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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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AGRICULTURE . Throughout the whole period of their national existence, agriculture was the principal occupation of the Hebrews. According to the priestly theory, the land was the property of J″ [Note: Jahweh.]; His people enjoyed the usufruct ( Leviticus 25:23 ). In actual practice, the bulk of the land was owned by the towns and village communities, each free husbandman having his allotted portion of the common lands. The remainder included the Crown lands and the estates of the nobility, at least under the monarchy. Husbandry the Biblical term for agriculture ( 2 Chronicles 26:10 ) was highly esteemed, and was regarded as dating from the very earliest times ( Genesis 4:2 ). It was J″ [Note: Jahweh.]; Himself who taught the husbandman his art ( Isaiah 28:26 ).

Of the wide range of topics embraced by agriculture in the wider significance of the term, some of the more important will be treated in separate articles, such as Cart, Flax, Food, Garden, Olive, Ox, Thorns, Vine, etc. The present article will deal only with the more restricted field of the cultivation of the principal cereals. These were, in the first rank, wheat and barley; less important were the crops of millet and spelt, and those of the pulse family lentils, beans, and the like.

1 . The agricultural year began in the latter half of October, with the advent of the early rains, which soften the ground baked by the summer heat. Then the husbandman began to prepare his fields for the winter seed by means of the plough . From the details given in post-Biblical literature, it is evident that the Hebrew plough differed but little from its modern Syrian counterpart (see PEFSt [Note: Quarterly Statement of the same.] , 1891). The essential part or ‘body’ of the latter, corresponding in position to the modern plough-tail or ‘stilt,’ consists of a piece of tough wood bent and pointed at the foot to receive an iron sheath or share ( 1 Samuel 13:20 ), the upper end being furnished with a short cross-piece to serve as a handle. The pole is usually in two parts: one stout and curved, through the lower end of which the ‘body’ is passed just above the share; at the other end is attached the lighter part of the pole, through the upper end of which a stout pin is passed to serve as attachment for the yoke. The plough was usually drawn by two or more oxen ( Amos 6:12 ), or by asses ( Isaiah 30:24 ), but the employment of one of each kind was forbidden ( Deuteronomy 22:10 ). The yoke is a short piece of wood the bar of Leviticus 26:13 (RV [Note: Revised Version.] ) fitted with two pairs of converging pegs, the lower ends connected by thongs, to receive the necks of the draught animals. Two smaller pegs in the middle of the upper side hold in position a ring of willow, rope, or other material, which is passed over the end of the pole and kept in position by the pin above mentioned. As the ploughman required but one hand to guide the plough, the other was free to wield the ox-goad , a light wooden pole shod at one end with an iron spike wherewith to prick the oxen (cf. Acts 9:5 ), and having at the other a small spade with which to clean the plough-share. Gardens, vineyards ( Isaiah 5:6 RV [Note: Revised Version.] ), and parts too difficult to plough were worked with the hoe or mattock ( Isaiah 7:25 ).

The prevailing mode of sowing was by hand, as in the parable of the Sower, the seed being immediately ploughed in. It was possible, however, to combine both operations by fixing a seed-box to the plough-tail. The seed passed through an aperture at the bottom of the box and was conducted by a pipe along the tail. It thus fell into the drill behind the share and was immediately covered in. The patriarch Abraham was credited by Jewish legend with the invention of this form of seeding-plough (Bk. of Jubilees 11:23ff.). This mode of sowing is probably referred to in Isaiah 28:25 (‘the wheat in rows’ RV [Note: Revised Version.] ). There is no evidence that harrows were used for covering in the seed.

2 . During the period of growth the crops were exposed to a variety of risks, such as the delay or scanty fall of the spring rains (the ‘latter rain’ of the OT, Amos 4:9 ), blasting by the hot sirocco wind, mildew, hail these three are named together in Haggai 2:17; cf. Deuteronomy 28:22 , Amos 4:9 and worst of all a visitation of locusts. The productiveness of the soil naturally varied greatly (cf. Matthew 13:8 ). Under favourable conditions, as in the Hauran, wheat is said to yield a hundredfold return.

3 . Owing to the wide range of climatic conditions in Palestine, the time of the harvest was not uniform, being earliest in the semi-tropical Jordan valley, and latest in the uplands of Galilee. The average harvest period, reckoned by the Hebrew legislation ( Leviticus 23:15 , Deuteronomy 16:9 ) to cover seven weeks, may be set down as from the middle of April to the beginning of June, the barley ripening about a fortnight sooner than the wheat.

The standing corn was reaped with the sickle ( Deuteronomy 16:9 RV [Note: Revised Version.] ), the stalks being cut considerably higher up than with us. The handfuls of ears were gathered into sheaves, and these into heaps (not into shocks) for transportation to the threshing-floor. The corners of the field were left to be reaped, and the fallen ears to be gleaned, by the poor and the stranger ( Leviticus 19:9 f., Deuteronomy 24:19 , Ruth 2:2 ff.).

For small quantities the ears were stripped by beating with a stick (Ruth 2:17 , Judges 6:11 RV [Note: Revised Version.] ), otherwise the threshing was done at the village threshing-floor . This was a large, specially prepared ( Jeremiah 51:33 RV [Note: Revised Version.] ) space on an elevated situation. Hither the corn was brought on asses or on a cart ( Amos 2:13 ), and piled in heaps. Enough sheaves were drawn out to form a layer, 6 to 8 ft. wide, all round the heap. Over this layer several oxen, unmuzzled according to law ( Deuteronomy 25:4 ), and harnessed together as represented on the Egyptian monuments, might be driven. More effective work, however, was got from the threshing-drag and the threshing-wagon , both still in use in the East, the former being the favourite in Syria, the latter in Egypt. The former consists of two or three thick wooden planks held together by a couple of cross-pieces, the whole measuring from 5 to 7 ft. in length by 3 to 4 ft. in breadth. The underside of the drag is set with sharp pieces of hardstone (cf. Isaiah 41:15 ), which strip the ears as the drag, on which the driver sits or stands, is driven over the sheaves, and at the same time cut up the stalks into small lengths. The threshing-wagon is simply a wooden frame containing three or more rollers set with parallel metal discs, and supporting a seat for the driver. The former instrument was used by Araunah the Jebusite ( 2 Samuel 24:22 ), while the latter is probably referred to in ‘the threshing wheel’ of Proverbs 20:26 (RV [Note: Revised Version.] ). Both are mentioned together in the original of Isaiah 28:27 .

After the threshing came the winnowing . By means of a five- or six-pronged fork, the ‘ fan ’ of the OT and NT, the mass of grain, chaff, and chopped straw is tossed into the air in the western evening breeze. The chaff is carried farthest away ( Psalms 1:4 , the light morsels of straw to a shorter distance, while the heavy grains of wheat or barley fall at the winnower’s feet. After being thoroughly sifted with a variety of sieves ( Amos 9:9 , Isaiah 30:28 ), the grain was stored in jars for immediate use, and in cisterns ( Jeremiah 41:8 ), or in specially constructed granaries, the ‘ barns ’ of Matthew 6:26 .

4 . Of several important matters, such as irrigation, the terracing of slopes, manuring of the fields, the conditions of lease, etc. regarding which Vogelstein’s treatise Die Landwirtschaft in Palästina is a mine of information for the Roman period there is little direct evidence in Scripture. Agriculture, as is natural, bulks largely in the legislative codes of the Pentateuch. Some of the provisions have already been cited. To these may be added the solemn injunction against removing a neighbour’s ‘landmarks,’ the upright stones marking the boundaries of his fields ( Deuteronomy 19:14; Deuteronomy 27:17 ), the humanitarian provision regarding strayed cattle ( Exodus 23:4 , Deuteronomy 22:1 ff.), the law that every field must lie fallow for one year in seven ( Exodus 23:10 f.; see, for later development, Sabbatical Year), the law forbidding the breeding of hybrids and the sowing of a field with two kinds of seed ( Leviticus 19:19 RV [Note: Revised Version.] ), and the far-reaching provision as to the inalienability of the land ( Leviticus 25:8 ff.).

The fact that no department of human activity has enriched the language of Scripture, and in consequence the language of the spiritual life in all after ages, with so many appropriate figures of speech, is a striking testimony to the place occupied by agriculture in the life and thought of the Hebrew people.

A. R. S. Kennedy.

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Agriculture'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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