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Agriculture in biblical times
Tilling the ground (Genesis 2:15; 4:2-3, 12) and rearing cattle were the main employments in ancient times. The Egyptians excelled in agriculture. After the Israelites gained possession of the Promised Land, their circumstances were ideal for a remarkable development of this art. Agriculture became the basis of the Mosaic commonwealth.
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 extensive and easily-arranged system of irrigation from the rills and streams from the mountains made the soil in every part of Israel richly productive (Ps. 1:3; 65:10; Prov. 21:1; Isa. 30:25; 32:2, 20; Hos. 12:11), and careful cultivation and application of manure increased its fertility to such an extent that in the days of Solomon, when there was an abundant population, “20,000 measures of wheat year by year” were sent to Hiram in exchange for timber (1 Kings 5:11). Wheat was also sent in large quantities to the Tyrians for the merchandise in which they traded (Ezek. 27:17). The wheat sometimes produced hundredfold (Genesis 26:12; Matt. 13:23). Figs and pomegranates were very plentiful (Num. 13:23), and grapes and olives grew luxuriantly and produced abundant fruit (Deut. 33:24).
The year was divided into six agricultural periods.
agricultural implements and operations
PLOWING—The sculptured monuments and painted tombs of Egypt and Assyria throw much light on this subject, and on the general operations of agriculture. Simple plows were known in the time of Moses (Deut. 22:10; compare Job 1:14). They were light, and required great attention to keep them in the ground (Luke 9:62). They were drawn by oxen (Job 1:14), cows (1 Sam. 6:7), and asses (Isa. 30:24); but an ox and an ass must not be yoked together in the same plow (Deut. 22:10). Men sometimes followed the plow with a hoe to break the clods (Isa. 28:24). The oxen were urged on by a “goad,” or long staff pointed at the end, so that if occasion arose it could be used as a spear also (Judg. 3:31; 1 Sam. 13:21).
SEEDING—When the soil was prepared, the seed was sown broadcast over the field (Matt. 13:3-8). The “harrow” mentioned in Job 39:10 was not used to cover the seeds, but to break the clods, being little more than a thick block of wood. In highly irrigated spots the seed was trampled in by cattle (Isa. 32:20); but doubtless there was some kind of harrow also for covering in the seed scattered in the furrows of the field.
REAPING—The reaping of the grain was performed either by pulling it up by the roots, or cutting it with a type of sickle, according to circumstances. The grain when cut was generally put up in sheaves (Genesis 37:7; Lev. 23:10-15; Ruth 2:7, 15; Job 24:10; Jer. 9:22; Micah 4:12), which were afterwards gathered to the threshing-floor or stored in barns (Matt. 6:26).
THRESHING—The process of threshing was performed generally by spreading the sheaves on the threshing-floor and causing oxen and cattle to walk repeatedly over them (Deut. 25:4; Isa. 28:28). On occasions flails or sticks were used for this purpose (Ruth 2:17; Isa. 28:27). There was also a “threshing instrument” (Isa. 41:15; Amos 1:3) which was drawn over the grain. The Hebrews called this moreg, a threshing roller or sledge (2 Sam. 24:22; 1 Chr. 21:23; Isa. 3:15). It was somewhat like the Roman tribulum, or threshing tool.
WINNOWING—When the grain was threshed, it was winnowed by being thrown up against the wind (Jer. 4:11), and afterwards tossed with wooden scoops (Isa. 30:24). The shovel and the fan for winnowing are mentioned in Ps. 35:5, Job 21:18, Isa. 17:13. The refuse of straw and chaff was burned (Isa. 5:24). Freed from impurities, the grain was then stored in granaries till used (Deut. 28:8; Prov. 3:10; Matt. 6:26; 13:30; Luke 12:18).