AGRICULTURE. Not a Bible word; “husbandry” and “husbandman” are used for the activity and the one who practices it. In the form of horticulture, it is as old as Adam (Gen.2.5, Gen.2.8-Gen.2.15). Caring for the Garden of Eden became labor after the curse (Gen.3.17-Gen.3.19). Nomad and farmer began to be differentiated with Abel and Cain (Gen.4.2-Gen.4.4). As animal husbandry took its place along with tillage as part of the agricultural economy, the farmer gained in social status. Yet as late as shortly before the Babylonian exile, nomads still felt a sense of superiority over the settled agricultural people (cf. the Recabites, Jer.35.1-Jer.35.11).

The Passover in the month of Nisan occurred in the green stage of produce; the feast of weeks in Sivan, to the ripening stage; and the Feast of Tabernacles in Tisri, to the harvest. The six months from Tisri to Nisan were occupied with cultivation; the six months from Nisan to Tisri, with gathering fruits. Rain from the equinox in Tisri to Nisan was pretty continuous but was heavier at the beginning (the early rain) and the end (the latter rain). Rain in harvest was almost unknown (Prov.26.1).

We have glimpses of the relations of farm laborers, steward (manager or overseer), and owner in the Book of Ruth, in Matt.20.1-Matt.20.16, and in Luke.17.7-Luke.17.9.

Agriculture was beset with pests: locust, cankerworm, caterpillar, and palmerworm (Joel.2.25 kjv); God calls them “my great army,” as destructive as an invasion by human enemies. Haggai speaks (Joel.2.17) of blight, mildew, and hail. Modern development of agriculture in Palestine under the British mandate and since the establishment of the State of Israel, and parallel but lesser development in the country of Jordan, are restoring the coastal plain, the plains of Esdraelon and Dothan, the Shephelah, the Negev, and the Hauran to their ancient prosperity. See also Farming; Occupations and Professions——ER

A vineyard near the tell of Lachish.
Threshing grain. Deut. 25:4: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.”

AGRICULTURE. The cultivation of plants and care of livestock for crops and products.

Agricultural patterns in the Fertile Crescent.

Scholars agree that agriculture is fundamental to civilization, for it enables the farmer to produce surplus food which frees others for specialized occupations and specialization in professions. Most Biblical peoples were characterized by agriculture with attending civilization. Israel’s agriculture was closely related to that practiced by ancient Middle Eastern peoples. The crops produced, with emphasis upon cereal grains, were those common to the Fertile Crescent. Likewise the domesticated animals, with multiple uses for meat, milk, wool, riding, or pulling, were shared with Israel’s neighbors. Ecological factors caused variation in pattern and emphasis in the Holy Land, with certain adaptations reflected in techniques and production.

Undoubtedly the Hebrews observed Egyp. agriculture with its annual cycle of activities correlated with the flooding rhythm of the Nile. Although a pastoral people during the Egypt. sojourn (Gen 47:6), the Hebrews must have become acquainted with the farming system based upon natural and artificial irrigation for the production of grains, fruits, and vegetables. When occupying the Promised Land, the people recognized the crops but necessarily adopted Canaanite farming methods in the transition from pastoralism to agriculture.

The Hebrews also knew Mesopotamian farming methods through culture contacts accompanying trade and conquest. The ecological pattern in the Tigris-Euphrates Valley differed from the Nile Valley, for Mesopotamian flooding was erratic and disastrous, with consequent flood control and an extensive canal system for irrigation. Wilson and Jacobson suggest these differences between Egypt and Mesopotamia and the ecological effect on the world views of the two civilizations (Frankfort, et al., [1946]). Nevertheless, both lands produced similar crops, esp. grains, by irrigation. The Israelites grew the same crops but could not employ the same irrigation techniques in the hill-and-valley complex of the Holy Land.

Origin of agriculture.

Examination of agriculture in the Bible involves one with the problem of agricultural origins. Most scholars conclude that agriculture began in the Middle E. (Braidwood [1952]). The type was field agriculture with grain production by means of plow and draft animals. Of course other types of food production emerged later in such areas as SE Asia and Mesoamerica (Caldwell [1966]). The problem is not the place of origins, but whether man engaged in farming from his beginning, or if he gained a livelihood by other means.

Biblical record.

Genesis states that man knew about, cared for, and used domesticated plants and animals at first. It seems clear that Adam practiced horticulture before the Fall (Gen 2:9, 15). After his expulsion from Eden, Adam encountered a recalcitrant environment that necessitated arduous toil to obtain subsistence (3:17-19). It is explicit that Cain tilled the ground and Abel tended flocks of sheep (4:2). Subsequent Biblical statements support the view that mankind’s subsistence was primarily from domesticated plants and animals.

Non-Biblical theory.

Most archeologists, anthropologists, and prehistorians hold that man’s prehistory is a series of cultural developments commonly labeled the Paleolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic. During the Paleolithic and Mesolithic ages, man was a hunter and gatherer (Albright [1957]; Childe [1942]; Howells [1954]). Man began farming and herding during the Neolithic Age about 10,000 years ago (Braidwood and Howe [1962]). Most prehistorians accept the interpretation of the evidence that early man gradually abandoned his dependence on wild game and plants in a transition to producing his food from domesticated forms. In this scheme the Natufian culture in Pal. is offered as evidence of the transition (Perrot [1962]). The question is: Was man originally a hunter or an agriculturalist?

Historical views.

This survey of Biblical agriculture allows only brief consideration of this neglected question, but the author’s assumption is to accept Scriptural statements while suggesting archeological data are incomplete and susceptible to varying interpretations. In scanning early views, one discovers that Christian writers had little concern with man’s primeval economic life. From a synthesis of Heb. and Gr. traditions, Tertullian proposed that mankind subsisted on grains and fruit prior to the Flood. This idea prevailed among church men who believed that man became carnivorous (really omnivorous) after the Flood. Novation, in the 3rd cent., agreed by asserting that man’s diet was fruit before the Fall, but then became omnivorous with grain and meat. Augustine modified these notions somewhat by insisting that Adam practiced agriculture, but it was not onerous but a highly cooperative enterprise (Boas [1948]: 17-18, 50).

These views became traditional among Christians despite the increasingly popular opinion that after a hunting stage man turned to pastoralism and finally agriculture. In the late 19th cent. a Ger. scholar, Georg Gerland, opposed the widely accepted notion by observing that: “...agriculture was the original occupation of mankind: that the traditional sequence of stages, hunters, nomads, farmers, therefore does not represent the original development. Mankind originally was undifferentiated and at that period was an agricultural people. Later groups splintered off, and, forced by the necessity of eking out a living, some became hunters, others gradually turned into nomads” (Kramer [1967]:80).

Gerland offers a clue for an answer to the question raised by archeology’s claim that early man was a hunter. In cognizance of divine judgment upon man and his environment following the Fall, it is not surprising that man abandoned meager agricultural returns for the relatively easier products of the hunt. This seems explicit in the penalty assigned Cain for murdering his brother: “And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength; you shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth” (Gen 4:11, 12). That hunting assumed importance is evident in the prestige accorded Nimrod: “Cush became the father of Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord; therefore it is said, ‘Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the Lord’” (10:8, 9).

When early man turned to hunting, he possibly forgot agriculture and pastoralism, or at least they became insignificant in his economic life, esp. in adverse environments in the higher latitudes. Both plants and animals degenerated to a “wild” state without human attention and selective breeding. There are historical examples of this process, as when the Spaniards introduced the horse in America; some escaped to form wild herds in the American W. Regarding domesticated plants, botanists agree that without human attention they will degenerate from heterozygosity in genetic structure and mutation. “Deterioration in performance becomes manifest as soon as selection by man declines or ceases” (Schwanitz [1966]:192).

A reasonable conclusion therefore is that the evidence for primeval agriculture and pastoralism, limited to a very small population, is lost to the archeologist. Only after a considerable lapse of time did factors coalesce to enable man to rediscover the advantages of food production by tending plants and animals. The transition to and development of farming and herding became widespread with adequate evidence for the prehistorian to postulate the Neolithic.

Ecological factors.

Agriculture is related to such environmental limitations as the topographic, climatic, and edaphic features. To understand farming in ancient Israel, it is necessary to recognize the combination of these factors as they favored or limited crop production.


The Holy Land is predominantly hilly with the greatest area in slope. The precipitous slopes along the Jordan rift valley prevent cultivation except in narrow valley floors or where terracing is practical. Although the Jordan valley is several m. wide and relatively level, it is an arid plain above the narrow flood plain of the river. Irrigation was not possible with techniques employed in Egypt or Mesopotamia. Jericho and other sites obtained water supplies from springs emerging from the adjacent highlands rather than from the Jordan. The northern uplands W of the Jordan valley are characterized by hills interspersed with several valleys of sufficient area to favor agriculture. To the S in Judea’s hill lands the area is largely in slope where terracing and a few undulating hill crests between Jerusalem and Beersheba permit field cultivation. The Shephelah W of the Judean massif is largely dissected foothills, although a few E-W valleys can be tilled. The Plain of Sharon W of Ephraim (Samaria) is arable but is terminated in useless marshlands to the W: The flat Esdraelon valley NE of the Carmel ridge was limited in Biblical days by marshes, as was the Huleh area just N of the Sea of Galilee. South of the Judean massif the terrain slopes gradually into the Negev where aridity restricts farming more than does the terrain. The Trans-Jordan plateau E of the Jordan begins precipitously from the valley but the crest area (Bashan, Gilead, Ammon, and Moab) is admirably suited to cultivation.


Surprising climatic diversity occurs in a country about one-fourth the size of Iowa. Precipitation varies considerably as determined by latitude and altitude. Rainfall is much more abundant and dependable in the N where the highlands receive thirty inches annually in contrast to the Beersheba area to the S where half that amount falls with much annual irregularity. Easterly moving cyclonic storms deposit heavier rainfall on the higher western slopes in contrast to the arid “rain shadow” slopes facing E. The western exposure of Judea averages over twenty inches annually, but the Dead Sea, a few m. E, gets less than five inches. The uplands of Ammon and Moab a little farther E intercept almost as much as Judea with the amount declining eastward into the Arabian Desert. The rainfall regime occurs during the cool season; the “early rains” beginning in October and the “latter rains” falling during March and April. In Biblical days the agricultural cycle corresponded with the alternating wet and dry seasons: the farmer planted his all-important grain fields at the inception of the rainfall and harvested when the rainy season ended.

Temperature conditions likewise correlated with elevation, for the uplands have lower readings throughout the year with frost threat in the cool months. Plants susceptible to freezing (e.g., the olive tree) were confined to slopes protected from highland frosts or the freezing wind from the eastern desert. Of course the frost-free season in the Holy Land with its mild winters (snow is rare except in the higher mountains to the N in Lebanon) is quite different from the cold winters of higher latitude land masses such as Eurasia and North America. Nevertheless, the Israelite farmer planted his crops in respect to frost occurrence and the amount of precipitation. In general, planting, pruning, harvesting, and other tasks were performed earlier in the season by those living at lower elevations.


The edaphic conditions in the Holy Land, as elsewhere, are consequent to terrain, the underlying rock, the natural vegetation, and climate. For a small area, considerable diversity is present. Some of the larger valleys and the Plain of Sharon have fertile soils formed from deep alluvium, but in the highlands and the arid sections the soil is thin, less developed, and stony. In ancient Philistia and the Beersheba area, several inches of loess formed fertile soils, but aridity limited production. The hilly soils of Judah, Ephraim, Ammon, and Moab are thin and stony, but there is fertility since they develop from limestone into calcareous types. Galilee, Bashan, and Gilead soils are also productive since they are “recently” formed from underlying basalt. Of course, the soils are thinnest on steep slopes, and the farmer usually clears many stones from these fields to be used for fences or terrace walls.

Range of arable lands.

It is not clear whether the Israelites extended their agricultural frontiers to all areas of political control during David’s and Solomon’s reign. Modern Israel has reclaimed many swamplands along the Mediterranean, Esdraelon, and Lake Huleh, areas unused in ancient Israel. Evidence suggests that peoples occupying adjacent regions to Israel engaged in farming even in the semiarid Negev and desert borders of Ammon, Moab, and Edom. This was not due to more precipitation then, for Glueck argues convincingly against the theory that climatic change has occurred in historical times in Bible lands (1940 and 1959). He believes that desiccation resulted from man’s misuse of the land and failure to observe conservation practices which formerly made semiarid regions productive.

Citing the Nabateans as those who successfully coped with aridity in Edom and the Negev, Glueck praises their herculean task in creating cultivable fields in the wadis. Their mastering the science of soil and water conservation converted the valleys into ribbons of green and supported many flourishing agricultural villages. Perhaps similar conservation techniques in ancient Moab enabled people to continue production when drought caused Elimelech and Naomi to desert Bethlehem for what proved to be an unfortunate sojourn in Moab (Ruth 1:1-5). In the extremely arid lands about Damascus and Jericho, specialized agriculture (or horticulture) did not depend on natural precipitation. These districts were farmed intensively by irrigation from springs (Jericho) or surface flow from the well-watered slopes of the Anti-Lebanon mountains. An ancient saying is that “Damascus is Mount Hermon’s gift to the desert.”

Distribution of crops.

Baly (1963) has aptly cited 2 Chronicles 2:15 as a summary of Israel’s major agricultural products: “Now therefore the wheat and barley, oil and wine, of which my lord has spoken, let him send to his servants.” Wheat, barley, olives, and grapes were the staple items in the people’s diet; hence most farmers attempted to produce as many of these crops as possible. However, the environmental diversity (considered in ecological factors) favored production of one crop in certain areas with other crops secondary to the dominant one. Judah led in viticulture, for the grape vine enjoyed a favorable ecological niche in the sunny terraced hillsides. To the N in Ephraim (or Samaria) the limestone weathered into a fertile terra rossa soil which, coupled with adequate rainfall, proved to be the setting par excellence for the olive tree. Farther N, the open valleys of Galilee, with rich alluvium soils and ample rainfall, favored extensive wheat production. To the S near the Negev and in Philistia, the loessial soils were fertile but rainfall was scanty, so barley was predominant. To the E of Jordan on the rainy uplands, wheat was important to the N in Bashan but barley became more important to the S in Moab and Edom.

The seasonal pattern.

The Gezer inscr. is a significant archeological find because it enables one to trace the agricultural cycle in Bib. times (Wright [1957]:180). This stone inscr. evidently served as a memory aid for some youth in learning the seasonal activities followed by Israelite farmers. It reads:

“His two months are (olive) harvest;

His two months are planting (grain);

His two months are late planting;

His month is hoeing up of flax;

His month is harvest of barley;

His month is harvest and festivity;

His two months are vine tending;

His month is summer fruit.”

Season of olive harvest.

The Gezer inscr. suggests that the Israelite farmer “started” his annual cycle with the olive harvest from mid-September to mid-November. The leading task during this period was picking the olives and extracting their oil for multiple uses. The many uses of the oil made olives the third-ranking crop after grain and grapes. Of course olive trees need attention, so the farmer, to insure high productivity, plowed the soil around the trees in the spring to eliminate weeds and to create a surface mulch for retaining subsurface moisture for the trees during the rainless summer months. Pruning was also a spring chore to prevent excessive shoots from parasitic drain on the tree and thus reduce yield. The tree blossomed in May with the small white flowers falling a few days after opening (Job 15:33). The berries developed during the summer and began to ripen in September when the first ripe berries dropped before the farmer and his family began picking. Long sticks were used to dislodge most berries, but agile youths often climbed the trees to procure the uppermost berries. The immature olives were left to ripen and be gathered later by the destitute (Deut 24:20). Some olives were pickled in brine to be eaten with bread, but oil was more important and extracted in a number of ways. A simple method was to crush the berries by hand in a bowl-shaped stone which had a channel to convey the oil into a receptacle. A larger operation was to crush the berries in a stone vat with the feet, but the most efficient method used by those caring for sizeable orchards was to transport the fruit on basket-laden donkeys to mills where crushing was by a circular millstone. Besides multiple dietary uses, the oil served as medication (Luke 10:34) and for anointing with symbolical implications of peace and prosperity (Ps 23:5).

Planting season.

With the inception of the “early rains” in November, the farmer began plowing the fields preparatory to sowing the cereal grains. Some believe that the earliest farmers in the Middle E used the digging stick or the hoe to till small plots of ground (Curwen and Hatt [1953]). However, agriculture among the Israelites was characterized by the field type of cultivation with plow and draft animals (usually oxen). The shape of the fields tended to be rectangular to accommodate the linear furrows of the plow; the size of the fields depended on the terrain, and the area under cultivation in a given year corresponded to the area that could be plowed. The typical plow was constructed of wood with a copper or bronze plowpoint until the Israelites acquired iron for points from the Philistines in the 10th cent. b.c. These plows are not to be confused with contemporary steel plows with their shares and moldboards for completely turning six or more inches of soil. The ancient plow scratched the surface to a depth of three or four inches without covering weeds or stubble. This plow with its wooden beam attached to a yoke of oxen may be observed even today in Middle Eastern countries.

Although a seeder was attached to some plows in ancient Mesopotamia, whereby the seeds were channeled from a hopper through a tube to be deposited behind the plowpoint, the Israelites apparently did not adopt the implement. Sowing was by a broadcast method, with the farmer casting the seed with sweeping actions of the hand and arm as he trudged up and down the field. He carried seed in a basket or in a pouch attached to his waist. The grain was covered promptly by a second plowing or by dragging branches or a log behind oxen. This method of “harrowing” served to level the field, to cover the seed to insure germination, and to prevent birds from eating the seed (Isa 28:24, 25; Matt 13:4). The farmer usually selected the most fertile fields for wheat and less favorable sites for barley, lentils, or spelt (“rye” KJV).

The grain sowing continued until January when the “late planting” of other crops occurred. These supplementary crops included millet, sesame, chick peas, lentils, melons, cucumbers, garlic, and other vegetables. Customarily the vegetables were raised in garden plots near the village and farmer’s home. Sowing grain was man’s work, but women aided in planting and caring for the gardens. These planting and weeding activities continued into March.

Harvest season.

The rainfall declined in April as the barley began to ripen, with barley reaping at its height in May. After the barley had been reaped, the men began wheat harvest which continued into June. To reap the grain, the men used small sickles with which they severed the stalks gathered in handfuls with the free hand (Ps 129:7). Farmers owning much livestock cut the stalks close to the ground to increase the supply of straw for fodder and bedding purposes. If he had no livestock, the farmer cut the stalks within a few inches of the heads (“ears”) of grain so there was less straw to interfere with threshing. As the reapers cut the grain, the stalks were gathered into unbound sheaths to facilitate carrying the grain to the threshing floor. A sexual division of labor prevailed in the harvest fields, with men cutting the grain, children aiding in gathering it into sheaths, and women gleaning for stray stalks as dramatically portrayed in the nodetitle. Rain seldom fell during the harvest season, therefore little spoilage occurred. Two major threats to a bountiful harvest confronted the farmer however: the dreaded hot wind (“sirrocco”) from the desert occasionally withered the ripening kernels, or an invasion of locusts might consume much of the crop.

The reaped grain was carried and stacked on threshing floors near the villages. These threshing floors were either a circular area on a flat outcropping of rock or an area about forty ft. in diameter was cleared of stones, leveled, moistened, and packed so that the surface was sun-baked and hard. In threshing, the sheaves were pitched on the floor to be trampled by oxen drawing a sledge on which the farmer rode. The oxen hoofs and the sharp studs embedded in the underside of the sledge separated the kernels from the straw and chaff while reducing the straw into bits. Some farmers preferred a disk-harrow implement rather than the sledge; this implement was likewise drawn by oxen and was superior to the sledge in that not as many kernels were crushed (Isa 28:27, 28).

After the grain had been reduced to a mass of kernels, chaff, and chopped straw, the winnowing followed. Using a pitchfork with closely-spaced tines, the farmer tossed the mass repeatedly in the air to expose it to the wind that carried the chaff and straw away. The opportune time for winnowing was toward evening when the daily sea breeze provided a steady, but not too strong, flow of air. Customarily the threshed grain remained in heaps on the threshing floor with someone sleeping near the grain to prevent theft (Ruth 3). Later the grain was bagged for carrying it to storage in large jars or, in some cases, put in plastered silos that had been excavated beneath the floor of wealthy homes. Since rent (some farmers rented fields) and taxes were commonly paid in kind, some grain was transported by donkey to large pit silos built by wealthy landowners or the government (Wright, 1957:182).

The Gezer “calendar” links the harvest season with “festivity.” This no doubt refers to social and religious ceremonies that coincided with the end of a seven-week period following the beginning of grain harvest (Deut 16:9). Later the occasion became known as Pentecost, at which time the people made an annual pilgrimage to the central sanctuary (first at Shiloh and later at Jerusalem) to observe the “first-fruits” ritual.

Vine-tending season.

Caring for the vine became the farmer’s preoccupation following grain harvest. The vine required attention earlier in the spring in the “latter rain” period. Each spring the farmer removed stones from the vineyard, repaired terrace walls, pruned the dead branches, and plowed or harrowed the ground about the vines to create a moisture-retaining mulch and destroy weeds. As the grapes formed and ripened, they required constant attention to prevent loss to wild animals Song of Solomon. The farmer, or a hired watchman, stationed himself in a tower built esp. for this purpose and which permitted surveillance of many vineyards. When picking time arrived in August and September, the entire family frequently moved into a temporary shelter (“booth”) where they lived while picking the grapes. While some grapes were eaten fresh and some were preserved in dried form as raisins, most of the grapes were reduced to juice to allow fermentation into wine. An air of festivity prevailed during the grape harvest and accompanying activity at the wine presses (Isa 16:10). The common method of extracting grape juice was by placing the grapes in the upper end of a wide stone receptacle where they were crushed under foot with the juice draining into a basin at the lower end of the receptacle.

Fig and pomegranate harvest.

Figs and pomegranates also were picked at the close of summer. Fig growing was widespread and the fruit ranked as a staple in the people’s diet (Deut 8:8). The antiquity of the fig is attested by the narrative of Adam and Eve who converted fig leaves into aprons (Gen 3:7). The fig tree extended productivity in area because it thrived in rugged stony terrain unsuited for most other important food plants. A slow-growing tree requiring many years to bear substantially, the fig became symbolical of economic and political continuity and stability in the land (1 Kings 4:25). Yielding two crops annually, the tree produced the first crop in June from midsummer sprouts from the previous year, but the second crop in August was more important. The fruit generally was dried and pressed into cakes for later consumption, and its high sugar content, together with the date, was a main source of sugar in Israel’s diet. The fig cakes were used also for medicinal purposes as in the remarkable healing of Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:7).

Pomegranate trees, such as the fig, are deciduous and put forth leaves as well as brilliant scarlet blossoms in April. The tree requires little attention and the fruit ripens in September when it is picked. The agricultural cycle each year concluded with the pomegranate harvest, according to the schedule of the Gezer inscr. The annual routine for the farmer enabled him to devote himself to the major food sources at different times, and much of the religious life coincided with the agricultural calendar.


The Israelites entered the Promised Land as a pastoral people with cultural traditions extending back to Abraham, the pastoral nomad (Gen 13). After possessing Canaan, they experienced a transition from pastoralism to agriculture which they adopted from the sedentary Canaanites. However, livestock persisted in their economic activities and contributed to the cultural ethos for a number of reasons. Much of the land was not arable but was admirably suited to herding (1 Sam 16:11; Amos 1:1). Not only did animals provide products and income for the rural dweller, but it is clear that ceremonial rites in worship emphasized animal sacrifice in the Tabernacle and Temple services (1 Kings 8:5; Heb 9:18-22).

The common domesticated animals in Israel included sheep, goats, cattle, donkeys, and dogs. Camels, of course, should be included, but they were not kept by the typical farmer for they did not fit economically into a sedentary pattern of life; therefore, camel owners were usually tradesmen or desert nomads. Horses seem to have been prestigious animals and a luxury in which most farmers could not indulge; they were used primarily for chariotry and cavalry in the king’s military system. Donkeys were beasts of burden and carried both man and his products, much as they continue to do in undeveloped rural areas of contemporary Middle Eastern countries. It will be remembered that the Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem was while riding such a beast (Matt 21:5). Cattle or oxen were also beasts of burden since they drew the plow, harrow, and other farming implements, and they were used for sacrificial purposes. They do not seem to have been kept for milk or meat products as in Western culture.

Sheep were the most important animals to ancient Israelites and are mentioned early in the Biblical record (Gen 4:2). The fat-tailed variety, still popular in the Midddle E, was preferred since the heavy tail, with its store of fat, enabled the sheep to tolerate uncertain grazing conditions during periods of drought. Mutton was favored as the source of meat, and wool was spun and woven into cloth for garments. No comment is necessary to emphasize their sacrificial uses (Isa 53). The typical Israelite herd included goats with the sheep, for goats provided several products: meat, hair for a coarse cloth and tenting material (the black goat’s hair tent is traditional in Bible lands and is still used by Bedouins and other nomads), skins for bottles used for storing wine or carrying water and other liquids, and milk; these bottles were the preferred type among the people. It may be noted that sheep and goats were far more common in Israel due to their greater tolerance of marginal grazing conditions than cattle and horses. The keeping of sheep and shepherd life are used as illustrations for spiritual relationships, with the shepherd as a great metaphor for the Lord and His care (Ps 23; John 10). See nodetitle.


N. Glueck, The Other Side of the Jordan (1940); V. G. Childe, What Happened in History (1942); H. and H. A. Frankfort, et al., The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man (1946); G. Boas, Essays on Primitivism and Related Ideas in the Middle Ages (1948); R. Braidwood, The Near East and the Foundations for Civilization (1952); H. N. and A. L. Moldenke, Plants of the Bible (1952); E. C. Curwen and G. Hatt, Plough and Pasture: The Early History of Farming (1953); F. H. Wight, Manners and Customs of Bible Lands (1953); W. Howells, Back of History (1954); R. Linton, The Tree of Culture (1955); W. F. Albright, From the Stone Age to Christianity (1957); G. Wright, Biblical Archaeology (1957); N. Glueck, Rivers in the Desert: A History of the Negev (1959); G. B. Cressy, Crossroads: Land and Life in Southwest Asia (1960); G. Jennings, “Economy and Integration in a Changing Iranian Village,” Proceedings of Minneapolis Academy of Science 28 (1960), 112-119; R. Braidwood and B. Howe, “Southwestern Asia Beyond the Lands of the Mediterranean Littoral,” in R. Braidwood, et al., Courses Toward Urban Life (1962), 132-146; J. Perrot, “Palestine—Syria—Cilicia,” in R. Braidwood, et al., Courses Toward Urban Life (1962), 147-164; D. Baly, Geographical Companion to the Bible (1963); C. S. Coon, Caravan: The Story of the Middle East (1966); F. Schwanitz, The Origin of Cultivated Plants (1966); G. Jennings, “The Origins of Agriculture” (manuscript in preparation, 1967); F. Kramer, “Edward Hahn and the End of the Three Stages of Man,” Geography Review 57 (1967), 73-89.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

ag’-ri-kul-tur, ag’-ri-kul-chur:



III. AGRICULTURAL PURSUITS 1. Growing of Grain (1) Plowing and Sowing (2) Reaping (3) Threshing 2. Care of Vineyards 3. Raising of Flocks I. Development of Agriculture. One may witness in Syria and Palestine 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 community life with its servants, hirelings, gardeners, etc. A division of labor ensues. Some leave the soil for the crafts and professions but still depend upon their farmer neighbors for theft sustenance. (1Ki 5:11.) Such was the variety of life of the people among whom Jesus lived, and of their ancestors, and of the inhabitants of the land long before the children of Israel came to take possession of it. Bible history deals with the Hebrews at a period when a large proportion of that people were engaged in agrarian pursuits, hence we find its pages filled with references to agricultural occupations.

II. Climatic Conditions and Fertility. With climatic conditions and fertility so varied, the mode of cultivation, seedtime and harvest differed even in closely adjacent territory. On the coastal plains and in the low Jordan valley the soil was usually rich and the season was early, whereas the mountainous regions and high interior plains the planting and reaping times were from two weeks to a month later. To make use of the soil on the hillsides, terracing was frequently necessary.

Examples of these old terraces still exist. On the unwatered plains the crops could be grown only In the winter and spring, i.e. during the rainy season. These districts dried up in May or June and remained fallow during the rainless summer. The same was true of the hilly regions and valleys except where water from a stream could be diverted from its channel and spread over the fields. In such districts crops could be grown irrespective of the seasons. See Irrigation.

III. Agricultural Pursuits. To appreciate the many references in the Bible to agricultural pursuits and the frequent allusions of our Lord to the fields and their products, we must remember how different were the surroundings of the farmers of that day from those among which most of us live or with which we are acquainted. What knowledge we have of these pursuits is drawn from such references as disclose methods bearing a close similarity to those of the present day. The strong tendency to resist change which is everywhere manifest throughout the country and the survival of ancient descriptive words in the language of today further confirm our belief that we now witness in this country the identical operations which were used two thousand or more years ago. It would be strange if there were not a variety of ways by which the same object was accomplished when we remember that the Hebrew people benefited by the experience of the Egyptians, of the Babylonians, of the inhabitants of the land of their adoption, as well as of its late European conquerors. For this reason the drawings found on the Egyptian monuments, depicting agricultural scenes, help us to explain the probable methods used in Palestine.

Three branches of agriculture were more prominent than the others; the growing of grain, the care of vineyards (Nu 18:30), and the raising of flocks. Most households owned fields and vineyards and the richer added to these a wealth of flocks. The description of Job’s wealth (in Job 1) shows that he was engaged in all these pursuits. Hezekiah’s riches as enumerated in 2Ch 32:27,28 suggest activity in each of these branches.

1. Growing of Grain:

In this and following descriptions, present-day methods as far as they correspond to ancient records will be dealt with.

(1) Plowing and sowing.

On the plains, little or no preparation for plowing is needed, but in the hilly regions, the larger stones, which the tilling of the previous season has loosened and which the winter’s rains have washed bare, are picked out and piled into heaps on some ledge, or are thrown into the paths, which thus become elevated above the fields which they traverse. (See Field.) If grain is to be planted, the seed is scattered broadcast by the sower. If the land has not been used for some time the ground is first plowed, and when the seed has been scattered is plowed again. The sower may keep his supply of seed in a pocket made by pulling up his outer garment through his girdle to a sufficient extent for it to sag down outside his girdle in the form of a loose pouch. He may, on the other hand, carry it in a jar or basket as the sowers are pictured as doing on the Egyptian monuments. As soon as the seed is scattered it is plowed in before the ever-present crows and ravens can gather it up. The path of the plow in the fields of the hilly regions is a tortuous one because of the boulders jutting out here and there (Mt 13:3 ff) or because of the ledges which frequently lie hidden just beneath the surface (the rocky places of Christ’s parable).

When the plowman respects the footpaths which the sufferance of the owner has allowed to be trodden across his fields or which mark the boundaries between the lands of different owners, and leaves them unplowed, then the seed which has fallen on these portions becomes the food of the birds. Corners of the field where the plow cannot reach are hoed by hand. Harrowing-in as we know it is not practiced today, except on some of the larger plains, and probably was not used in Palestine in earlier times. See Harrow.

(2) Reaping.

After the plowing is over, the fields are deserted until after the winter rains, unless an unusually severe storm of rain and hail (Ex 9:25) has destroyed the young shoots. Then a second sowing is made. In April, if the hot east winds have not blasted the grain (see Blasting) the barley begins to ripen. The wheat follows from a week to six weeks later, depending upon the altitude. Toward the end of May or the first week in June, which marks the beginning of the dry season, reaping begins. Whole families move out from their village homes to spend the time in the fields until the harvest is over. Men and women join in the work of cutting the grain. A handful of grain is gathered together by means of a sickle held in the right hand. The stalks thus gathered in a bunch are then grasped by the left hand and at the same time a pull is given which cuts off some of the stalks a few inches above ground (see Stubble) and pulls the rest up by the roots. These handfuls are laid behind the reapers and are gathered up by the helpers (see Gleaning), usually the children, and made into piles for transporting to the threshing- floor.

(3) Threshing.

The threshing-floors are constructed in the fields, preferably in an exposed position in order to get the full benefit of the winds. If there is a danger of marauders they are clustered together close to the village. The floor is a level, circular area 25 to 40 ft. in diameter, prepared by first picking out the stones, and then wetting the ground, tamping or rolling it, and finally sweeping it. A border of stones usually surrounds the floor to keep in the grain. The sheaves of grain which have been brought on the backs of men, donkeys, camels, or oxen, are heaped on this area, and the process of tramping out begins. In some localities several animals, commonly oxen or donkeys, are tied abreast and driven round and round the floor. In other places two oxen are yoked together to a drag, the bottom of which is studded with pieces of basaltic stone. This drag, on which the driver, and perhaps his family, sits or stands, is driven in a circular path over the grain. In still other districts an instrument resembling a wheel harrow is used, the antiquity of which is confirmed by the Egyptian records. The supply of unthreshed grain is kept in the center of the floor. Some of this is pulled down from time to time into the path of the animals. All the while the partly threshed grain is being turned over with a fork. The stalks gradually become broken into short pieces and the husks about the grain are torn off. This mixture of chaff and grain must now be winnowed. This is done by tossing it into the air so that the wind may blow away the chaff (see Winnowing). When the chaff is gone then the grain is tossed in a wooden tray to separate from it the stones and lumps of soil which clung to the roots when the grain was reaped. The difference in weight between the stones and grain makes separation by this process possible (see Sift). The grain is now poled in heaps and in many localities is also sealed. This process consists in pressing a large wooden seal against the pile. When the instrument is removed it leaves an impression which would be destroyed should any of the grain be taken away. This allows the government offers to keep account of the tithes and enables the owner to detect any theft of grain. Until the wheat is transferred to bags some one sleeps by the pries on the threshing-floor. If the wheat is to be stored for home consumption it is often first washed with water and spread out on goats’ hair mats to dry before it is stored in the wall compartments found in every house (see Storehouses). Formerly the wheat was ground only as needed. This was then a household task which was accomplished with the hand-mill or mortar (see Mill).

2. Care of Vineyards:

No clearer picture to correspond with present-day practice in vine culture (see Vine) in Palestine could be given than that mentioned in Isa 5:1,6. Grapes probably served an important part in the diet of Bible times as they do at present. In the season which begins in July and extends for at least three months, the humblest peasant as well as the richest landlord considers grapes as a necessary part of at least one meal each day. The grapes were not only eaten fresh but were made into wine (see Wine Press). No parallel however can be found in the Bible for the molasses which is made by boiling down the fresh grape juice. Some writers believe that this substance was meant in some passages translated by wine or honey, but it is doubtful. The care of the vineyards fitted well into the farmer’s routine, as most of the attention required could be given when the other crops demanded no time.

3. Raising of Flocks:

The leaders of ancient Israel reckoned their flocks as a necessary part of their wealth (see Sheep). When a man’s flocks were his sole possession he often lived with them and led them in and out in search of pasturage (Ps 23; Mt 18:12), but a man with other interests delegated this task to his sons (1Sa 16:11) or to hirelings. Human nature has not changed since the time when Christ made the distinction between the true shepherd and the hireling (Joh 10:12). Within a short time of the writing of these words the writer saw a hireling cursing and abusing the stray members of a flock which he was driving, not leading as do good shepherds. The flock furnished both food and raiment. The milk of camels, sheep and goats was eaten fresh or made into curdled milk, butter or cheese. More rarely was the flesh of these animals eaten (see Food). The peasant’s outer coat is still made of a tawed sheepskin or woven of goats’ hair or wool (see Weaving). The various agricultural operations are treated more fully under their respective names, (which see) . James A. Patch