Agriculture. 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,” Lev. 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, Deut. 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. Lev. 25:8-16, 23-35.
Rain.—Water was abundant in Palestine from natural sources. Deut. 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,” Deut. 11:14; Jer. 5:24; Hos. 6:3; Zech. 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 in 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 lentiles, 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; Hos. 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; Prov. 24:30, 31. Sowing also took place without previous ploughing, the seed being scattered broadcast and ploughed in afterwards. The soil was then brushed over with a light harrow, often of thorn bushes. In high-irrigated spots the seed was trampled in 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. Judg. 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. Gen. 26:12; Matt. 13:8. Sowing a field with divers seed was forbidden. Deut. 22:9.
Threshing Instrument (side view and upper view).
Reaping and Threshing.—The wheat, etc., was reaped by the sickle or pulled up by the roots. It was bound in sheaves. The sheaves or heaps were carted, Amos 2:13, to the floor—a circular spot of hard ground, probably, as now, from 50 to 80 or 100 feet in diameter. Gen. 1:10, 11; 2 Sam. 24:16, 18. On these the oxen, etc., forbidden to be muzzled, Deut. 25:4, trampled out the grain. At a later time the Jews used a threshing sledge called morag, Isa. 41:15; 2 Sam. 24:22; 1 Chron. 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, the grain, as well as cut or tore the straw, which thus became fit for fodder. Lighter grains were beaten out with a stick. Isa. 28:27. The use of animal manure was frequent. Ps. 83:10; 2 Kings 9:37; Jer. 8:2, etc.
Threshing Floor (Eastern).
Winnowing.—The shovel and fan, Isa. 30:24, indicate the process of winnowing—a conspicuous part of ancient husbandry. Ps. 35:5; Job 21:18; Isa. 17:13. Evening was the favorite time, Ruth 3:2, when there was mostly a breeze. The fan, Matt. 3:12, was perhaps a broad shovel which threw the grain up against the wind. The last process was the shaking in a sieve to separate dirt and refuse. Amos 9:9. Fields and floors were not commonly enclosed; vineyards mostly were, with a tower and other buildings. Num. 22:24; Ps. 80:13; Isa. 5:5; Matt. 21:33; comp. Judg. 6:11. The gardens also and orchards were enclosed, frequently by banks of mud from ditches.
With regard to occupany, a tenant might pay a fixed money rent, Song 8:11, or a stipulated share of the fruits. 2 Sam. 9:10; Matt. 21:34. A passerby might eat any quantity of corn or grapes, but not reap or carry off fruit. Deut. 23:24, 25; Matt. 12:1. The rights of the corner to be left, and of gleaning
[Corner; Gleaning], formed the poor man’s claim on the soil for support. For his benefit, too, a sheaf forgotten in carrying to the floor was to be left; so also with regard to the vineyard and the olive grove. Lev. 19:9, 10; Deut. 24:19.