Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, February 25th, 2024
the Second Sunday of Lent
There are 35 days til Easter!
Partner with StudyLight.org as God uses us to make a difference for those displaced by Russia's war on Ukraine.
Click to donate today!

Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Search for…
Prev Entry
Agricola, St.
Next Entry
Resource Toolbox
Additional Links

the art or profession of cultivating the soil. (See FARM); (See TILLAGE).

I. History. The antiquity of agriculture is indicated in the brief history of Cain and Abel, when it tells us that the former was a "tiller of the ground," and brought some of the fruits of his labor as an offering to God (Genesis 4:2-3), and that part of the ultimate curse upon him was, "When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield to thee her strength" (Genesis 4:12). Of the actual state of agriculture before the Deluge we know nothing. (See ANTEDILUVIANS).

Whatever knowledge was possessed by the Old World was doubtless transmitted to the New by Noah and his sons; and that this knowledge was considerable is implied in the fact that one of the operations of Noah, when he "began to be a husbandman," was to plant a vineyard, and to make wine with the fruit (Genesis 9:2). There are few agricultural notices belonging to the patriarchal period, but they suffice to show that the land of Canaan was in a state of cultivation, and that the inhabitants possessed what were at a later date the principal products of the soil in the same country. It is reasonable, therefore, to conclude that the modes of operation were then similar to those which we afterward find among the Jews in the same country, and concerning which our information is more exact. (See ARABIA).

Agriculture was little cared for by the patriarchs; more so, however, by Isaac and Jacob than by Abraham (Genesis 26:12; Genesis 37:7), in whose time probably, if we except the lower Jordan valley (Genesis 13:10), there was little regular culture in Canaan. Thus Gerar and Shechem seem to have been cities where pastoral wealth predominated. The herdmen strove with Isaac about his wells; about his crop there was no contention (Genesis 10:14; Genesis 34:28). In Joshua's time, as shown by the story of the "Eshcol" (Numbers 13:23-24), Canaan was found in a much more advanced agricultural state than when Jacob had left it (Deuteronomy 8:8), resulting probably from the severe experience of famines, and the example of Egypt, to which its people were thus led. The pastoral life was the means of keeping the sacred race, while yet a family, distinct from mixture and locally unattached, especially while in Egypt. When, grown into a nation, they conquered their future seats, agriculture supplied a similar check on the foreign intercourse and speedy demoralization, especially as regards idolatry, which commerce would have caused. Thus agriculture became the basis of the Mosaic commonwealth (Michaelis, 37-41). It tended to check also the freebooting and nomad life, and made a numerous offspring profitable, as it was already honorable by natural sentiment and by law. Thus, too, it indirectly discouraged slavery, or, where it existed, made the slave somewhat like a son, though it made the son also somewhat of a slave. Taken in connection with the inalienable character of inheritances, it gave each man and each family a stake in the soil, and nurtured a hardy patriotism. "The land is Mine" (Leviticus 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, under this aspect, a kind of rent reserved by the Divine Owner. Landmarks were deemed sacred (Deuteronomy 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 (Leviticus 25:8-16; Leviticus 25:23-35). The prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 5:8) denounces the contempt of such restrictions by wealthy grandees who sought to "add field to field," erasing families and depopulating districts. (See LAND).

In giving to the Israelites possession of a country already under cultivation, it was the Divine intention that they should keep up that cultivation, and become themselves an agricultural people; and in doing this they doubtless adopted the practices of agriculture which they found already established in the country. This may have been the more necessary, as agriculture is a practical art; and those of the Hebrew who were acquainted with the practices of Egyptian husbandry had died in the wilderness; and even had they lived, the processes proper to a hot climate and alluvial soil, watered by river inundation, like that of Egypt, although the same in essential forms, could not have been altogether applicable to so different a country as Palestine. (See EGYPT).

II. Weather, etc. As the nature of the seasons lies at the root of all agricultural operations, it should be noticed that the variations of sunshine and rain, which with us extend throughout the year, are in Palestine confined chiefly to the latter part of autumn and the winter. During all the rest of the year the sky is almost uninterruptedly cloudless, and rain very rarely falls. The autumnal rains usually commence at the latter end of October or beginning of November, not suddenly, but by degrees, which gives opportunity to the husbandman to sow his wheat and barley. The rains continue during November and December, but afterward they occur at longer intervals, and rain is rare after March, and almost never occurs as late as May. The cold of winter is not severe; and as the ground is never frozen, the labors of the husbandman are not entirely interrupted. Snow falls in different parts of the country, but never lies long on the ground. In the plains and valleys the heat of summer is oppressive, but not in the more elevated tracts. In these high grounds the nights are cool, often with heavy dew. The total absence of rain in summer soon destroys the verdure of the fields, and gives to the general landscape, even in the high country, an aspect of drought and barrenness. No green thing remains but the foliage of the scattered fruit-trees, and occasional vineyards and fields of millet. In autumn the whole land becomes dry and parched, the cisterns are nearly empty, and all nature, animate and inanimate, looks forward with longing for the return of the rainy season. In the hill-country the time of harvest is later than in the plains of the Jordan and of the seacoast. The barley harvest is about a fortnight earlier than that of wheat. In the plain of the Jordan the wheat harvest is early in May; in the plains of the coast and of Esdraelon, it is toward the latter end of that month, and in the hills not until June. The general vintage is in September, but the first grapes ripen in July; and from that time the towns are well supplied with this fruit. Robinson, Biblical Researches, 2, 96-100. See PALESTINE.

The Jewish calendar (q.v.), as fixed by the three great festivals, turned on the seasons of green, ripe, and fully-gathered produce. Hence, if the season was backward, or, owing to the imperfections of a non-astronomical reckoning, seemed to be so, a month was intercalated. This rude system was fondly retained long after mental progress and foreign intercourse placed a correct calendar within their power; so that notice of a Veadar, i.e., second or intercalated Adar, on account of the lambs being not yet of a paschal size, and the barley not forward enough for the Abib (green sheaf), was sent to the Jews of Babylon and Egypt (Ugol. de Re Rust. Isaiah 5:22) early in the season. (See TIME). The year, ordinarily consisting of twelve months, was divided into six agricultural periods, as follows (Mishna, Tosaphta Taanith, ch. 1):


Tisri, latter half beginning about autumnal equinox. Early rain due.

Marchesvan......................... Early rain due

Fasleu, former half ................ Early rain due


Kisleu, latter half.


Sebat, former half.


Sebat, latter half ................... Latter rain due

Adar ............ ............, Latter rain due.

[Veadar]……. Latter rain due

Nisan, former half ................. Latter rain due


Nisan, latter half ..................( Beginning about vernal equinox. Barley green. Passover.)

Ijar. .......... Wheat ripe....... Pentecost

Sivan, former half .......... Wheat ripe....... Pentecost.

(5.) SUMMER.

Sivan, latter half.


Ab, former half.


Ab, latter half.

I lul.

Tisri, former half. ................... Ingathering of fruits.

Thus the six months from mid Tisri to mid Nisan were mainly occupied with the process of cultivation, and the rest with the gathering of the fruits. Rain was commonly expected soon after the autumnal equinox, or mid Tisri; and if by the first of Kisleu none had fallen, a fast was proclaimed (Mishna, Taanith, ch. 1).

The common Scriptural expressions of the "early" and the "latter rain" (Deuteronomy 11:14; Jeremiah 5:24; Hosea 6:3; Zechariah 10:1; James 5:7) are scarcely confirmed by modern experience; the season of rains being unbroken (Robinson, 1, 41, 429; 3, 96); though perhaps the fall is more strongly marked at the beginning and the end of it. The consternation caused by the failure of the former rain is depicted in Joel 1, 2; and this prophet seems to promise that and the latter rain together "in the first month," i. c. Nisan (2, 23). (See RAIN).

Its plenty of water from natural sources made Canaan a contrast to rainless Egypt (Deuteronomy 8:7; Deuteronomy 11:8-12). Nor was the peculiar Egyptian method of horticulture alluded to in Deuteronomy 11:10 unknown, though less prevalent in Palestine. That peculiarity seems to have consisted in making in the fields square shallow beds, like our salt-pans, surrounded by a raised border of earth to keep in the water, which was then turned from one square to another by pushing aside the mud, to open one and close the next, with the foot. Robinson, however, describes a different process, to which he thinks this passage refers (Res. 1, 542; 2, 351; 3, 21), as still in use likewise in Palestine. There irrigation (including under the term all appliances for making the water available) was as essential as drainage in our region; and for this the large extent of rocky surface, easily excavated for cisterns and ducts, was most useful. Even the plain of Jericho is watered not by canals from the Jordan, since the river lies below the land, but by rills converging from the mountains. In these features of the country lay its expansive resources to meet the wants of a multiplying population. The lightness of agricultural labor in the plains set free an abundance of hands for the task of terracing and watering, and the result gave the highest stimulus to industry. (See IRRIGATION).

III. Soil, etc. The Israelites probably found in Canaan a fair proportion of woodland, which their necessities, owing to the discouragement of commerce, must have led them to reduce (Joshua 17:18). But even in early times timber seems to have been far less used for building material than among Western nations; the Israelites were not skillful hewers, and imported both the timber and the workmen (1 Kings 5:6; 1 Kings 5:8). No store of wood-fuel seems to have been kept; ovens were heated with such things as dung and hay (Ezekiel 4:12; Ezekiel 4:15; Malachi 4:13); and, in any case of sacrifice on an emergency, some, as we should think, unusual source of supply is constantly mentioned for the wood (1 Samuel 6:14; 2 Samuel 24:22; 1 Kings 19:21; comp. Genesis 22:3; Genesis 22:6-7). All this indicates a nonabundance of timber, and implies that nearly all the arable soil was under culture, or, at least, used for pasturage. (See FOREST).

The geological characters of the soil in Palestine have never been satisfactorily stated; but the different epithets of description which travelers employ, enable us to know that it differs considerably, both in its appearance and character, in different parts of the land; but wherever soil of any kind exists, even to a very slight depth, it is found to be highly fertile. As parts of Palestine are hilly, and as hills have seldom much depth of soil, the mode of cultivating them in terraces was anciently, and is now much employed. A series of low stone walls, one above another, across the face of the hill, arrest the soil brought down by the rains, and afford a series of levels for the operations of the husbandman. This mode of cultivation is usual in Lebanon, and is not unfrequent in Palestine, where the remains of terraces across the hills, in various parts of the country, attest the extent to which it was anciently carried. This terrace cultivation has necessarily increased or declined with the population. If the people were so few that the valleys afforded sufficient food for them, the more difficult culture of the hills was neglected; but when the population was too large for the valleys to satisfy with bread, then the hills were laid under cultivation. (See VINEYARD).

In such a climate as that of Palestine, water is the great fertilizing agent. The rains of autumn and winter, and the dews of spring, suffice for the ordinary objects of agriculture; but the ancient inhabitants were able, in some parts, to avert even the aridity which the summer droughts occasioned, and to keep up a garden-like verdure, by means of aqueducts communicating with the brooks and rivers (Psalms 1:3; Psalms 65:10; Proverbs 21:1; Isaiah 30:25; Isaiah 32:2; Isaiah 32:20; Hosea 12:11). Hence springs, fountains, and rivulets were as much esteemed by husbandmen as by shepherds (Joshua 15:19; Judges 1:15). The soil was also cleared of stones, and carefully cultivated; and its fertility was increased by the ashes to which the dry stubble and herbage were occasionally reduced by being burned over the surface of the ground (Proverbs 24:31; Isaiah 7:23; Isaiah 32:13). Dung and, in the neighborhood of Jerusalem, the blood of animals were also used to enrich the soil (2 Kings 9:37; Psalms 83:10; Isaiah 25:10; Jeremiah 9:22; Luke 14:34-35). A rabbi limits the quantity to three heaps of ten half-cors, or about 380 gallons, to each seah (q.v.) of grain, and wishes the quantity in each heap, rather than their number, to be increased if the field be large (Mishna, Shebiith, 3, 2). Nor was the great usefulness of sheep to the soil unrecognised (ib. 4), though, owing to the general distinctness of the pastoral life, there was less scope for it. (See MANURE).

That the soil might not be exhausted, it was ordered that every seventh year should be a sabbath of rest to the land: there was then to be no sowing or reaping, no pruning of vines or olives, no vintage or gathering of fruits; and whatever grew of itself was to be left to the poor, the stranger, and the beasts of the field (Leviticus 25:1-7; Deuteronomy 15:1-10). But such an observance required more faith than the Israelites were prepared to exercise. It was for a long time utterly neglected (Leviticus 26:34-35; 2 Chronicles 36:21), but after the captivity it was more observed. By this remarkable institution the Hebrew were also trained to habits of economy and foresight, and invited to exercise a large degree of trust in the bountiful providence of their Divine King. (See SABBATICAL YEAR).

A change in the climate of Palestine, caused by increase of population and the clearance of trees, must have taken place before the period of the N.T. A further change, caused by the decrease of skilled agricultural labor, e.g. in irrigation and terrace-making, has since ensued. Not only this, but the great variety of elevation and local character in so small a compass of country necessitates a partial and guarded application of general remarks (Robinson, 1, 507, 553, 554; 3, 595; Stanley, Palestine, p. 118-126). Yet wherever industry is secure, the soil still asserts its old fertility. The Hauran (Peraea) is as fertile as Damascus, and its bread enjoys the highest reputation. The black and fat, but light soil about Gaza, is said to hold so much moisture as to be very fertile with little rain. Here, as in the neighborhood of Beyrut, is a vast olive-ground, and the very sand of the shore is said to be fertile if watered. (See WATER).

IV. Crops and Fields. Under the term דָּגָן, dagan', which we translate "grain" and "corn," the Hebrew comprehended almost every object of field culture. Syria, including Palestine, was regarded by the ancients as one of the first countries for corn (Pliny, Hist. Nat. 18, 7). Wheat was abundant and excellent; and there is still one bearded sort, the ear of which is three times as heavy, and contains twice as many grains as our common English wheat (Irby and Mangles, p. 472). Barley was also much cultivated; not only for bread, but because it was the only kind of corn which was given to beasts; for oats and rye do not grow in warm climates. Hay was not in use; and therefore the barley was mixed with chopped straw to form the food of cattle (Genesis 24:25; Genesis 24:32; Judges 19:19, etc.). Other kinds of field culture were millet, spelt, various species of beans and peas, pepperwort, cummin, cucumbers, melons, flax, and perhaps cotton. Many other articles might be mentioned as being now cultivated in Palestine; but, as their names do not occur in Scripture, it is difficult to know whether they were grown there in ancient times or not. 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 found in the book of Job (Job 31:40; Job 15:33; Job 24:6; Job 29:9; Job 39:10). Two kinds of cummin (the black variety called "fitches," Isaiah 28:27), and such podded plants as beans and lentiles, may be named among the staple produce. To these, later writers add a great variety of garden plants, e.g. kidney-beans, peas, lettuce, endive, leek, garlic, onion, melon, cucumber, cabbage, etc. (Mishna, Kilaim, 1, 2). The produce which formed Jacob's present was of such kinds as would keep, and had kept during the famine (Genesis 43:11). The ancient Hebrew had little notion of green or root crops grown for fodder, nor was the long summer drought suitable for them. Barley supplied food both to man and beast, and the plant called in Ezekiel 4:9 "millet," דֹּחִן, dochan' (the holcus dochna of Linn. according to Gesenius, Heb. Lex. s.v.), was grazed while green, and its ripe grain made into bread. In the later period of more advanced irrigation the תַּלְתָּן, tiltan', "fenugreek" (Buxtorf, Lex. Talm. col. 2601), occurs (Mishna, Maaseroth, 1), also the שִׁחִת, shach'ath, a clover, apparently, given cut (Mishna, Peah, 5, 5). Mowing (גֵּז, gez, Amos 6, 1; Psalms 72:6) and haymaking were familiar processes, but the latter had no express word; חָצַיר, chatsir', standing both for grass and hay, a token of a hot climate, where the grass may become hay as it stands. The yield of the land, besides fruit from trees, was technically distinguished as תְּבוּאָה, tebuah', produce, including apparently all cereal plants, קַטְנַיּוֹת, kitniyoth', pod-fruits (nearly equivalent to the Latin legumen), and זִרְעוּנֵי גַּינָּא, zaruney' ginna', garden seeds (Buxtorf, ib. col. 693), while the simple word seeds (זִרְעוּנַין, zarunin') was used also generically for all seed, including all else which was liable to tithe, for which purpose the distinction seems to have existed. (See Otho, Lex. Rabb. p. 17 sq.). (See BOTANY).

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Agriculture'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​a/agriculture.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
adsFree icon
Ads FreeProfile