13:3-8,19-23; Lu 8:5-15
Of the tares
Agriculture in Smiths Bible Dictionary
This was little cared for by the patriarchs. The pastoral
life, however, was the means of keeping the sacred race,
whilst yet a family, distinct from mixture and locally
unattached, especially whilst in Egypt. When grown into a
nation it supplied a similar check on the foreign
intercourse, and became the basis of the Mosaic
commonwealth. "The land is mine," Le 25:23 was a dictum
which made agriculture likewise the basis of the theocratic
relation. Thus every family felt its own life with intense
keenness, and had its divine tenure which it was to guard
from alienation. The prohibition of culture in the
sabbatical year formed a kind of rent reserved by the divine
Owner. Landmarks were deemed sacred, De 19:14 and the
inalienability of the heritage was insured by its reversion
to the owner in the year of jubilee; so that only so many
years of occupancy could be sold. Le 25:8-16, 23-35 Rain.--
Water was abundant in Israel from natural sources. De
8:7; 11:8-12 Rain was commonly expected soon after the
autumnal equinox. The period denoted by the common
scriptural expressions of the "early" and the "latter rain,"
De 11:14; Jer 5:24; Ho 6:3; Zec 10:1; Jas 5:7 generally
reaching from November to April, constituted the "rainy
season," and the remainder of the year the "dry season."
Crops.--The cereal crops of constant mention are wheat and
barley, and more rarely rye and millet(?). Of the two
former, together with the vine, olive and fig, the use of
irrigation, the plough and the harrow, mention is made ln
the book of Job 31:40; 15:33; 24:6; 29:19; 39:10 Two kinds
of cumin (the black variety called fitches), Isa 28:27 and
such podded plants as beans and lentils may be named among
the staple produce. Ploughing and Sowing.--The plough was
probably very light, one yoke of oxen usually sufficing to
draw it. Mountains and steep places were hoed. Isa 7:25 New
ground and fallows, Jer 4:3; Ho 10:12 were cleared of stones
and of thorns, Isa 5:2 early in the year, sowing or
gathering from "among thorns" being a proverb for slovenly
husbandry. Job 5:5; Pr 24:30,31 Sowing also took place
without previous ploughing, the seed being scattered broad
cast and ploughed in afterwards. The soil was then brushed
over with a light harrow, often of thorn bushes. In highly-
irrigated spots the seed was trampled by cattle. Isa 32:20
Seventy days before the passover was the time prescribed for
sowing. The oxen were urged on by a goad like a spear. Jud
3:31 The proportion of harvest gathered to seed sown was
often vast; a hundred fold is mentioned, but in such a way
as to signify that it was a limit rarely attained. Ge 26:12;
Mt 13:8 Sowing a field with divers seed was forbidden. De
22:9 Reaping and Threshing.--The wheat etc., was reaped by
the sickle or pulled by the roots. It was bound in sheaves.
The sheaves or heaps were carted, Am 2:13 to the floor--a
circular spot of hard ground, probably, as now, from 50 to
80 or 100 feet in diameter. Ge 1:10,11; 2Sa 24:16,18 On
these the oxen, etc., forbidden to be muzzled, De 25:4
trampled out the grain. At a later time the Jews used a
threshing sledge called morag, Isa 41:15; 2Sa 24:22; 1Ch
21:23 probably resembling the noreg, still employed in Egypt
--a stage with three rollers ridged with iron, which, aided
by the driver's weight crushed out, often injuring...
Agriculture in the Bible Encyclopedia - ISBE
I. DEVELOPMENT OF AGRICULTURE
II. CLIMATIC CONDITIONS AND FERTILITY
III. AGRICULTURAL PURSUITS
1. Growing of Grain
(1) Plowing and Sowing
2. Care of Vineyards
3. Raising of Flocks
I. Development of Agriculture.
One may witness in Syria and Israel today the various
stages of social progress through which the people of Bible
times passed in which the development of their agriculture
played an important part. To the East the sons of Ishmael
still wander in tribes from place to place, depending upon
their animals for food and raiment, unless by a raid they
can secure the fruits of the
soil from the peoples, mostly of their own blood, who have
given up wandering and are supporting themselves by tilling
the ground. It is only a short step from this frontier life
to the more protected territory toward the Mediterranean,
where in comparatively peaceful surroundings, the wanderers
become stationary. If the land which they have come to
possess is barren and waterless, they become impoverished
physically and spiritually, but if they have chosen the
rarer spots where underground streams burst forth into
valleys covered with alluvial deposits (Ex 3:8), they
prosper and there springs up the more complicated
Agriculture Scripture - 1Chronicles 27:26
And over them that did the work of the field for tillage of
the ground [was] Ezri the son of Chelub:
Agriculture Scripture - 1Kings 19:19
So he departed thence, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat,
who [was] plowing [with] twelve yoke [of oxen] before him, and
he with the twelfth: and Elijah passed by him, and cast his
mantle upon him.
Agriculture Scripture - 2Chronicles 26:10
Also he built towers in the desert, and digged many wells: for
he had much cattle, both in the low country, and in the
plains: husbandmen [also], and vine dressers in the mountains,
and in Carmel: for he loved husbandry.
Agriculture Scripture - Ecclesiastes 2:4
I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me
Agriculture Scripture - Genesis 3:19
In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou
return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for
dust thou [art], and unto dust shalt thou return.
Agriculture Scripture - Genesis 3:23
Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden,
to till the ground from whence he was taken.
Agriculture Scripture - Genesis 4:2
And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of
sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.
Agriculture Scripture - Genesis 9:20
And Noah began [to be] an husbandman, and he planted a
Agriculture Scripture - Jeremiah 5:24
Neither say they in their heart, Let us now fear the LORD our
God, that giveth rain, both the former and the latter, in his
season: he reserveth unto us the appointed weeks of the
Agriculture Scripture - Proverbs 27:23
Be thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks, [and] look
well to thy herds.
Caring for the Vineyard
Parable of the sluggard. A good indication of the care required in growing a vineyard may be derived by looking at this parable as given in the book of Proverbs. "I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; and, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down" (Proverbs 24:30, 31). The sluggard failed to keep his vineyard-wall in repair, and he failed to keep his growing vines free of thorns and weeds. These two activities are absolutely necessary.
As in the case of raising a crop of grain, the native farmer does not usually fertilize the ground of his vineyard. Liming of the ground is dependent upon the many small and soft limestones so often present in Israel. Some of the lime in the stones is dissolved with each rainstorm, and mixing with the soil helps it in the growth of the grapes.
[Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
Children of the East
Practice in Old Testament days. In the book of Judges, bands of desert people called "the Children of the East," were a constant menace to the Israelites. When these pastoral encampments neared the borders of agriculture, a raid would be planned against the harvest of Israel, or any of their flocks, herds, or other valuable goods. Scripture says of these people: "And so it was, when Israel had sown, that . . . the children of the east, even they came up against them; and they encamped against them, and destroyed the increase of the earth . . . and left no sustenance for Israel, neither sheep, nor ox, nor ass" (Judges 6:3, 4). [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
Early and Latter Rains
The Israel grainfields are largely dependent upon the rain that falls, for their fruitfulness. No rain falls in the land from May to September. The former rain, spoken of in scripture, falls in the latter part of October or the first part of November usually. It is this rain that is the signal for the farmer to begin his ploughing and plant his seed.
The Bible also speaks of the latter rain, which ordinarily falls in March and April, and it is this rain that is of so much value in maturing the barley and the wheat crops. The heavy winds come
the latter part of December and during January and February.
The prophecy of Joel mentions all three of these kinds of rain: "And he will cause to come down for you the rain, the former rain, and the latter rain in the first month" (Joel 2:23). The word rain here means heavy, gushing rain that falls in winter months, and the rainy season starts with the former rain in the fall, and ends with the latter rain in the spring.
Barley harvest is usually in April and May, and wheat harvest in May and June. Thus we see that Jeremiah was quite correct in his order of seasons in relation to the harvest time, when he said: "The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved" (Jeremiah 8:20).
[Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
Growing and Harvesting Grain
THE NUMEROUS REFERENCES to the growth of grain, which are found in the law of Moses, indicate that it was expected that the Israelites would become an agricultural people after entering the land of Canaan, and that the cultivation of grain would become one of their chief industries. It is a remarkable fact that the methods used by them in growing and harvesting this crop are virtually the same as those that have been used by the Palestinian Arab peasants for centuries down to the present day.
[Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
Parable of the Sower
Sowing as illustrated by the parable of JESUS. The process of sowing, and what happens to the seed, is well illustrated by the Parable of the Sower. No better picture could be given of the Oriental process of sowing the grain than that given by JESUS in this parable (Matthew 13:3-8; Mark 4:3-8; Luke 8:5-8).
"Behold, a sower went forth to sow; and when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up" (Matthew 13:3, 4).
Israel had few roads in the modern sense of the word until the Romans built their roads, and these only connected the most important places. Because traveling was either on foot, or by means of donkeys, or camels. a simple footpath was usually all that was necessary. These paths were given over to public use by ancient custom. If a farmer had such a path running across his land. he would plough the earth to the edge of the narrow path. but would leave it for the use of travelers.
The Synoptic Gospels tell of JESUS and His disciples traveling in this manner through a grainfield (Matthew 12:1; Mark 2:23; Luke 6:1). Hedges or fences were seldom erected along such a footpath. When the farmer scattered his seed, some was quite apt to fall on this "way." and not being covered by the plough soon enough, the birds would discover it and eat it.
"Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away." (Matthew 13:5, 6).
The thought here is not of a soil that is mingled with stones. but rather a thin layer of mould covering a rock. Under such conditions, the grain would spring up quickly. but lacking depth of root. would be scorched by the sun. and fail to mature.
"And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them."
In Israel and Syria, there are many thornbushes present that are apt to grow adjoining the grainfields. and some of them will spring up in the midst of the grain. The native farmer uses these thornbushes in the summer for the outdoor fires for cooking the meals. Hence he is not so careful to get rid of them in the near vicinity. and so some of these will choke the wheat or barley shoots.
"But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit. some an hundredfold: some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold."
The native farmers of Bible lands often have poor returns on the seed they sow, because their methods are primitive. But there are instances of good crops in modern times. George Mackie, who was a missionary to Syria, has said: "The soil is in many places exceedingly fertile, and the return corresponds to the standard cited in the parable."
When Isaac farmed in the rich Negeb section of Southern Canaan. Scripture says:
"Then Isaac sowed in that land, and received in the same year an hundredfold" (Genesis 26:12).
[Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
PREPARING THE SOIL FOR THE CROP
Ploughing. The ploughing of the ground in Oriental fashion is quite primitive. The plough, which at best is a slight implement, can be carried if necessary two miles to the farmer's place of work. Of course by comparison with modern ploughs, it could be said merely to scratch the surface at the soil. The ploughman holds the one handle of the plough with one of his hands, while he carries the goad in the other hand, with which to prod the animals. JESUS said, "No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62). He described the operation accurately in saying hand, i.e. one hand, rather than two hands, as is the case with a Western farmer. It would be fatal for the Palestinian farmer to look back, because his implement is so light that the worker often has to press down with all his weight upon it to keep it from leaving the furrow.8
The Eastern farmers will sometimes plough together, each man having his own plough and team of oxen, and one following close behind the preceding one. This sort of farmer's club is adopted as a protection from roving Bedouin robbers, and also because co-operation is desired when the wheat farms are large.
Thus Elisha was found ploughing with eleven other ploughmen and a total of twenty-four oxen (I Kings 19:19).
[Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
Ploughing After the Rain
Getting ready for ploughing. The farmer gets ready for ploughing after the first rain starts falling, if he has not already done so before. He will spend the time making sure that his plough is in good repair and ready for action. He may need to cut and point a new goad to use in prodding his team of oxen. He must also see to it that his yoke is smooth and fits the necks of the animals. An ill-shaped or heavy yoke would gall them. The LORD JESUS spoke of "the easy yoke" promised to His obedient followers (Matthew 11:30). When the ground has been softened sufficiently by the rain, then the ploughing can begin. [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
Potter Scripture - Isaiah 64:8
But now, O LORD, thou [art] our father; we [are] the clay, and
thou our potter; and we all [are] the work of thy hand.
Preparing the Soil
The soil prepared for planting. The ground for hillside vineyards is not usually ploughed on account of its rocky character. Rather is the more arduous method of hoeing or spading by hand used. Isaiah pictures the process of cultivation the soil in the words, "and he fenced [digged] it" (Isaiah 5:2). If the farmer in charge of the vineyard does not have a small vineyard, he will probably need to have some workmen to help him, as was the case of the householder in CHRIST's Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-3), and in such a case it is to the marketplace that he will go to secure his workers. [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
How and when the seed is sown. The farmer usually carries his seed to his field in a large sack on the back of his donkey. and then the leather bag which he carries under his arm is replenished with seed from the sack.13
As a rule, the seed is scattered broadcast on the ground, and then it is covered over by the ploughing. Often the sower walks along, scattering his seed, and then one of his family, or a servant if he has one, follows directly with the plough.
The Biblical word "to sow" as used in the Pentateuch (Genesis 26:12; Leviticus 25:3, etc.),
means "to scatter seed." [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
Vineyards on Hills
Hillsides often used. Although vineyards are to be found in various locations in Israel, it has been customary during past years for the hillsides to be utilized for the purpose, or the ground at the foot of a hill that slopes gently. Grapevines like a sandy or loose soil. They need plenty of sunshine and air by day, and dew by night, and their roots will penetrate deep crevices of rock to get nourishment.
It was "in a very fruitful hill" that Isaiah's vineyard grew (Isaiah 5:1).
[Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
Waiting for Rain Before Ploughing
PRELIMINARY PREPARATION FOR PLANTING THE GRAIN
Waiting for rain before beginning to plough. In Israel, ploughing is done after the early rains have softened the earth (cf. Psalm 65:10). These rains usually come the latter part of October or the first part of November. If they do not come then, the farmer must wait for them before he can plough his ground. Job said, "They waited for me as for the rain" (Job 29:23). Jeremiah described lack of rain thus: "There was no rain in the earth, the ploughmen were ashamed, they covered their heads" (Jeremiah 14:4). Once the rain has come, the industrious farmer will start his ploughing. "The sluggard will not plough by reason of the cold" (Proverbs 20:4). Such a man will retreat into his home and enjoy the warmth of his fire, but he will miss the harvest. Dr. Thomson tells of one year when the farmers waited until the month of February for sufficient rain to enable them to plough the ground for the grain crop. The harvest came late, but was abundant. [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
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