Part 1 – Geography of the land in its setting

The physical setting of the land of the Bible


The land of the Bible is not an especially fertile land. It is located on the edge of the desert, and from the north of the land to the south there is a large drop in the amount of average annual rainfall.

[Dr. H. Bruins:] Israel is situated just to the north of the largest desert belt on planet earth. It stretches all the way from the Atlantic coast of the Sahara Desert―Morocco to Senegal―and goes east through Libya, coming to Egypt, through Saudi Arabia to Pakistan and northwest India. It’s a huge desert.

The land of Israel is situated just on the north of it. That means the southern part of Israel is inside this desert. Here in the south of the Negev it is extremely dry. You have only 25 mm of rainfall a year. But when you go to the north, you have a very sharp transition to a much better climate, so that the central and northern part of the country enjoys a climate which can sustain rain fed agriculture quite well.

In the wintertime Israel comes under the influence of the so-called depression systems coming in with the western winds. These winds bring in the rain, particularly in the north, because the trajectories of these depression systems usually go along a line between Cyprus and Turkey. Only relatively few go farther south. Then the trajectory is such that when you come to the southern part of Israel in the Negev, the air moves over land―over Egypt rather than over the sea. That is why when it is raining in the north and center, here it is still dry. Only when the wind direction is from the northwest do the rains also penetrate into the Negev. They can sometimes go into the south, but this is rare. That is why in Eilat the rainfall is only 25 mm a year; it is one of the driest places in the world. Here in the Negev, on the other hand, it is about 90 mm, and near Beersheba it is about 200. When you go north to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, it goes up to 600-700 mm.

Geography of the land

Moses climbed up Mount Nebo from the Jordan  valley, an ascent of about 1200 meters. From there God let him see the land where he would not be allowed to enter. Deut 34 describes the event: “Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Mount Pisgah east of Jericho, and there the Lord showed him the whole land: the territory of Gilead as far north as the town of Dan; the entire territory of Naphtali; the territories of Ephraim and Manasseh; the territory of Judah as far west as the Mediterranean Sea; the southern part of Judah; and the plain that reaches from Zoar to Jericho.” Once on an exceptionally clear day I stood near here and was able to see Mount Hermon in the far north of the country, a distance of about 150 km. The Israelite town of Dan stood at the foot of Mount Hermon.

What kind of land forms would Moses have seen? It is helpful to think of the topography as a series of strips running north and south.  In the west there is the coastal plain. It is flat and sandy and is broken up only rarely by small streams flowing from the eastern hills into the sea.

Moving eastward, the next strip is a line of foothills, a bit higher in elevation.

Continuing to the east we come to a ridge of higher hills, sometimes referred to as mountains by the biblical text. This ridge starts with Mount Gilboa in the north and continues to Hebron in the south. From there it descends somewhat into the dry Negev plateau towards Beersheba. On or near this ridge stood the ancient cities of Shechem, Bethel, Jerusalem, and Hebron. It provided an important route for north-south travel. In ancient times the hills of this central ridge, as well as the valley of the Jordan River, were covered with forests.

To the east of the ridge the elevation drops off sharply from an elevation of 800 to 1000 meters down to the Dead Sea, which is the lowest spot on earth at over 400 meters below sea level. The Dead Sea is fed by the Jordan River coming down from the north. The sources of the river are near the foot of the highest mountain in the land, Mount Hermon, which stands at an elevation of more than 2800 meters. The river flows through a swampy area called the Huleh Valley and then descends through steep gorges to the Kinneret Lake, also called the Sea of Galilee, which is already more than 200 meters below sea level after a journey of about 50 kilometers.

Continuing east from the Jordan Valley, the topography again rises to a high plateau in the area of Transjordan. This plateau, which includes Mount Nebo, stands higher than the north-south ridge to the west of the Valley.

A note on directions in the ancient world

Most of the maps we use today are printed with north at the top. This corresponds to our mental orientation, where north is up and south is down. We should not, however, take this orientation for granted. There are some cultures in the world today where some other direction is the forward, in-front-of-you direction. For the people of Bible times the direction of orientation was the direction where the sun rose, in the east. In Hebrew there are two names for the east. One means “the place where the sun rises,” and the other means simply “forward.”

Water resources

[Question:] What sources did people have for water in the desert, and how did they store what they found?

[Dr H. Bruins:] There are three principle types of water source, and in fact they are all mentioned together in Proverbs 5: the cistern that collects rainwater as it flows over the landscape; the well, which goes down to a water-bearing layer in a kind of stream; even if the stream is dry on the surface, it often has some water deeper down. And the third one is the spring, where water literally flows out at some place. This is the best type of water; it is the living water.


A well is a manmade hole dug down to the water table. Depending on the topography, a well can be quite deep, sometimes as much as twenty meters. For example, this well outside the walls of the ancient city of Beersheba had to go down below the hill on which the city was built and reach to the level of the wadi which ran nearby.

For example, this well outside the walls of the ancient city of Beersheba goes down as far as the wadi which flows past below the city. We can get an idea of the depth of this well by dropping a stone and waiting to see how long it takes to hit the bottom. By a rough estimate, this well is over 75 meters deep.

The soil in many parts of the Bible lands is very rocky. This makes digging very difficult, and especially the deep digging that is required for most wells. Water seeps into the lower parts of a well. It can then be drawn out by means of a container tied to a rope.

Because of the work involved in digging a well, it was considered the property of the one who dug it. However, with changing climate conditions and rainfall, wells could dry up and be abandoned. Even a well that remained in continuous use needed to be maintained by the owner. This was because wells could fill in as the sides collapsed or with the shifting of sand in desert areas. On occasion the hard work of digging a well could be shared by several people from areas around the well. Then the well was considered joint property. The inside of the well was often lined with stones to strengthen it and prevent it from collapsing.

The rope that pulled up the container could be simply laid against the side of the well. The mouth of the well was often made of limestone, which is a relatively soft stone. The constant friction of the rope wore ruts in the edge of the stone. Another method was to build a simple wooden frame above the mouth. The container itself might be made of stone or pottery, but more often it was made of an animal skin, which was less likely to break when hitting stones on the way up from the bottom of the well.

If an animal tried to get to the water in the deep well, it might fall in and die. The body of the dead animal would then spoil the water in the well. For this reason, it was customary to place a heavy stone on the mouth of the well, one which could not be pushed off even by a large animal.


A cistern was a manmade place for storing water. The soil of the Bible lands is often a type that does not quickly absorb the water. When the rain falls, rather than soaking in, the water begins to run off. The cistern was a means of collecting this water and holding it so that it could be used during the dry months of the year. Even though rainfall is limited to only four or five months a year, in a year of average rainfall enough water can be stored in cisterns to meet water needs for the rest of the year.

A cistern was a hole in the ground. Usually it was dug by people, but sometimes it was a natural hole adapted by people to store water. Cisterns could be 6 meters across and 6 meters deep or even larger. In earliest times they were cut out of rock that did not allow water to seep through it. With the discovery how to make plaster, cisterns could be dug in many kinds of rock and then lined with plaster, which sealed any holes or cracks. Jeremiah speaks about the uselessness of broken cisterns, that could not hold water.

Cisterns were sometimes placed in an outside area where water could be collected easily. In populated areas cisterns were dug underneath houses or nearby. Runoff water was collected from the roof of the house and from nearby courtyards and pathways.

Access to the water was sometimes like a well, where a container was lowered into the water from above. In many cases, however, a cistern was made with steps leading down into it. This made it easier to get to the water. It also made possible the very important cleaning of the cistern. As water flowed into the cistern, it carried dirt with it. This dirt settled to the bottom of the cistern. After several years of use, the cistern could almost fill up with this sediment. This greatly reduced the storage capacity of the cistern and eventually would make it useless. It was in just such a muddy cistern that the prophet Jeremiah was kept, as in a kind of prison.

A cistern differed from a well in that a cistern received its water from a source removed from it at some distance, while the water in a well accumulated from its immediate vicinity. It is not always clear from the biblical context whether a well or a cistern is intended.


Even in dry desert regions you find springs. A spring is formed when the rainfall goes down through the upper layers of soil through which it can penetrate and arrives at a harder layer of rock that stops it. Since it can go no farther down, the water begins to move sideways until it finds itself an exit. That exit forms a spring. We can see here a spring that has been formed by water from outside of this area, and we can see that where a spring comes in the desert there will grow various kinds of vegetation. We see here reeds and a tamarisk tree.

Depending on the amount of water which accumulates on the rocky layer, a spring may stop flowing after only a short period of a few days or it may flow all year round. Where a spring is more or less permanent, its outlet will usually be surrounded by plant growth, ranging from grass and reeds even to trees.

In this part of the world, where rainfall is not abundant, people frequently settled near some source of water. In many locations, towns were built on elevated areas for defensive purposes with a spring nearby. If the town was surrounded by a wall, it was sometimes not practical to extend the wall to include the spring, which would normally issue out far down at the bottom of the hill. People devised a way to bring the spring water inside the walls of the town. A vertical shaft was dug inside the walls of the town, much like a large well. The shaft was dug to approximately the level of the spring. Then a horizontal tunnel was cut from the bottom of the shaft to the spring. The water from the spring could either be diverted inside the walls by way of this tunnel, or people could walk through the tunnel to collect water from the spring. From the outside the spring was hidden with rocks and earth so that it could not be discovered by an enemy.

It was through just such a tunnel and shaft that Joab and his men met David’s challenge to capture the city of Jerusalem from the Jebusites. They discovered the entrance to the tunnel from the spring and then were able to defeat those defending the tunnel and enter into the city.

Having one or more springs made a property much more valuable. This is well illustrated in Joshua 15 and in Judges chapter one, where the daughter of Caleb is not satisfied with the land her father gives her until he includes some springs with it.

Because water was such a limited and valuable resource, springs are sometimes a symbol of life itself. The prophets speak of God’s restoration of the fortunes of the people as springs issuing out in streams in the desert.

Nomadic life

Even though Abram is said to have been living in a city when God called him to the land of Canaan, the Bible basically describes him as a nomad or seminomad. Abram lived in a tent and moved from place to place with his flocks and herds.

The tents used by Abraham and his family were probably very similar to those used until today by desert nomads in the Middle East. The most prominent among these nomads are the Bedouin. The tent is constructed of cloth and poles. The cloth is woven from the hair of goats. This cloth is ideal for life in the desert. It is loose enough to allow the air to circulate in the hot desert climate. On the relatively rare occasions when it does rain, the goat hair expands and becomes almost waterproof. The goats raised in the Middle East are usually black, and so the tents are also black. In the Song of Songs the blackness of the tents is a symbol for the beauty of the woman.

The tent was mostly open on one side during the daytime, and it was possible on hot days to roll up several sides. The tent could be divided into sections by simply hanging a cloth to separate a large room into two smaller ones. Among nomads special emphasis was placed on hospitality for guests. In Genesis 18 we read of Abraham sitting in the open doorway of his tent at the hottest time of the day as he receives guests.

Even though the descendants of Abraham, from as early as Jacob, lived in more permanent dwellings in Egypt and in Canaan, the culture of tent dwellers remained part of their heritage. When the people of Benjamin decided to rebel against King David’s grandson, the cry was “To your tents, O Israel!” even though the next verse tells us that they were living in cities. It was not a call to battle. Rather the meaning is “Let’s go home.”

When it came time for the nomad to pack up his belongings and move to another location, he needed a reliable means to transport his things. The topography is often rough, and it would have been difficult to use carts or wagons. Instead the nomads used camels to carry their belongings. Archaeological evidence suggests that camels may have been domesticated as early as 3000 B.C. They are first mentioned in the Bible in Genesis 12 among the possessions of Abraham. A mature male camel is able to carry more than 200 kilograms.

We know of two kinds of camel today. The Bactrian camel has two humps on its back. The Dromedary has only one hump. It was the one-humped dromedary that was found in the land of Canaan, although the Israelites would have been familiar with the two-humped camel, which was found farther east and north in Assyria.

Because of this hump on the camel’s back, it was necessary to put on it a specially designed saddle in order to ride it. The saddle was made of wood. When camp was set up, the saddle was removed from the camel and placed in the tent, where it was covered with blankets and served as a kind of stool to sit on. After Jacob and his family left Laban in Mesopotamia, Laban chased them, looking for the statues of his household gods, which Rachel had stolen. Laban searched Jacob’s camp but could not find the teraphim. When he came to search Rachel’s tent, she was sitting on her camel saddle in the tent. She had hidden the small statues under the saddle, and Laban did not find them.

The floor of the nomad’s tent was just the ground where it stood. The earth floor was usually covered with mats woven from the hair of camels or goats or from reeds. After the Israelites captured Jericho, Achan took some spoil that had been forbidden. It was not difficult for him to dig a hole in the floor of his tent, hide the stolen items there, and then cover it with the floor mat.

Pasturing sheep and goats

While the areas in the east and south of the land of Canaan did not get enough annual rainfall for raising most crops, they did produce enough vegetation for the grazing or browsing of animals.

Sheep and goats feed from what grows wild, not only grass but also leaves and shoots of trees and shrubs. This means that the life of an ancient shepherd was nomadic. When his animals had eaten all of the available vegetation in one area, he had to move to a new location. The size of a flock was limited by the amount of grass that grew in the area. In an area of the world where limited rainfall means limited vegetation, shepherds could sometimes competed for feeding areas for their flocks. It was this competition which caused Abraham and Lot to separate.

If a shepherd found a good area for his flocks, an area where he might be able to stay for a while, he still needed water for his own needs and for his flocks. If there was a spring in the area, it might supply the water he needed. Where there was no spring, it would be necessary to dig a well.

During the day the shepherd led his flocks of sheep and goats to an area where they could feed. Sheep tend to follow the shepherd, while goats are more independent and will often run ahead of the shepherd.

At the end of the day the shepherd brought his flock back to his camp. In order to keep the animals from wandering off, they were placed in an enclosed area. This could be made of piled up stones, but it was often easier to gather branches from thorn bushes and make a temporary pen for the flock. This enclosure also gave limited protection from predatory animals such as wolves and lions.

Sheep and goats often walk in single file, one after the other. In areas where flocks are pastured periodically, over a period of years the animals will form small trails which are distinctive to these areas and are not found in areas where the main human activity is settled agriculture.

The winters in the land of Israel can be relatively cold, especially in the hilly regions where sheep and goats are often raised. The animals grow an extra layer of wool or hair to keep them warm in the winter. In the springtime the shepherds cut or sheared this extra wool and hair. The time of shearing the sheep was an important one for the shepherd. The wool of the sheep and the hair of the goats were often used to make clothing, tents, floor coverings, bags, and many other useful objects. It could also be traded for grain and objects that were needed for daily living.


Jacob and his family went to Egypt as shepherds. There they seem to have maintained this way of life to some extent, and we find Moses asking Pharaoh for permission to go out into the wilderness together with their flocks and herds. However, the Hebrews were more or less settled in one area of Egypt, and they seem to have adopted also certain agricultural practices.

When the tribes of Israel came into Canaan, they began to build houses and to prepare fields and terraces for fixed agriculture. This was especially true in the north and west of the country, where there is enough rainfall for the growing of crops. Here the landscape is often characterized by terraces. These were constructed by people to catch the rainfall before it could run off from the hillsides.

Wheat and barley production became economically very important in the ancient near East. In the land of Israel, the Levant, Syria and north Mesopotamia, and Anatolia the harvest depended on rain. In those areas the worship of the rain and storm god, Baal or Hadad, became very important. Also among the ancient Israelites there was always a temptation to worship Baal.

In Egypt and in southern Mesopotamia the harvest depended on rivers overflowing their banks and on irrigation. In those regions the river gods were worshipped.

In addition to the growing of grains such as wheat and barley, several other crops were central to the Israelite economy. Two crops, grapes and olives, were of special importance.


Many parts of the country are ideally suited to the growing of grapes. Grapevines are reused year after year. Preparation for the coming season consists primarily of cutting back the growth from the previous year. This cutting, called pruning, is very radical. A grapevine can grow many meters in one season. At the end of the season it is cut back to little more than a stump in the ground. This drastic pruning ensures that in the next season the fruit will be sweet and juicy.

The first ripe grapes appear in the month of June. The harvesting begins in earnest in July and goes on throughout the summer. Towards the end of the summer, in late September or early October, it is the custom to make the first wine, the so-called “new wine.”

Harvesting of grapes consisted of cutting down the bunches of grapes one bunch at a time.

After grapes had been dried in the sun forming raisins, the raisins were gathered into blocks pressed together so that they could be stored over long periods of time. These blocks could be carried on trips and provided a good source of energy on the way.

Most of the grapes, however, were used to make wine, which was the staple drink in the home. The bunches were carried to the winepress, which was often cut out of the bare rock not far from the vineyard. Sometimes a winepress was very small, used by one family for squeezing the juice from a small amount of grapes. Often there was a kind of community winepress, a place where the whole community could bring its grapes to be pressed, each family in its turn.

As the workers stepped on the grapes, the skins were broken, the juice was released, and the floor of the winepress could become very slippery. Normally a wooden structure was constructed over the press with ropes hanging down from it. The worker could hold on to the rope, and then if he slipped, he wouldn’t fall into the juice he was pressing out. Also released when the grapes were tread out were the seeds from the grapes. If the seeds were broken, the wine would become bitter. For this reason, the treading was normally done with bare feet so that the seeds would not be broken.

Juice from the squashed grapes flowed from the floor into a hole or vat. From there it was dipped out into earthenware containers or wineskins made from animal skins. Within a few days the natural sugar in the juice began to ferment. In the early stages of fermentation, while the alcohol content is still relatively low, it is called “new wine.” New wine was only to be found in the early fall in September. After another period of two or three weeks, the fermentation resulted in wine.

If the fermentation process was allowed to continue, the end result was sour wine or vinegar. Since the ancient world had no means of refrigeration, other methods were used to slow down the fermentation process. This was done primarily by adding a sweetening agent such as honey to the wine. This was referred to as “sweetened wine,” as in Acts chapter two on the day of Pentecost. Sweetened wine could be kept for many months.

In the ancient world wine was also concentrated to help preserve it, and wine was normally diluted with water before it was drunk. The concentrated wine was poured into a vessel, and then water with a ratio of 3 or even 4 parts water to one part wine. Only afterward was the wine drunk.

As with other harvests, the time of the grape harvest and the accompanying production of new wine was a time of great celebration.


Olive trees grow throughout the Mediterranean region, and the production of olive oil has been an important aspect of human culture in the region for almost as long as we have recorded history.

The olive is the small berry of the olive tree. When it ripens in October, it yields oil. The olives are harvested by shaking the tree or beating its branches with a long stick. This causes the olives to fall to the ground, where they are collected. Oil is extracted from the olives by pressing. Unlike the extraction of juice from grapes by simply treading on them, olives had to be crushed under considerable weight to extract the oil from them. There were different kinds of olive press, depending on the amount of olives to be pressed. The basic idea was to roll a heavy stone over the olives.

The product that resulted from rolling a stone over the olives was a mudlike paste, containing the pulp and seeds of the olives in addition to the oil. This paste was put into special baskets. These were placed under a log anchored in a wall.

The first oil that came out was of the highest quality. It was the clearest and the tastiest. This first oil was the oil used in the Temple service, both for burning in the menorah, the seven-branched lampstand, and also in grain offerings that were mixed with oil.

The long pole acted as a kind of fulcrum on the bags with the olive pulp. The fulcrum produced weight on the bags, squeezing the oil out. As more weight was added, more oil could be squeezed out. The closer the weight was to the bags, the less oil would be squeezed out. More weights were added farther away adding more pressure. The more weight there was on the bags, the lower was the quality of the oil, because the oil that came out by itself without weight was of higher quality.

Olive oil was also a healthy component of the diet, used in cooking, for dipping bread, and in many other ways. The pulp which was left over after the last pressing could also be fed to animals or burned for heat in the home.

The olive tree is extremely hardy and continues to regenerate itself even when it is cut down. For this reason the new shoot springing out of the dead stump was sometimes used as a symbol for new life.


Another tree that supplied edible fruit was the fig tree. It grows in almost all parts of the land. While it does not provide more useable products other than its fruit, it does develop full broad leaves that make it a good shade tree in the hot months. Nathanael was sitting under a fig tree when Jesus saw him.

The fig tree begins to put out leaves in the early spring, in April. About a month later there appear small green growths on the branches. These are not normally eaten, but they give some indication as to whether the tree will later bear edible fruit.

The ripe fruit of the tree is sweet and can be eaten fresh. The fruit can also be dried in the sun. This concentrates the natural sugar and makes it even sweeter.

After the figs were dried in the sun, they were gathered together and pressed into blocks. The purpose of this operation was to keep them from drying out too much; if they were left individual, they would become hard. It also reduced the operation of the insects that would get into the figs over a period of time.

When Abigail came to beg David’s mercy for her husband, she brought gifts including two hundred blocks of dried figs. Later on, David’s men gave a piece of a dried fig block to an Egyptian who had almost died of hunger.

Harvest Cycle

Even though enough rain falls in most places to permit the growing of crops, the soil is still very rocky in most places. This makes it difficult to work the land. The planting of the grain took place in the weeks just before the coming of the first rains in October.

The first step often had to be clearing away larger rocks from the plot of land. The rocks were moved to the edges of the field, where they formed a kind of fence marking off the field. For the most part this stone fence was not high enough actually to keep out either human or most animal intruders. It was simply a convenient way of removing the stones from the upper level of soil.

The next step was to sow the seed. The seed was carried in a bag or in a fold of the outer garment. The seed was sowed with a casting motion to try to spread it out evenly over the surface. Even though the seed was a precious commodity, sowing was not a precise operation. In the parable of the sower, Jesus said that the seed could fall in other places where it would not be covered by the soil in plowing. Some could fall among the thorns, that grew at the edge of the field; some might fall on the bare rock, which could not be plowed; and others might fall on the hardened pathways that ran next to the field.

Next the farmer plowed the soil so that it would cover the seed. Seed that remained on the surface was likely to be eaten by birds or ants, and even seed that was not eaten would have difficulty taking root. The plow was made of wood, and only the point of the plow was made of iron, which was strong enough to push through the rocky soil. The plow was attached to an animal, usually a donkey or an ox. The animal wore a yoke around its neck, and the plow was attached to the yoke. Sometimes more than one animal was used, when the soil was particularly difficult to plow through. The yoke could be made of wood or of rope. The farmer carried a pointed stick with him, the goad. With this goad he could keep the animal in the right direction or make it move if it became stubborn.

Harvest time came in the spring or in early summer. Barley ripened earlier than wheat and was ready for harvest from late April. Wheat ripened only several weeks later, and was ready for harvest at the beginning of summer in June.

Wheat and barley, the two main staple crops in Bible times, grow as many individual grains in a head at the top of a stalk of grain. The goal of the whole harvesting process was to get the grain into a condition where it could be used for food. The individual grains are useful as food for people primarily after they are ground down to flour. This means removing the grain from the field, separating the individual grains from the head, removing the outer covering of the individual grain, and finally grinding the grain into flour.

The first stage in this process was to cut the standing grain. This was done with a kind of curved knife called a sickle. The harvester took a handful of stalks and used the sickle in the other hand to cut the stalks. The actual operation was often closer to tearing the stalks rather than clean cutting.

From this bundle of stalks the worker made a sheaf. The sheaves were easier to handle than piles of loose stalks. It was also possible to stand a sheaf on its end so that the heads of grain were kept off the moist ground until the harvesting was completed. The sheaves were then carried to the threshing floor, which was located not far from the field where the grain was grown.

According to Israelite law, any stalks which fell loose were to be left in the field. They could be gathered by poor people such as widows. This was called gleaning. The widow Ruth was gleaning in the fields of Boaz near Bethlehem.

Threshing is the process by which the grains are separated from the stalk and the head. This operation was carried out on a flat surface. The sheaves of grain were piled in the center of the threshing floor. The grain was taken from the pile and a layer placed on the floor around the pile. Here a special board, called the threshing board or threshing sledge, was drawn over the grain. The bottom of the board was studded with small stones stuck in holes in the board. The board was pulled by an animal while the worker normally stood or sat on the board, adding to its weight. As the stones passed over the grain, they cut the stalks and knocked the individual grains loose from the head. The outside cover or husk that covered the grain was also broken loose from the grain.

It was sometimes the custom to insert metal teeth in the board instead of stones. This was a more expensive and more efficient kind of threshing sledge. This kind of sledge is what is intended by the phrase “iron threshing sledges” found in some of the prophetic books.

For small amounts of grain, it was normal to use a special kind of paddle or a stick to knock the grains loose from the stalk.

Even though the proper place for threshing wheat was out in the open where the wind could blow the chaff away, in the book of Judges we read of Gideon threshing wheat down inside a winepress. We can see from this example of a winepress that Gideon was probably standing in a hole. The text says that he was taking this unusual step in order to keep the wheat hidden from the Midianites.

I am standing now in the collecting vat of a winepress. We can see that it is actually a hole in the ground. Gideon was standing down where he could hide from the Midianites. The action for threshing small amounts of grain involved holding a stick and beating the heads of grain to knock the heads off of the stalks of grain.

Israelite law said that the animal doing the work of pulling the threshing board should not wear a muzzle, so that it would be able to eat grain and straw from the threshing floor. Threshing produced a finely cut mixture of grains, husks, and cut straw.

The next step was to separate the heads of grain from the loose cut material, called the chaff. This step is called winnowing; it was done in two stages. The first stage took advantage of the significant difference in weight between the heavier grain and the lighter chaff. The worker used a wooden fork to throw the threshing floor mixture into the wind. The lighter chaff would be blown away, while the heavier grains fell to the ground in front of the worker.

Since all of the operation was taking place outside on the ground, it was unavoidable that small stones would also get mixed in with the grain. For this reason the next stage of winnowing was to separate the stones from the grains. For this the worker used a shallow, round basket. The bottom of the basket was made of a mesh, loose enough allow the grain to fall through but tight enough to catch stones. Sometimes this operation was repeated with a basket with an even finer mesh.

It would have been possible to prepare flour from all of the grain as soon as it was harvested. However, the whole grain could be stored longer with less spoiling than could flour.

The grain was stored in a special structure, called a silo or a granary. In some translations this structure is called a “barn.” It must be kept in mind in translation that the sole purpose of this small structure was to store grain. It was not a building into which people entered.

As flour was needed for food preparation, some of the whole grain was ground between stones. Normally people ground only as much grain as was needed for that day. Leftover flour could quickly become infested with insects. There are several different types of grinding stone or millstone mentioned in Scripture. In the Old Testament a hand mill consisted of a larger rectangular bottom stone and a smaller upper stone. The grain was placed on the lower stone, and the smaller upper stone was scraped over the grain grinding it to flour. This work was normally done by women in the early hours of the morning before sunrise. It was hard work and took a lot of time. It is estimated that to produce enough flour to make bread for a family of five a woman would have needed to grind for over three hours each day.

The sound of grinding in the early hours by the light of an oil lamp symbolized stability and security. The prophet Jeremiah describes the tragedy that is to come upon the people when he quotes God as saying “I will remove from them . . . the sound of the millstone and the light of the lamp.”

In New Testament times there was also another type of mill. This consisted of two round, flat stones, one sitting on top of the other. Grain was placed between them, and the upper stone was turned in a circular motion on the lower stone. The normal home millstone was small enough to be turned by hand. There was also a larger, heavier version constructed on the same principle. It was turned by animals or by slaves. Millstones worked best if they were made of hard, rough stone. One type of stone often used was the black volcanic basalt rock that came from the Galilee and Golan region in the north of the country.

We can see from this example of a basalt millstone that the grain was put into a kind of funnel at the top of the stone. It went down between the stones, was ground by the circular motion of the top stone on the bottom stone, and came out the side, where it was collected as flour.

The ground flour was mixed with water and worked together by hand until the dough had a uniform consistency. The dough was baked on heated stones [or on an earthenware or metal surface]. The bread was flat and round and thin. It was not cut but rather torn or broken to be eaten.


Between Sea and Desert

Yohanan Aharoni, The Land of the Bible, pp. 8-11. (Reproduced from The Land of the Bible, by Yohanan Aharoni. Used with permission from Westminster John Knox Press.)

A factor no less important in the history of Palestine is its geographical position between the sea and the desert. The climate of Palestine is best defined as the outcome of the struggle between these two divergent powers. Palestine is located in a sub-tropical zone, having a rainy season in the winter and a dry season in the summer. The westerly winds bring the wet storms of winter and the refreshing summer breezes from the sea, while the easterly winds bring with them the dust and dryness of the desert, hot and burning in summer and cool but dry during the winter. The spring is early and short. The rainy season begins during October or November (sometimes as late as December), and a few weeks after its beginning a green carpet covers the hills and valleys, providing plentiful pasture for the flocks. During February and March everything blossoms, and thistles spring up taller than a man. Near the end of March the hot desert winds, called “sirocco” or “khamsin” usually begin. These generally last from a few days to a week or more and are most common during April-May and September-October. With their beginning everything dries up rapidly and the blossoming landscape turns yellow and desolate almost overnight.

Not only the seasonal pattern but also the differing climate of the respective regions is an outcome of the contest between desert and sea. The amount of precipitation varies greatly in different parts of the country due to their geographical location and is intensified by the great differences in altitude.

Only a narrow strip along the Mediterranean coast enjoys any appreciable degree of rainfall, and the transition to arid desert country is quite sharp in the east and on the south. Therefore, the places receiving the largest amount of rainfall are the coastal strip and the northern highlands. To the degree that a particular region is lower, southerly, or removed from the sea its rainfall diminishes accordingly.

Since the precipitation is associated with climatic instability and barometric depressions which come and go during the winter, a great percentage of the rain falls during a limited number of days; likewise the difference may be very great from one year to another, and drought years are frequent. Deluge and drought do not balance out against one another, because on a rainy day the streams rise up and great currents of water overflowing from the hills suddenly flood into the plains; this may be followed by a series of warm days when the ground dries up rapidly under the hot rays of the sun, pouring down from a cloudless sky. Most of the streams are intermittent and contain water only on rainy days.

Perennial streams which flow toward the Jordan Valley are the Yarmuk, the Jabbok and some smaller tributaries on the east, and the Wadi Jalud on the west; the Arnon and the Zered empty into the Dead Sea. The Yarkon is the only river flowing to the Mediterranean; it runs its brief course from a rich and constant source at the foot of the ancient Aphek-Antipatris. The remaining streams, including the Kishon, carry water over short distances only and usually in small amounts.

The influence of the Mediterranean (the “Great Sea” in biblical terminology) on population and economy is not so pronounced in the history of Palestine as one might deduce from its long coastline. The main reason for this is the lack of convenient harbors and natural anchorages. The shoreline is almost straight, and in many places a high ridge rises up sharply from behind a narrow strip of beach which makes approach to the shore most difficult. Furthermore, a large percentage of the shoreline, especially in the south, is backed by a strip of shifting sands, often several miles in width, which also blocks the approach to the shore and deflects the highway from the coast inland so as to by-pass the sands. Therefore, most of the small anchorages were located in antiquity at the mouths of streams, which gave some measure of protection to small boats and from which one could advance eastwards for some distance towards the mainland. In spite of the fact that there have always been harbors along the Palestinian coast, some of which enjoyed a certain measure of importance, e.g. Ashkelon, Joppa, Dor and Acco, maritime commerce remained limited during most periods. Thus the harbor towns did not serve to introduce much cultural influence from over the sea.

On the other hand, the coastline enjoyed special importance in the development of Syria. Along the Syro-Phoenician coast there are many excellent natural harbors, several on off-shore islands, e.g. Tyre and Arvad which were important bases for maritime activity. Therefore, sea trade was highly developed on the Canaanite-Phoenician coast from even the most ancient periods. Ships of Byblos were famous during the third and second millennia, and Canaanite Tyre and Sidon became the most important sea powers in the Mediterranean during the early centuries of the first millennium B.C.

The desert, on the other hand, which surrounds Palestine on the east and the south, exercised a much stronger influence on the country and its population. There are no natural barriers to protect the settled areas from nomadic tribes except for the desert expanses themselves. Of course, the desert population was quite sparse, so that there was plenty of room for the Bedouin to occupy extensive areas and to utilize them as pasturage, albeit poor, for their flocks and cattle. However, the mighty wastelands are a never-ending source for tribal migrations that exert constant pressure on the populated areas.

The conflict between the desert and the sown land is unceasing.6 The desert dwellers are always half starved, and thus they gaze longingly at the delights of the settled country. They take advantage of every opportunity to invade the sown lands, requiring the frontier dwellers to be constantly on their guard. In their respective periods the desert raiders-Amalekites, Midianites, Ishmaelites, et al.-were the Israelite farmers’ most dangerous enemies in biblical times; one of the major accomplishments of Saul, the first King of Israel, was to relieve his people from the danger of these marauders (1 Sam. 14. 48). The line of Egyptian border forts in the eastern delta, the biblical Shur, was intended first and foremost to keep close watch over the movements of such Bedouin tribes.

Palestine possesses a long mutual boundary with the desert which provides plenty of opportunity for invasion and infiltration. Obviously this was more strongly felt in those districts adjacent to the desert, viz. the Negeb and central and southern Transjordan.1 These areas, which are wide open to incursions from the desert, suffered long periods of domination by the nomads with their flocks, which prevented any form of permanent settlement.

But enmity and strife were not the only relations that could prevail between the nomads and the sedentary population. Transactions were sometimes carried out concerning trade and the use of seasonal pasturage during the summer months when the desert oases do not suffice. Penetration by Bedouin with their flocks, especially in the regions of Gilead, the highlands of western Palestine, the Negeb and the delta region of Egypt, was a frequent phenomenon in all periods, often permitted by the masters of the land who allowed the nomads to pasture their flocks in forested or swampy regions and even in their own stubble fields after the harvest.

The continual pressure by Semitic nomads from the desert so influenced the composition of the populace in Palestine that it remained predominantly Semitic, in spite of several invasions by other peoples from the north. The large majority of geographical names in Palestine is Semitic. This is clear evidence concerning the early residents who founded these settlements during the fourth and third millennia B.C., since the place names usually withstand even the passage of time and the replacement of whole populations by invasion and migration. The historical sources record at least two tremendous Semitic waves that inundated Palestine and the other lands of the Fertile Crescent in the biblical period: the Amorite wave at the end of the third and the beginning of the second millennia B.C. and the Hebrew-Aramean wave in the last centuries of the second millennium. The Arab-Islamic invasions must be viewed as the latest wave of this ethnic migration from the desert into the sown land of the Fertile Crescent.

Ralph Gower, The New Manners and Customs of Bible Times, 87-119

When the Jewish people entered Canaan and took up agriculture after the seminomadic life of forty years in the wilderness, they were entering into work that went back in their own history for hun­dreds of years and into a country that was extremely rich in plants. Ur of the Chaldees, where Abraham had come from, was sustained by a healthy agricul­tural system based on irrigation ditches from the river bank, stone ploughshares, and flint sickles. With this technology the Chaldeans grew two crops each season.

Agriculture was also a feature of Egypt. Each year the river Nile overflowed its banks, and the land was covered with fine river-borne silt that enriched the soil for the year. In the dry season, irrigation was used. Water was lifted from the Nile into ditches by a shadoof (sweep device) and directed by blocking off particular ditches with a system of mud walls that could be broken down again.

Canaanite agriculture

There was no such regularity or certainty in Ca­naan; there the success of agriculture depended not on the rise of great rivers but on the winter rains, which varied from year to year, and on the conser­vation of water. Moses warned the Jewish people that the climate was uncertain and that their sec­urity was in God, who would provide the annual rainfall (Deuteronomy 11:10-15). So uncertain was the rainfall that the Canaanite religion was based on a form of sympathetic magic that ensured fertility for the soil. Baal was a storm god (see Deuteronomy 11:16-17).

Capricious water supplies were not the only things that made Canaanite agriculture uncertain. The hot desert winds from the southeast scorched everything that grew (Jonah 4:8; Luke 12:55). Another serious problem was the locust―a large variety of grasshopper that swarmed in millions (see Judges 6:5; 7:12) and ate everything green in its path. There is a terrible description of a plague of lo­custs in Joel 2. It was a plague of locusts that at­tacked Egypt as one stimulus to “let my people go” (Exodus 10:13-15). When the locusts arrived they seemed to be like an all-avenging army (Proverbs 30:27), although they stayed put on a cold day (Nahum 3:17). Erosion was another problem. The winter rains tended to wash the covering of soil down from the hills. Retaining walls had to be built.

Farming began when it dawned on early man that instead of gathering wild grains and vegetables, it was possible to collect the seeds and to sow them in one place. The first sites used to grow crops were the places where the wild varieties grew―in well-wa­tered and drained spots with adequate warmth and suitable soil. It was only with the development of farm implements and irrigation techniques that ag­riculture began to advance.

The Gezer Calendar

By the time the Jewish people dispossessed the Canaanites there were a considerable number of crops. A boy from those days wrote an exercise of the “thirty days hath September” variety, and it has been discovered in Gezer. It tells what was being done through the year in agriculture:

The two months are olive harvest                                            (Sept./Oct.)

The two months are planting grain                                          (Nov./Dec.)

The two months are late planting                                            (Jan./Feb.)

The month is hoeing up of flax                                               (March)

The month is barley harvest                                                    (April)

The month is harvest and festivity                                           (May)

The two months are vine tending                                            (June/July)

The month is summer fruit                                                     (August)

(The planting in January and February was millet, peas, lentils, mel­ons, and cucumbers.)

With the ownership of sheep, and perhaps some cattle, each on his own land, the farmer’s system could be called self-sufficient mixed farming. This changed in the early days of the Hebrew monarchy, as land was accumulated by the nobles at the ex­pense of the original farmers. A system of royal ten­ants developed, and stewards were appointed to be in charge of vineyards, olive groves, granaries, and cattle raising (1 Samuel 8:14). There were protests against this development from the prophets (Isaiah 5:8), and Nehemiah forced a return of property to the original owners (Nehemiah 5)―a situation that remained until the conquest of the country by the ar­mies of Greece and Rome, when it was possible to amass land again (Luke 12:18-19).

Using the ancient schoolboy’s calendar exercise we will now look at some of the things that were grown.

Grain crops

The two most important grains were wheat and bar­ley, but millet was grown as well (Ezekiel 4:9). Wheat grew in the coastal Philistine plain, the Jor­dan valley, and the valley of Jezreel. Barley could be grown on poorer soil and needed a shorter growing season, and it was less valued as a crop than wheat (Psalm 81:16).

The cycle of grain production began when the former rains came in October/November and soft­ened the soil sufficientlv for it to be worked. The rains then continued {ntermittently and heavily throughout the winter. Joel calls them “the autumn rains” and the “spring rains” (Joel 2:23). Without rain the plough could not be used because the soil would be baked hard in the summer sun (Jeremiah 14:4). It was not pleasant work because the winter rains were heavy and cold, and it was always tempt­ing to wait for warmer days (Proverbs 20:4).


Ploughing and sowing were often one operation. The grain was scattered from an open basket and re­plenished from a sack tied on the back of a donkey. It took about thirty pounds of seed to the half acre, although the Babylonians had invented a primitive seed drill that was in use in some places and was more economical with the seed. The seed was then ploughed in so that it would not be taken by the birds (Matthew 13:4). This method of sowing un­derlies the parable of the sower in Matthew 13, where there was a hard path and thorns awaiting the plough.

The plough itself was made of two wooden beams, jointed T -fashion. The horizontal stroke of the T formed the handle for guidance, and the spiked end was to break the surface of the ground. The vertical section of the T was attached to the voke that went over the necks of the animals. The yoke itself was simply a rough beam tied across the necks of a pair of animals and held in place by two vertical sticks that came down each side of the neck and tied beneath (see Jeremiah 28:13 ).

The animals used were oxen if possible, and if a bull was used it was castrated. The law forbade a mixture of animals such as ox and donkey (Deuteronomy 22:10), presumably because there would be an unequal pull that would cause suffering for the weaker animal. The regulation prohibiting partnership between believers and unbelievers in 2 Corinthians 6:14 (“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers”) was not simply exclusivist; it was made out of the knowledge of the suffering that could be caused.

The amount of land that a pair of oxen could plough in a day became a standard measurement (1 Samuel 14:14; Isaiah 5:10). In the early days of agriculture, the sharp end of the plough was little more than a heavy pointed stick. A great advance was made when copper was able to be smelted and a copper sheath or blade attached to the spike. An even greater advance was made when the Philistines brought iron to the land, even if this meant the Jews had to get their ploughshares sharpened by the Philistines (1 Samuel 13:20).


The early ploughs were light. Although they were portable and could be carried for some distance on the shoulder, they could scratch the surface of the ground to a depth of only three or four inches (70­100 millimetres). The reason the ploughman must not look back (Luke 9:62) was not because he would fail to plough in a straight line. Rather it was because he needed all his concentration so that he might push down hard and dig deep enough into the ground. He had to watch for stones and boulders, too, since they could wreck so light a tool, although the lightness did mean that he could lift the plough over the obstacle.

Ploughing was sometimes done in a team, each farmer contributing his own plough and oxen until the fields of the whole village were covered. Elisha was ploughing with eleven other people and twenty­four oxen when he was called to his prophetic minis­try (1 Kings 19:19).

Ploughs could not be used on the hillside, near trees, or on exceptionally hard land. In such cases a mattock was used―a hand tool like a hoe, with a blade set at right angles to the shaft (Isaiah 7:25). There was an alternative method of sowing and ploughing where the ground would be ploughed first and sown afterwards. This would require a further ploughing at right angles to the first, or else a harrowing by pulling a large bush behind a team of oxen.

If the oxen were unwilling to move or were too slow for the farmer, he would encourage them to move by prodding them with a sharp pointed stick, or goad. It was heavy enough to be used as an effec­tive weapon (Judges 3:31). Jesus used a symbolic goad to push Paul forward to the point of conver­sion. “It is hard for you to kick against the goads,” he said (Acts 26:14).

The wheat (often called “corn” in the King James Version of the Bible) was sown first, then the barley, and the other crops followed―millet, lentils, peas, melons, and cucumbers. It was necessary to keep the ground free of weeds by hoeing from December until February. This was a time when, except in the hill country, movement from place to place was im­possible because the rains turned the plains into a muddy morass. Then, as the temperature began to rise at the end of March and the beginning of April, the spring rains came (see Joel 2:23 again). These rains caused the grain to swell, and by the end of April the barley was ready for harvesting.

Harvest fields were divided by paths and it was permitted to pick the ears of the growing corn beside the path. This was particularly enjoyed in the spring before the grain had hardened. The twelve disciples who were with Jesus ate the ripening grain one Sab­bath day (Luke 6:1-2). They were not criticized for taking the grain because this was allowed in the law (Deuteronomy 23:25). It was thought by some people, however, that even picking the grain could be considered “working” on the Sabbath.


The flax was harvested in March and April by cut­ting the stems with a hoe at ground level. As soon as that was completed the barley was ready for har­vesting. The standing grain was cut by sickle―a hand-held crescent shaped tool with a sharp inner cutting edge. In early times the implement would be made of wood or even the large jawbone of an ani­mal, and flints would be set along the inner edge. Later in time, metal sickles were available (Jeremiah 50:16; Joel 3:13).

The stalks were cut near to the top and the re­mainder left in the ground for the grazing of the sheep. They were tied into bundles (Genesis 37:7 and Psalm 129:7) and loaded onto the backs of donkeys (Genesis 42:26-27) or put into a cart to be taken away for threshing. Occasionally the grain would be pulled out of the ground. The ground was normally cut by a group of people working together, but the corners of the fields had to be left for the poor (Leviticus 23:22). The poor were also allowed to walk behind the reapers to pick up or “glean” anything the reapers had missed (Deuteronomy 24:19-22). The story of Ruth is set against such a background. She was able to fill the large skirt of her robe with what she had collected (Ruth 2).

The grain was tinder dry at the time of reaping, and there was danger of fire (see Exodus 22:6). That danger was often exploited by enemies in war in the knowledge that such burning would seriously weaken the condition of the people who owned the crops (see Judges 6:1-6; 15:4-5).


The separation of the grain from the straw was done on a threshing floor. This could be any hard, com­pacted surface. It may have been made of smoothed rock (as, presumably, was the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, 1 Chronicles 21:18-26) or of compacted earth. The earthen threshing floors were often covered with grass and became an ideal place to pitch a tent. They were known as “summer threshing floors.”

Threshing was sometimes done by beating the grain with a flail (a long, flexible stick) if small quan­tities were involved. Ruth used this method (Ruth 2:17), and Gideon did the same when he was using the stone bottom of a winepress (Judges 6:11). The psalmist imagines doing this to his enemies (Psalm 18:42).

Oxen were the other means of threshing grain. A pair was yoked together and the yoke attached to a vertical pole set in the middle of the threshing floor. They were driven round and round by a boy, and their sharp hooves did the rest. The law said that the oxen should not be muzzled when doing this kind of work so that they could eat (Deuteronomy 25:4), and the New Testament uses this to lay down the principle that ministers of the gospel should always be able to live from their ministry (1 Corinthians 9:7-9; 1 Timothy 5:18). The root meaning of the Hebrew word for “thresh” is “to trample,” which comes from this second threshing practice (Job 39:15; Daniel 7:23).

At a later stage the threshing sledge was invented, which the oxen pulled behind them rather as they would have pulled a plough. Sledges were made of long planks of wood fixed side by side. Flints were sunk into the underside of the timber and fixed there by pitch. The sledge was driven over grain about eighteen inches (fifty centimetres) in depth and was a much quicker way of getting the job done. The grain fell through the straw to the hard surface be­neath, but the straw was chopped up by this method. Chopped straw made excellent fodder for animals, for mixing with the grain. Later still a more sophisticated sledge was invented in which sets of toothed rollers replaced the flints.


In the evening, when the breeze developed, the sepa­rated grain and straw was gathered into a pile in the centre of the threshing floor for winnowing. For this the farmer used a five-pronged fork called a win­nowing fan and a spade that was called a winnow­ing shovel. The fork was first used by putting it into the pile and throwing the mixture of grain and straw into the air. The heavier grain fell back, while the straw was blown away by the wind. When the re­mainder was too small to be picked up by the fork, the shovel was used for the same purpose. If there was no wind it was possible, while winnowing small quantities, to create wind by wafting a piece of mat­ting. The chaff was gathered up and used to fire the domestic stoves; the straw was collected for the ani­mals.

The grain then had to be purified by sifting. The wheat and barley grains were mixed with all kinds of loose frgaments from the threshing floor. Every­thing was put into large sieves that allowed the grain to pass through but left most of the rubbish behind. It was also necessary to remove any darnel grains at this stage. Darnel was called “tares” or “weeds” in the New Testament. It looks identical to wheat until the grain ripens, when it becomes black instead of yellow. The grains are bit­ter and cause dizziness and sickness if eaten.

The picture of the separation of good and bad was used as a picture of what God will do to judge people (Psalm 1:4; Jeremiah 15:7). The whole pro­cess was used by John the Baptist to illustrate the work of Jesus (Matthew 3:12). When Jesus said that Satan wanted to sift Peter like wheat (Luke 22:31), he was probably referring to the physical shaking of the sieve. When this part of the work was done, the farmer normally stayed with the grain at night, camping out on the threshing floor to ensure that the harvest was not stolen (Ruth 3).


The following day the grain would be measured into standard earthenware receptacles that took their names from their capacity. As much as possible was put into a receptacle, until it overflowed (Luke 6:38). The grain was then stored―small quantities in earthenware jars and larger quantities in a dry pit or cistern, in a room attached to the house, or even in a barn (Deuteronomy 28:8; Proverbs 3:10; Matthew 13:30; Luke 12:18). There were also pub­lic storage granaries (Genesis 41:48), and public grain silos.

There were a number of ways of keeping pests away. The storehouses were built of brick with thick walls, and the only way in was through a hole on the top of the building. The insides of the walls were plastered. Such storehouses were used to provide a central place to receive the offerings that supported the ministry. One tenth of the produce of the land (fruit and crops) had to be offered (Leviticus 27:30­32; Deuteronomy 14:22-29).

We are not aware of fertiliur’s being used for grain crops, although animal manure was some­times used in other places. The land was instead given a rest every seventh or sabbath year (Leviticus 25:1-7). God promised a bumper harvest in the sixth year to enable people to live through the seventh (Leviticus 25:18-22). Whatever grew in the seventh year was the property of the poor (Exodus 23:10-11). This law was not kept in the early days of the kingdom and the Chronicler saw the Exile as the means of giving the land its stolen sabbath rests (2 Chronicles 36:21). After the Exile Nehemiah at­tempted to restore the practice of resting the land (Nehemiah 10:31), and it was in operation during the Greek period. In 163/162 BC, the Jews lacked provisions “for it was a sabbath year granted to the land” (1 Maccabees 6:49, 53).

Vegetables and other crops

Flax was grown to provide linen thread. The spies who visited Jericho in Joshua’s time hid under flax stalks that were laid out to dry on the roof of a house (Joshua 2:6). Linen thread was used for spinning (Proverbs 31:13), but Isaiah disliked the “linen gar­ments” that were often produced because their transparency led to sexual stimulation (see Isaiah 3:16-24, esp. v. 23). Cucumbers, melons, leeks, on­ions, and garlic were probably brought from Egypt (Numbers 11:5), and many crops were grown so that their green leaves could be eaten (mallow, sor­rel, and artichokes). Beans and lentils were used to thicken stews (Genesis 25:34).


According to Genesis 9:20, Noah was the first per­son to cultivate the vine after the Flood. At the per­sonal level, every Jew wanted to have his own vine. It would be grown on a trellis alongside his house and would provide shade during the hot summer (1 Kings 4:25). Having a vine was part of a settled life and therefore rejected by the Rechabites who wanted to bear witness to the nomadic way of life (Jeremiah 35).

It was most economical for a village to invest in its own vineyard. In good vine-growing country, how­ever, the small vineyards were bought up by absen­tee landlords, and the small-time farmers became tenant farmers, receiving a percentage of their pro­duce as payment (1 Kings 21:6; Matthew 20:1; Luke 20:9-10). The development of the vineyard therefore became a major capital undertaking. It was already well developed when Moses sent spies into Canaan (Numbers 13:23).

Building a vineyard

Isaiah 5:1-2 outlines the process of building a vine­yard:

My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside.

He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines.

He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well.

(See also Matthew 21:33.) The vineyard was placed on the hillside where there was good drainage and where the grapes could catch the sun. The land was first terraced so as to use up the stones that littered the soil, at the same time providing a means of soil conservation during the heavy rains. The plot was then surrounded by a wall and a ditch, the exca­vated soil from the ditch forming the foundation for the wall. A fence of thorns was placed on top of the wall to keep out any damaging wild animals (Prov­erbs 24:30-31; Song of Songs 2:15). Psalm 80:12­13 mentions human beings who might raid the vine­yard to steal the fruit, although the law allowed grapes to be picked so long as they were not carried away in a container (Leviticus 19:10; Deuteronomy 23:24). The soil was prepared by turning it over with a mattock (Isaiah 5:2).

Finally, a watchtower was constructed that served as a summer cottage, a place for the family to stay during the summer while the grapes were being picked. It was not a cheap thing to build. Jesus once told a story of a man whose money ran out during the building of a tower (Luke 14:28-30). The upper story of the tower was used as a look-out post (Isaiah 5:2). If the owner could not afford a tower, the workers set up a tent.

The slips were planted up to about twelve feet apart to give the branches room to run. If the vine­yard was on flat ground there was sufficient space to get a plough between the rows. Some varieties were left to run on the ground, but others were supported on rough trellises of forked sticks. Once the vines were established, pruning was done with a small pruning hook (Joel 3:10) during the winter months to get rid of weak, broken, or diseased branches so that the vine would produce the best possible grapes. This process was referred to as “cleaning the vine. ” We are being pruned, or made clean, by the teaching that Jesus has given to us (John 15:3). Good branches that are not doing very well are taken away (John 15:2) from the ground and put into a better position more favourable for produc­ing good fruit.

The vintage

The vintage begins in July but lasts until September. The whole village may move to the vineyards (as in Judges 9:27) because the work has to be completed quickly. Harvesting grapes was hard work during Bible times, but there was singing, dancing, and celebration. The celebrations were so much a part of the vintage that if they were absent, it would be seen as a mark of God’s judgment (Isaiah 16:10). Every­one brought huge baskets (Jeremiah 6:9) in whichthe grapes were placed. Some grapes were eaten fresh or pressed to provide fresh grape juice. The butler in Joseph’s dream-interpretation pressed a bunch of grapes into Pharaoh’s cup (Genesis 40:11). Fresh grape juice was used for laxative purposes. Some of the juice was also made into wine, known as “sweet wine” (Hosea 4:11).

Other grapes were dried so as to provide raisins. They were laid out in a corner of the vineyard, turned daily, and sprinked with olive oil. David re­ceived large quantities of raisins on a number of oc­casions (1 Samuel 25:18; 2 Samuel 16:1; 1 Chroni­cles 12:40) because they were a staple food. There were far too many grapes to all be utilized in raisin making. Most were pressed for their juice.

The winepress

The winepress was a cistern cut out of rock with an exit hole in the bottom. The juice ran out of the hole into a vat or other collecting vessels. Several people at once would get into the cistern and tread the grapes with their feet to great laughter and enjoy­ment. The first part of Isaiah 65:8: “As when juice is still found in a cluster of grapes and men say, ‘Don’t destroy it, there is yet some good in it'” may be part of one of the songs that were sung during the pro­cess. Like Isaiah, Jeremiah sees judgment in the time when there is no joy or singing as the grapes are pressed (Jeremiah 48:33). Isaiah presents a sad pic­ture of a man who was treading grapes alone be­cause all of his companions had gone (Isaiah 63:3). An even more violent picture of judgment is given when people are placed in God’s winepress and trodden upon. God’s robes are covered with blood instead of the red grape juice (Isaiah 63:3-6; Reve­lation 19:13, 15).

Some grape juice was boiled down to make a thick syrup called dibs. This may well be what is called honey in most places in the Bible. That is be­cause bees were not kept in hives until Roman times. Regular honey was taken from wild bees. The honey that “flowed” in the land is therefore more likely to be related to the grape. It is sometimes spread on bread and sometimes diluted with water to make a drink.

Most of the grape juice was made into wine. This was done not simply for pleasure; it was a necessity. The water was unsafe for drinking unless it came from a fresh spring, and the milk supply was limited. When Paul told Timothy that he should drink a little wine for his stomach’s sake, it was not necessarily because the wine would do his stomach good, but because the water might do it harm (1 Timothy 5:23, KJV).


The grape juice was allowed to stand and ferment in the collecting vessels for about six weeks. A sludge known as lees formed at the bottom of the vessel. The wine was then tipped up gently into jars with­out disturbing the sediment (see Jeremiah 48:11). The jars were sealed with clay, but there was a small hole by the handle that allowed the gases released during the remaining fermentation to escape. When the process was complete, the hole was sealed with a blob of wet clay and the owner’s name or seal was put on the clay. It was possible to put the wine in wineskins (goatskin bottles), but if the aged skin did not expand to take the gases, then it would burst and the wine would be lost. This is the point of Jesus’ illustration in Matthew 9:17.

In New Testament times, wines were imported into Judaea from all over the Mediterranean world. The rich had cellars in their houses and stored the wine in narrow jars with pointed ends called am­phorae. The pointed ends were buried in the earth to help keep the wine cool. Wine was also made from dates, pomegranates, apples, and grain. The wine made from the grain is probably referred to as “fer­mented drink” in the Bible (Leviticus 10:9; Isaiah 56:12).

There were a number of uses for wine beside the obvious. It was used as a disinfectant to clean wounds before inserting the healing olive oil (Luke 10:34). The cheap wine (the soldiers’ wine), pro­duced before the fermentation was completed in the clay storage jars, was mixed with myrrh or gall so as to relieve pain (Matthew 27:34).

Vine symbolism

The vine was of great importance in the religion of Israel. It was used as a symbol of the religious life of Israel itself, and a carving of a bunch of grapes often adorned the front exterior of the synagogue. The symbolism was based upon passages such as Psalm 80 and Isaiah 5:1-5 where Israel is God’s vine. The importance of the vine is why the Pharisees took the point so angrily when Jesus told the story of the wicked tenants in the vineyard (Matthew 21:33­41, 45-46). As the fulfilment of all that Israel should be to God, Jesus was the true vine (John 15:5-7).

The vine was also important because it brought out teaching about right and wrong usage. Wine was one of the good things that God gave (Genesis 27:28; Judges 9:13) and as such was to be offered back to him in thanksgiving (Exodus 29:40). If a farmer lived too far from the central sanctuary to deliver the wine tithe, it was to be sold and used to buy something to thank God for (Deuteronomy 14:22-26).

Wine was however to be abstained from for dis­ciplinary purposes. A Nazirite took no fruit of the vine at all (Numbers 6:3). John the Baptist took no wine (Luke 1:15), and it was forbidden for priests (Leviticus 10:5-9) when they went into the pre­sence of God. Wine could be used for good (Genesis 14:18; Psalm 104:15; Ecclesiastes 10:19) orforevil (Genesis 9:21; Isaiah 5:11; 28:7). It was merely the behavioural excesses associated with wine drinking that were condemned in the Bible and not the drink­ing of wine itself (Romans 13:13; 1 Corinthians 11:21; 1 Timothy 3:8; Titus 2:3).

Olive growing

Olive trees were associated with vines; they too were a vital element of the food supply. Psalm 128:3 speaks of God’s blessing on families that trust him: “Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your sons will be like olive shoots around your table.” The family olive tree could be grown beside the family home on the inheritance, but with the passage of time olive groves were planted alongside the vineyards and the grainfields, when the oil was used to pay taxes. Olives grew so well that the land was sometimes called “a land of olive.. .oil” (Deuteronomy 8:8).

Olive trees were grown by inserting a graft from a cultivated tree into a wild stock. The wild stock was then cut down to the ground. The roots of the tree go down very deeply into the rocky soil, and this fact may lie behind Deuteronomy 32:13 that refers to oil being sucked from the flinty rock. The tree takes about fifteen years to grow to maturity, and then it bears fruit for centuries. The old roots often throw up new stems, which gave the prophet the picture of the stump of Jesse that throws up the Messiah (Isaiah 11:1). The new shoots were grafted into stocks. Paul says that when Christianity followed the Judaism of the Old Testament, then it was as if, contrary to normal practice, a wild olive were being grafted onto a cultivated stock (Romans 11:24).

The olive tree

The olive tree is not attractive in itself. It is about eighteen feet (six metres) high when fully grown. The bark is gnarled, and the leaves have a dull green coloration. But they take on a silvery sheen in the sunshine, which probably made the tree appear beautiful to people of Bible times (Psalm 52:8; Jeremiah 11:16; Hosea 14:6). The tree is covered with white blossoms in the spring, and the falling blossoms look like a shower of snmvflakes (Job 15:33).

The fruit is ready for picking by women and boys in September/October. A large cloth is laid under the tree, and the branches are beaten to shake the olives onto the cloth. In Old Testament times those that did not fall had to be left on the tree for the poor to gather (Deuteronomy 24:20; Isaiah 17:6). The beating of the branches almost certainly destroyed the tender young shoots, so that there was a poor crop the following year. This resulted in alternate good and bad years for the crop.

The olive press

Many olives were eaten with barley bread and con­stitUted the normal breakfast for the working man. Preservation was made possible by immersing the olives in salt water. The main importance of the crop, however, was its oil. The olive press consisted of a flat, cylindrical stone that was hollowed out on the top to provide a large, shallow saucer to contain the olives. Another stone wheel was set up on edge, and, aided by a donkey, it was rotated round the saucer, crushing the olives beneath it. The resultant pulp was then treated to extract the oil.

One method of obtaining oil was by putting the pulp in baskets, one on top of the other, and squeez­ing them together in a press, either by operation of a screw thread or by a wooden beam that was le­vered down while thrusting against a wooden frame. Another method was to put the pulped olives into cloth bags that were then trodden underfoot. The oil came through the cloth. The oil released was drained into jars and allowed to stand until the sed­iment had settled. Then it was drawn off and stored in a cool place. The crop from just one tree would produce about twenty gallons of oil. Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives means “the oil press” because there must have been a press there. It was possible to tread the olives like grapes in the press, but because olives were so much harder than grapes, little oil was produced this way (Micah 6:15).

Olive oil

Olive oil took the place of butter and cooking fat and so was crucial for diet (Ezekiel 16:13). It there­fore formed part of the meal offering (Leviticus 2:1). Invas used as fuel for lamps (Matthew 25:3,4), and when boiled with soda it formed soap. Oil was used for rubbing into the skin to give it a shine and for anointing the head to make the hair shine, too.

The beauty brought about by the oil may underlie the use of it in religious life, because those objects consecrated to God’s service were anointed with oil. Prophet (1 Kings 19:16), priest (Leviticus 8:12) and king (1 Samuel 16:13; 1 Kings 1:34) were all anointed with oil because they were separated, or consecrated, for the service of God. Ritual use was so important that it was an offense leading to ex­communication to use holy anointing oil for a com­mon purpose (Exodus 30:32-33), and a person who had received such an anointing was to be obeyed (1 Samuel 24:6). The prophet spoke to the people from God, the priest represented the people before God, and the king established God’s law.

The word for “anoint” is Maseiah, and the Mes­siah is therefore “the anointed one.” Jesus gathered up into himself the triple function of prophet, priest, and king. Much symbolism is involved in this. Oil seems to have been recognized as the gift of God; an olive tree growing in a rocky place will yield an abundance of oil. Oil is therefore associated with God’s gift and with God’s outpouring of the Spirit. Jesus said that the Spirit of God was upon him be­cause the Lord had anointed him (Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:16-21).

A person was consecrated to God by anointing because it was believed that the oil itself was from God and because oil on the skin and on the hair made persons look their best. Christians too receive an anointing (1 John 2:27), which must also be the Holy Spirit because it results in learning God’s truth (John 14:26).

Oil was also used for healing. When the Good Samaritan helped the man who had been mugged on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, he poured in oil and wine. This medicinal property might lie behind the use of oil in divine healing. Early Christians were told to anoint the sick person with oil and to pray (James 5:13-16). Other people believe that the anointing was a means of consecrating, or giving, the sick person into God’s care. Mark 6:13 tells us that when the Twelve went out on a two-by-two ministry, they took oil for healing.

The wood of the olive tree is used for small pieces of cabinet work and for woodcarving. The gnarled state of the trunk makes it impossible to get beams. The wood is attractive, with dark grain against a yellowish background. The cherubim of the Temple were made of olive wood together with the inner and outer doors.

Shields were oiled (2 Samuel 1:21) to keep the leather from cracking. This had the same function as leather preservative or shoe polish.

Fig trees

Fig trees were valued for their fruit and for their shade. Like the vine, fig trees became a symbol of security and of prosperity (1 Kings 4:25; Micah 4:4; Zechariah 3:10). When Jesus first met Nathanael, he was sitting under his fig tree (John 1:48). They grew wild, and in the wild state the female fig blos­soms had to be pollinated by a wasp that developed inside the inedible caprifigs, which grew several times a year. When the fig tree was cultivated over a period of time (see Luke 13:6-9), it did not need the insect pollination. The cultivated tree was often planted in a vineyard (Luke 13). If the tree was al­lowed to grow to its full height it could reach thirty feet (ten metres), but if it was on rocky soil or was cut back regularly it could be limited to a bush.

The leaves of the fig tree were large enough to serve as coverings for Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:7). The leaves developed at the end of spring, at the end of April, and were therefore a sign that summer was approaching (Matthew 24:32). Fruit could be found on the tree for about ten months of the year. The first-ripe figs (Hosea 9:10) were ready in June, but the main crop matured in August. There was then a small crop of winter figs that often remained until the spring. The figs could be eaten fresh or pressed into a cake and preserved by drying (1 Samuel 25:18; 1 Chronicles 12:40). It was in this form that Hezekiah used the figs as a poultice (2 Kings 20:7).

The sycamore tree

Another form of fruit tree, similar to the fig, was called the sycamore tree. In David’s time sycamores were numerous enough for him to appoint an over­seer to look after them (1 Chronicles 27:28). It was from such a tree that Zacchaeus heard Jesus tell him to come down so that they could have a meal to­gether (Luke 19:1-4). Again, the tree was about thirty feet (ten metres) in height and was grown for its timber, which was light and long-lasting, as well as for its fruit. Young trees were cut back to stimu­late the growth of timber in multiple stands, and they were cut back after seven years.

The Mishna allowed a man who rented a field with a sycamore tree in it to cut the limbs only in the first year of a seven-year lease. The economic impor­tance of the tree was so great that when the Egyp­tians lost their trees through frost, it was a disaster (Psalm 78:47). Amos was a dresser of sycamore fruit as well as a herdsman (shepherd; Amos 7:14­15). Sycamore fruit needed to be pierced and wiped with oil if it was to become ripe and juicy. The owner of a sycamore plantation would allow a shepherd to graze his sheep under the trees in return for the shepherd’s undertaking this monotonous job.


V.H. Matthews and J.C. Moyer, The Old Testament, Text and Context,32-42. (Copyright 1997 by Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Massachusetts. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)

The ancient Near East is divided into three primary geographic areas: Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Syro-Palestine. Adjacent to these regions are Anatolia (modern Turkey), Persia (modern Iran), Arabia (modern Saudi Arabia), and the island of Cyprus. They also figure in the history and the development of human cultures during this period, but are less important than the others.


The region of ancient Mesopotamia, which today comprises the area of Iraq and portions of Syria and Turkey, was domi­nated by the twin river system of the Tigris and Euphrates. These rivers, fed by the melting snows in the mountains of eastern Anatolia, flow southward into the Persian gulf. Because of the unpredictable amount of snow available in anyone year, it was impossible to determine flood levels. This, combined with the flat surface of much of southern Mesopotamia, led to periodic, devastating floods which covered miles on either side of the rivers and even washed over whole cities. This may be the origin of the flood epics that appear in some of the earliest literature from ancient Mesopotamia.

The southernmost reaches of the Tigris and Euphrates system form a marshy region that was the home of the earliest human settlements in this area and still serves as the dwelling place for the “marsh Arabs” of Iraq. The rivers are widely separated as they traverse the hilly region of the southern Caucasus mountains, but at one point in their southern march, near the site of ancient Babylon, they are only a few miles apart.

The land the Tigris and Euphrates travel through is arid, and it is their waters that make life possible here. Initially, the marshy area in the south provided inhabitants fish and wild game as well as protection from outsiders. As the population grew, however, settlements moved northward and by 4000 BCE several city-states had developed in what will later become known as Sumer. This region comprised the land from the narrow confluence of the rivers south to the Persian Gulf. Cities like Ur, Nippur, Kish, Uruk, and Lagash were founded here, and they shaped their culture around life drawn from the rivers. Irrigation canals allowed them to extend their plots of farm land, create a surplus for trade, and expand their populations. The elements of their cultures, including writing systems, political organization, and religion will be discussed in the chapter on the history of these regions.

In this section, we will examine the other geographic areas of Mesopotamia. The region north of Sumer eventually developed another major population center, Babylonia. This section of the country came to dominate all of Mesopotamia dur­ing the period from 2000 to 1000 BCE. It borrowed many of the cultural advance­ments developed in Sumer, but its basic existence was still dominated by the depen­dence on managing the waters taken from the Tigris and Euphrates. Because rainfall is minimal throughout this region, irrigation is the only means of growing crops.

The third major region of Mesopotamia lies in the northem reaches of the Tigris and is known as Assyria. Here, from their capital at Nineveh, emerged some of the most savage and warlike people of the ancient world. Because of their northem position, they had a harsher climate, with greater temperature extremes, a shorter growing season, and more mountainous terrain. When they began to push out of their own area about 1000 BCE, the Assyrians quickly took control over the more temperate regions to the south and eventually extended their empire as far as Egypt. They were the first to control all of the regions of the ancient Near East and the first people to have to cope with the environmental as well as social demands of each of its geographic areas.


Egypt is also dominated by a river system, the Nile. Nearly all of Egypt’s culture and history developed within the Nile river valley since it is othelwise arid wastes and desert. The Nile flows north from the mountains of Kenya to the Mediterranean where it forms a fan-shaped estuary much like that near New Orleans on the Mississippi River. It is broken periodically in its flow by cataracts (rapids and waterfalls) which prevent easy passage to its source. Thus travel routes, guiding merchants carrying frankincense from Arabia and other exotic products, followed the Nile, but these travelers did not always voyage upon it. Due to its more isolated position, cut off from the west by the Sahara, from the south by the Nilotic cataracts, and from the east by the Red Sea and the desert of the Sinai peninsula, Egypt developed much of its culture independently. There was contact with other peoples early in Egyptian history, but the Egyptians always considered their culture superior to all others and became quite xenophobic (fearful offoreigners) in their attitudes.

Unlike the unpredictable character of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, the Nile had an established cycle of flooding, which brought new layers of rich soil to the irrigated fields of the Egyptians. By building canals and dikes, farmers were able to reinvigorate their fields each year, making Egypt the breadbasket of the ancient world (see Gen 12:10 and 41:53-57).

The climate in this region is dry, having only small annual rainfall amounts. Temperatures are hot nearly year round, although they do moderate in the evening, and in the desert it can become quite cold. Egyptian culture, throughout its history, has been attuned to the rise and fall of the Nile and has acclimated itself, through clothing and architectural styles, to the extremes in temperature.


No one can really understand the Bible without studying the geography and climate of Syro-Palestine. The events of the Bible happened in the spacial realm―mostly a small area―but this region contains a tremendous geographical and climatic diversity. Ideally we should charter a jet and take a trip to the Middle East to see and experience this for ourselves. Better yet, we could take a whole year to live and study abroad. Since these options are not always available, we will settle for a brief description based on the authors’ experiences.

The areas to the north and east of Palestine include most of the traditional enemies and allies of ancient Israel. Immediately north is the region of Phoenicia (modern Lebanon), which dominated the trade on the Mediterranean Sea from approximately 1100 BCE until their absorption into the Persian empire after 540 BCE. Its climate is tempered by the sea breezes off the Mediterranean, but the mountain range that runs north-south through the country enjoys abundant rainfall (850-930 mm/year), supporting cedar forests in antiquity. The area has chilling temperatures during the winter months. The principal cities of Tyre and Sidon were the only deep-water ports along the coast, and this gave them the opportunity to take advantage of this. In fact, they are the second people in this area to control trade. From 1600 to 1200 BCE, the northern Syrian seaport city of Ugarit served the merchants who traveled throughout the Mediterranean. But it was conquered in 1200, and its expertise was inherited by the Phoenicians.

Syria, or Aram, comprised the land between northern Mesopotamia and Phoenicia. Its capital city of Damascus was a station stop for caravans as far back as 2500 BCE, and it served as the chief rival to the kingdoms of Israel and Judah during the biblical monarchic period. This city, located on the only perennial river, the Barada, in an otherwise arid region, created an oasis with enough irrigated land to support a large population. A land of mountains, plains, and deserts, Syria was able to maintain itself through trade and agriculture. Its temperature ranges are quite extreme due to the variations in elevation. In Damascus, it is hot and dry much of the year, but a few miles north, in the mountains, winter can have bitingly cold temperatures. Because of its strategic location on the trade routes, it was generally dominated by one of the Mesopotamian empires.

Turning south to Palestine, we begin with one December day, while we were living in Jerusalem, having bundled up in our heaviest overcoat. It was damp and blustery; the wind was whipping the cold through us, chilling us to the bone. We left Jerusalem, went twenty miles in about thirty-five to forty minutes, and came to the Dead Sea. There the temperature was in the balmy seventies, and we were soon swimming in the Dead Sea. How could this be? Though Jerusalem is only about twenty miles from the Dead Sea, it sits almost 2,700 feet above sea level while the Dead Sea is about 1,300 feet below sea level. The result is a 4,000-foot drop that results in a temperature change of about forty degrees. This kind of diversity is one reason for studying the climate and geography of Israel. Another significant reason is the fact that Israel has always been a centrally located land bridge between the two ancient super powers: ancient Egypt to the south (in Africa), and ancient Mesopota­mia to the north. Travel between the two was not usually done on the Mediterra­nean Sea, nor was it done through the desert. Instead people traveled on land fairly close to the coast. This meant that ancient Israel served as a land bridge between the two superpowers. Its central location gave it a significance and prominence far exceeding the size of the country or its political power. Furthermore, it was impossi­ble for ancient Israel to isolate itself completely from the superpowers. Conse­quently, throughout much of its history Israel was dominated by either Egypt or Mesopotamia.

What was the size of Israel? The best estimates suggest a total land area of approximately 8,000 square miles. This is slightly less than one of the small New England states like Vermont or New Hampshire. From a northern extremity to a southern extremity, such as Dan to Beersheba (Judg 20:1; 1 Sam 3:20), the distance was about one hundred forty-five miles. An average east-west distance would be from the coast to Jerusalem (around thirty miles) and from Jerusalem to the northern tip of the Dead Sea (about twenty miles); thus the east-west dimensions total about fifty miles. A helpful way to understand the geography and climate of the country is to think of the country as divided into four north-south strips of land:

Coastal Plain. Starting on the west is the coastal plain, which is characterized as a flat, low land with sand dunes right on the coast. A little further inland there were in ancient times fertile areas as well as forested or marshy areas. Lacking natural harbors, the ancient Israelites never really developed into a seafaring state, unlike their Phoenician neighbors.

The coastal plain includes three very fertile plains: Acre, Sharon, and Philistia. The Plain of Acre stretched to the north from Mount Carmel about twenty-five miles and extended inland anywhere from five to eight miles. It never figures prominently as a significant geographical feature during biblical times. Probably it was controlled much of the time by Phoenicia. To the south of Carmel for about fifty miles lay the Plain of Sharon. It extended inland about ten miles. Because it was generally a marshy wasteland in biblical times, it did not figure as a prominent region either. Still further to the south was the Plain of Philistia, named after the Philistines, another of Israel’s neighbors. It was one of the most fertile areas in the country. The Philistines conquered and controlled it until the days of David.

Through this coastal plain stretched an international route or highway called the Via Maris. It ran a few miles inland from the sea, and near the northern part of the Plain of Sharon it cut inland through a mountain pass in the Carmel range. Armies and traders usually did not continue further north because the Carmel range of hills extend to within one hundred fifty yards of the sea. That narrow pass was not safe to travel through since it would make the traveler an easy prey for enemies or bandits. So Megiddo became especially prominent because it guarded the mountain pass through which the Via Maris extended.

The climate in the coastal plain is extremely hot in the summer. During the day the temperatures range around one hundred degrees. A sea breeze at night makes the temperature tolerable. Most modern inhabitants of Israel live in Tel Aviv, which is in this coastal plain. They have balconies on their apartments so they can enjoy the night breezes. In the winter the temperatures go down into the forties and fifties, though there is no frost because of the moderating influence of the Mediterra­nean Sea. This allows all kinds of citrus fruits to be grown in the coastal plain, including the famous Jaffa orange, as well as grapefruits, lemons, limes, and avocados. A large portion of the coast has inviting sandy beaches where many Israelis head on weekends.

Central Hill Country. The second north-south strip is called the central hill country. As one moves from the coastal plain up to this hilly region there is a transitional region called, in Hebrew, the Shephelah. This Shephelah region is characterized by gently rolling hills as one goes further and further inland toward the east and up into the central hill country. The hills are really just low, ranging slopes. They extend up to 3,300 feet high in the area around Hebron, but they certainly are not high enough to be called mountains.

The central hill country was the chief center of ancient Israel’s population in antiquity. This is because these hills were heavily wooded in antiquity, and were the easiest region for ancient Israel to capture without the advanced weaponry of the Canaanites. The area can be conveniently divided into three sections: in the north was Galilee, in the center was Samaria, and in the south was Judah. The most important geographical feature in Galilee was the Valley of Jezreel. This was an important and fertile region. The city of Megiddo was located here and gained its importance because it guarded a mountain pass along the international highway, the Via Maris. In the center were the hills of Samaria. The most famous hills here were Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. To the south were the hills of Judah. In the most southern sections of Judah was a desert.

A limited amount of grain could be grown in the central hill country, but agricultural work was difficult. The hillsides had to be terraced. Fig and olive trees were common. The grazing of goats and sheep was also more typical here than in the coastal plain.

During the summer the climate is hot and dry with temperatures around ninety degrees. At night it is breezy and comfortable, at least most of the time. Because of the wind that comes up in the evening, it can get chilly at night. During the winter this is a difficult place to live. The temperatures are in the thirties and forties, and it is rainy, damp, and blustery. There is even some frost, though the average tempera­ture does not often go below thirty-two degrees and snow is uncommon.

Jordan River Valley. The third north-south strip is the Jordan River Valley. This is a gigantic rift or geological fault starting in the north in Syria and extending southward all the way into Africa. Much of it is below sea level. Lake Hulah in the north was two hundred thirty feet above sea level. However, in the twentieth century it has been drained and so it does not appear on modern maps. Only ten miles to the south is the Sea of Galilee, which is seven hundred feet below sea level. The Jordan River flows out of the Sea of Galilee and empties into the Dead Sea. The Jordan River covers a distance of only about seventy miles, but it travels such a circuitous route that the actual banks of the Jordan River cover close to two hundred miles. The Dead Sea is well known as the lowest water surface on earth. It is about 1,300 feet below sea level, with the lowest depth of the sea at the northern end somewhere around 2,600 feet below sea level. It is so warm in this region that no outlet is needed. The water evaporates and the salt content is so high that nothing can live in the Dead Sea. Around Jericho, just north of the Dead Sea, the average annual rainfall is only two inches per year. Furthermore, the Jordan River cuts such a deep path into the soil that it is not very valuable for irrigation purposes. In biblical times, it was too difficult to raise the water level to the surrounding land to use for irrigation. The result was that little land was tilled in this region except around Jericho where there was a spring that allowed for the growing of citrus fruits and vegetables. During the summer the hot and dry temperature averages around one hundred degrees. At night the temperature cools down to the sixties. In winter the high temperature is in the seventies and swimming in the Dead Sea is always a possibility. As with the coastal plain there is no frost in winter.

Transjordan Plateau. The fourth north-south area is the Transjordan Plateau. The climate is similar to the central hill country, but the terrain is flat ranging from about 2,000 feet high in the north to about 5,000 feet high in the extreme south. The region is fairly fertile but there is not enough rain in much of the area to produce extensive crops. Again, as in the central hill country, sheep and goats are common livestock. This north-south strip is divided by four streams. They are the Yarmuk, the Jabbok, the Arnon, and the Zered. Each flows to the west and together they divide the transjordan plateau into five areas: to the north of the Yarmuk was the land of Bashan; between the Yarmuk and Jabbok was Gilead; between the Jabbok and the Arnon Rivers was the kingdom of Ammon; south of the Arnon was Moab; and finally south of Zered was Edom. The Ammonites, Moabites, and Edomites were neighbors of ancient Israel.

Exceptions to the Rule. It is important to understand that there is a dry season in the summer that extends from much of May into most of September. So for four to five months each year one can plan each day without ever having to worry about rain. There is also a rainy season that is concentrated between December and March. Of course, the total rainfall varies dramatically from around two inches in the desert regions to over forty-five inches in parts of Galilee.


It is now time to draw some conclusions about what we have learned. First, it is obvious that ancient Israel was primarily agricultural and pastoral. The majority of the people throughout biblical history earned their living from agriculture and/or from animal husbandry. Second, the hills and valleys made transportation difficult from one region to another. Therefore the regions developed in their own distinctive ways and attempted to preserve those distinctions. Third, the hills and valleys kept people isolated from each other and prevented political unification. When we read the book of Judges, for example, it is obvious why the tribes could not get together and unify. They were basically people with regional differences who did not easily mingle with each other or join together as political entities.


1. What are the most important geographical features of Mesopotamia and Egypt and how do they affect those countries?

2. Why is it valuable to study the climate and geography of ancient Israel?

3. Describe the four regions of Israel with respect to climate, geography, and location.

Readings to accompany DVD 1 – From Realia Handbook


Description A deep construction, often walled with stone, at the bottom of which was a pool of water. Wells were dug as deep as was necessary to reach usable water, sometimes as much as 70 meters (230 feet).


be’er Gen 16.14; 21.19, 25, 30; 24.11, 20; 26.15-32(8x); 29.2-10(7x); Exo 2.15; Num 20.17; 21.16-22(4x); 2 Sam 17.18, 19, 21; Pro 5.15; Song 4.15

bor Deut 6.11; 1 Sam 19.22; 2 Sam 3.26; 23.15, 16; 1 Chr 11.17, 18; 2 Chr 26.10; Neh 9.25

bayir Jer 6.7

pēgē John 4.6(2x), 14

frear Luke 14.5; John 4.11, 12

Translation Wells varied widely in construction, depending on the topography. In some cases a “well” was little more than a walled-in spring, and in fact the Greek word pēgē may indicate either a well or a spring, although most often it indicates a natural water source rather than a manmade one. In John 4 pēgē is used interchangeably with frear, which can only mean a manmade well from which water is drawn.

The Hebrew words given above, on the other hand, all indicate holes that have been dug. Hebrew uses separate words for natural springs.

Pro 5.15: The context of this verse indicates that the words for “well” and “cistern” are used figuratively of a man’s wife. Thus, tev translates “Be faithful to your own wife and give your love to her alone”; cev recognizes the figure but also preserves the imagery: “You should be faithful to your wife, just as you take water from your own well” (similarly ncv). Compare also frcl, itcl, “Your wife is like a spring of pure water; drink from that source.”

Luke 14.5: Any common term for “well,” “pond,” “fountain,” “cistern” is acceptable here, provided that falling into it implies the danger of drowning.


Description A pit hollowed out of solid rock for the purpose of storing water. Cisterns could be 6 meters (20 feet) across and 6 meters (20 feet) deep or even larger. In earliest times they were hewn out of rock which did not allow water to seep through it. With the discovery how to make plaster, cisterns could be dug in many kinds of rock and then lined with plaster, which sealed any holes or cracks.

How it was used In the land of Israel almost all of the annual rain falls during four or five months between fall and spring. Cisterns served to store excess rainwater or water from springs which dried up in the summer. The stored water could be used during the dry months of the year.


b’or Jer 2.13

bor 2 Kgs 18.31; 2 Chr 26.10; Neh 9.25; Pro 5.15; Eccl 12.6; Isa 36.16

lakkos Jdt 7.21; 8.31; Sir 50.3; 2 Macc 10.37

freiar 2 Macc 1.19

Translation A cistern differed from a well in that a cistern received its water from a source removed from it at some distance while the water in a well accumulated from its immediate vicinity. It is not always clear from the context whether a well or a cistern is intended. Thus, at Neh 9.25, niv has “wells already dug” (also tob, ncv) while nrsv has “hewn cisterns” (also tev, cev). Similar uncertainty exists for most of the above references to bor.

It is possible to use a descriptive phrase such as “a hollowed place in a rock for storing water.” One may also adopt expansions like those used by cev at 2 Chr 26.10, “cisterns dug there to catch the rainwater”; and Jer 2.13, “you’ve tried to collect water in . . . pits dug in the ground.”

Pro 5.15: See note at 3.9.

Eccl 12.6: The rendering the “wheel broken at the cistern” (nrsv) is uncertain and translations differ. The Hebrew text has two parallel elements, which are literally “the jar will be shattered at the spring, and the wheel will be broken at the cistern.” Most translators and commentators understand galgal to be a kind of pulley which aided in lifting the water container. cev has “the pulley at the well” (cf njb, itcl, et al.). Scott points out that the parallelism demands that galgal correspond to kad, which is a clay pitcher or jar. However, in his own translation he has the less likely “the water wheel broken at the cistern.” tev seems to invert the phrases so as to give the order of events: “the rope at the well will break, and the water jar will be shattered.” It is probably best to treat the wheel as a pulley. Where a pulley wheel is unknown, one may follow the tev model, although even then a note may be necessary to explain the pulling up of a water container attached to a rope.


Description A portable dwelling of cloth and/or skins, held up by poles and secured to the ground by cords to tied to stakes. Tents were normally made of cloth woven from the hair of goats.

How it was used Tents served as the regular dwelling of nomadic peoples. They could also be used as temporary shelter by people moving from one permanent house to another.


’ohel Gen 4.20; 9.21, 27; 12.8; 13.3, 5; 18.1, 2, 6, 9, 10 [over 330 times total]

mishkan Song 1.8

aulē 2 Macc 13.15

skēnē Heb 11.9; [DC/A 33 times]

skēnos Wis 9.15

skēnōma 1 Esd 1.50; Jdt 2.26; 9.8; 10.18; 14.7; 15.1; 1 Macc 9.66; 2 Macc 10.6

skēnopoios [tentmaker] Acts 18.3

Translation In a number of languages “tent” is simply “a house made of cloth.” One should avoid terms which would imply a temporary shelter used only on vacations or holidays. In Old Testament times such tents were permanent dwellings of nomadic groups and were moved from place to place as livestock were transferred from one pasture area to another.

The word ’ohel serves in Hebrew to describe both a dwelling used by nomads and tents used by soldiers on military campaign. Where a language distinguishes between the two, the context should be checked carefully. The following passages seem to refer to military tents: Jdg 7.13; 1 Sam 17.53; 2 Kgs 7.7-10. It has also been suggested that Paul and Aquila and Priscilla made tents for military use, although the precise meaning of the word traditionally translated “tentmaker” is more properly “leather worker.” See also 3.16, Tent of meeting and Tabernacle.

It should be kept in mind that in Israel’s earlier history many people lived in tents. The phrase “went to his tent” or “fled to their tents” often means simply “went home”; compare cev, Jdg 7.8: “The rest of you may go home.”

2 Macc 13.15:   Originally the aulē was a courtyard and later the court of a king. In context this verse speaks of the part of the encampment where the king was located, hence “the area near the king’s tent” (tev). Most others have “pavilion”; at best this word will be obscure; at worst (in British English, for example) it could be misunderstood. Translators should follow tev or something like itcl, “the camp where Antiochus’ headquarters were located.”

Door of tent, dividing curtain

Description A curtain dividing different parts of a large tent.


aulaia Jdt 14.14

Translation Jdt 14.14 says that someone “knocked at the door of the tent” (rsv). This will sound as strange in some languages as it does in English. nab and nrsv try to solve the problem by changing “door” to “entry.” tev goes even farther by rendering “Bagoas went in and clapped his hands in front of the sleeping quarters of the tent.” njb is closer to the literal meaning of aulaia: “struck the curtain dividing the tent.” The point of the story is that Bagoas thought Holofernes was in bed with Judith and made noise so as not to surprise them.

Tent peg, stake

Description A shorted stick, pointed on one end. It was pounded into the ground, and tent ropes were tied to it to anchor the tent in place. See the illustration at 3.2.


yathed Exo 27.19; 35.18(2x); 38.20, 31(2x); 39.40; Num 3.37; 4.32; Jdg 4.21(2x), 22; 5.26; 16.14; Ezra 9.8; Isa 33.20; 54.2; Zech 10.4

passalos Sir 14.24

Translation The stakes of the Tabernacle, mentioned in Exodus and Numbers, were made of bronze. They were used to anchor the various cloths of the Tabernacle and also some of the standing posts.

The tent stake provided security. It guaranteed that the tent would not fall nor be blown out of its place by winds. Thus it is sometimes a symbol of stability and security. This element of security may be reflected in translation in Ezra 9.8 and Isa 33.20. Compare rsv at Ezra 9.8: “to give us a secure hold within his holy place”; and tev’s “to live in safety in this holy place.”

Jdg 16.14: While there is no tent in view, the same word yathed is used for the object with which Delilah fastens Samson’s hair, and the operation of pounding a stake into the ground so that Samson cannot move is very similar to that of anchoring a tent. Translators will usually be able to use the same word.

Sir 14.24: The word passalos indicates a tent peg. The Hebrew version of Sirach has a word which, with a very slight emendation of part of one letter, could mean “tent cords” or “tent pegs.” With either reading the basic meaning remains the same and is expressed well by tev: “Camp as close to her house as you can get.” If one wishes to maintain the image of the tent and the house, one may say “he anchors his tent to the wall of her house.”


A place for pressing out the juice of grapes for the making of wine, vinegar, and grape honey. Ancient winepresses consisted of large treading floors on which the grapes were trampled in order to extract the juice. The extracted juice was collected in deep vats. A winepress floor was normally larger and shallower than the one depicted in the illustration below.

Wine trough

Description Beneath the press was placed (or cut out of the rock) a trough or vat (the “wine trough”) into which flowed the grape juice that had just been pressed out.


Winepress: gath Jdg 6.11; Neh 13.15; Isa 63.2; Lam 1.15; Joel 3.13

yeqev Num 18.27, 30; Deut 15.14; Jdg 7.25; 2 Kgs 6.27; Job 24.11; Pro 3.10; Isa 5.2; 16.10; Jer 48.33; Hos 9.2; Hag 2.16; Zech 14.10

purah Isa 63.3; Hag 2.16

lēnos Matt 21.33; Rev 14.19, 20(2x); 19.15; [Sir 33.16]

Wine trough, vat: upolēnion Mark 12.1

Translation The word gath usually indicates the treading floor or the entire installation, while yeqev is the collecting vat.

A descriptive equivalent of winepress may be “a place where the juice of grapes was squeezed out” or “. . . pressed out” (cf FrFond, Mark 12.1). Spanish common language translation (spcl) has “a place where wine is made.” For “wine trough” one may use a descriptive phrase such as “a place where the juice of the grapes was collected.”

The Greek word lēnos means a depression, hole, trough, or pit. The operation of pressing grapes involved more than one such depression, one (in the land of Israel it was a flat surface) in which the grapes were placed and tread, and one or more into which the juice flowed. Lēnos can refer to either of these, and it will usually be sufficient to render something like “a pit to crush the grapes in” (cev).

Lēnos is the word used in Matt 21.33. In the parallel passage in Mark 12.1 a different word is used, a word which means a pit which lies below the lēnos, in other words a “collection pit” into which the juice flowed from the upper surface where the grapes were crushed. (In this Mark seems to be following the idea of the lxx translation while not using exactly the same word as the lxx.) Most translations render both words the same, usually “winepress” or its equivalent. Some translations (Traduction œcuménique de la Bible [tob], New Jerusalem Bible [njb], nrsv, New International Version [niv], New American Standard Bible [nasb]) use a different word or expression in Mark. Thus, for example, nasb has “a vat under the wine press.”


Description A structure made of stone, sometimes round but more often rectangular. It was normally built on a high place in or near a vineyard. It stood 2-5 meters (6.5–16 feet) high and was mounted by a ladder or steps. During the grape harvest it was the custom for the owner of a vineyard or one of his family or servants to spend the night on the watchtower to guard against animals or thieves who might try to steal the grapes. Similar towers could also be built to watch over other property, such as sheep and goats.


migdal Gen 35.21; 2 Kgs 17.9; 18.8;  2 Chr 26.10; 27.4; Isa 5.2; Micah 4.8

purgos Matt 21.33; Mark 12.1; Luke 14.28

Translation English uses basically the same expression to describe this structure in a farmer’s field and a lookout point on a city wall (see In some languages, however, the two things may have very different terms. In a few verses (e.g. 1 Chr 27.25; 2 Chr 26.10; Sir 37.14) it may not be entirely clear from the context which type of tower is intended; in Gen 35.21 and Micah 4.8 the reference may be to either one, or it may even be a place name.

Some translators will want to employ an expansion similar to Fr Fond, “he built a tower to keep watch over the vineyard” (Matt 21.33).


Session 1: Physical settings, climate, geography, directions

Readings:        Script, pages 1-5, up to Nomadic Life.

Matthews and Moyer, The Old Testament, Text and Context, pages 32-42.

Aharoni, The Land of the Bible, pages 8-11.

Do the following:

  1. Translate Deuteronomy 8:7-9.
  2. On the blank map of the Middle East, identify and mark the following:
  1. Mesopotamia, Egypt, Canaan, Assyria.
  2. Abraham’s route from Ur to Canaan and the places where he stopped.
  3. What is a desert? How is the climate of Israel influenced by its location on the edge of the desert?
  4. Answer the study questions at the end of the article by Matthews and Moyer.

Session 2: Nomadic life; water resources; grapes, olives, and figs

Readings:        Script, pages 5-8.

Selection from “Manmade Objects” handbook.

Do the following:

  1. What are the differences between a spring, a well, and a cistern?
  2. In your own words describe what Abraham’s tent might have looked like.
  3. Translate the following verses: Proverbs 5:15-18; Genesis 31:34-35.

Session 3: The agricultural cycle

Readings:        Script, pages 9-11.

Gower, The New Manners and Customs of Bible Times, pages 87-119.

Do the following:

  1. Describe the process of raising wheat, from the preparation of the ground until the wheat is ready to make flour. Indicate the specific purpose of each stage. [1/2 page]
  2. Describe Old Testament and New Testament millstones.
  3. Translate Judges 6:11.
  4. Translate Ruth 2:2, 7, 14, 17. According to Ruth 1:22 and 2:23, about what period of time is covered by chapter 2, and what time of the year was it?
  5. Translate Isaiah 5:1-2; Luke 12:16-18.

Deut. 8:7-9

7 For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, 8 a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, 9 a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper.

7 כִּי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ מְבִֽיאֲךָ אֶל־אֶרֶץ טֹובָה אֶרֶץ נַחֲלֵי מָיִם עֲיָנֹת וּתְהֹמֹת יֹצְאִים בַּבִּקְעָה וּבָהָֽר׃ 8 אֶרֶץ חִטָּה וּשְׂעֹרָה וְגֶפֶן וּתְאֵנָה וְרִמֹּון אֶֽרֶץ־זֵית שֶׁמֶן וּדְבָֽשׁ׃ 9 אֶרֶץ אֲשֶׁר לֹא בְמִסְכֵּנֻת תֹּֽאכַל־בָּהּ לֶחֶם לֹֽא־תֶחְסַר כֹּל בָּהּ אֶרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אֲבָנֶיהָ בַרְזֶל וּמֵהֲרָרֶיהָ תַּחְצֹב נְחֹֽשֶׁת׃

Proverbs 5:15-18

15 Drink water from your own cistern,

flowing water from your own well.

16 Should your springs be scattered abroad,

streams of water in the streets?

17 Let them be for yourself alone,

and not for sharing with strangers.

18 Let your fountain be blessed,

and rejoice in the wife of your youth

15 שְׁתֵה־מַיִם מִבֹּורֶךָ וְנֹזְלִים מִתֹּוךְ בְּאֵרֶֽךָ׃ 16 יָפוּצוּ מַעְיְנֹתֶיךָ חוּצָה בָּרְחֹבֹות פַּלְגֵי־מָֽיִם׃ 17 יִֽהְיוּ־לְךָ לְבַדֶּךָ וְאֵין לְזָרִים אִתָּֽךְ׃
 18 יְהִֽי־מְקֹורְךָ בָרוּךְ וּשְׂמַח מֵאֵשֶׁת נְעוּרֶֽךָ׃

Genesis 31:34-35

34 Now Rachel had taken the household gods and put them in the camel’s saddle, and sat on them. Laban felt all about in the tent, but did not find them. 35 And she said to her father, “Let not my lord be angry that I cannot rise before you, for the way of women is upon me.” So he searched, but did not find the household gods.

34 וְרָחֵל לָקְחָה אֶת־הַתְּרָפִים וַתְּשִׂמֵם בְּכַר הַגָּמָל וַתֵּשֶׁב עֲלֵיהֶם וַיְמַשֵּׁשׁ לָבָן אֶת־כָּל־הָאֹהֶל וְלֹא מָצָֽא׃ 35 וַתֹּאמֶר אֶל־אָבִיהָ אַל־יִחַר בְּעֵינֵי אֲדֹנִי כִּי לֹוא אוּכַל לָקוּם מִפָּנֶיךָ כִּי־דֶרֶךְ נָשִׁים לִי וַיְחַפֵּשׂ וְלֹא מָצָא אֶת־הַתְּרָפִֽים׃

Judges 6:11

11 Now the angel of the Lord came and sat under the oak at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press, to hide it from the Midianites.

11 וַיָּבֹא מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה וַיֵּשֶׁב תַּחַת הָֽאֵלָה אֲשֶׁר בְּעָפְרָה אֲשֶׁר לְיֹואָשׁ אֲבִי הָֽעֶזְרִי וְגִדְעֹון בְּנֹו חֹבֵט חִטִּים בַּגַּת לְהָנִיס מִפְּנֵי מִדְיָֽן׃

Ruth 2:2, 7, 14, 17

2 And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain, behind someone in whose sight I may find favor.” She said to her, “Go, my daughter.”

7 She said, ‘Please, let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the reapers.’ So she came, and she has been on her feet from early this morning until now, without resting even for a moment.”

14 At mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here, and eat some of this bread, and dip your morsel in the sour wine.” So she sat beside the reapers, and he heaped up for her some parched grain. She ate until she was satisfied, and she had some left over.

17 So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley.

2 וַתֹּאמֶר רוּת הַמֹּואֲבִיָּה אֶֽל־נָעֳמִי אֵֽלְכָה־נָּא הַשָּׂדֶה וַאֲלַקֳטָה בַשִּׁבֳּלִים אַחַר אֲשֶׁר אֶמְצָא־חֵן בְּעֵינָיו וַתֹּאמֶר לָהּ לְכִי בִתִּֽי׃

7 וַתֹּאמֶר אֲלַקֳטָה־נָּא וְאָסַפְתִּי בָֽעֳמָרִים אַחֲרֵי הַקֹּוצְרִים וַתָּבֹוא וַֽתַּעֲמֹוד מֵאָז הַבֹּקֶר וְעַד־עַתָּה זֶה שִׁבְתָּהּ הַבַּיִת מְעָֽט׃

14 וַיֹּאמֶר לָה בֹעַז לְעֵת הָאֹכֶל גֹּשִֽׁי הֲלֹם וְאָכַלְתְּ מִן־הַלֶּחֶם וְטָבַלְתְּ פִּתֵּךְ בַּחֹמֶץ וַתֵּשֶׁב מִצַּד הַקֹּֽוצְרִים וַיִּצְבָּט־לָהּ קָלִי וַתֹּאכַל וַתִּשְׂבַּע וַתֹּתַֽר׃

17 וַתְּלַקֵּט בַּשָּׂדֶה עַד־הָעָרֶב וַתַּחְבֹּט אֵת אֲשֶׁר־לִקֵּטָה וַיְהִי כְּאֵיפָה שְׂעֹרִֽים׃

Isaiah 5:1-2

1 Let me sing for my beloved

my love-song concerning his vineyard:

My beloved had a vineyard

on a very fertile hill.

2 He dug it and cleared it of stones,

and planted it with choice vines;

he built a watchtower in the midst of it,

and hewed out a wine vat in it;

he expected it to yield grapes,

but it yielded wild grapes.

1 אָשִׁירָה נָּא לִֽידִידִי שִׁירַת דֹּודִי לְכַרְמֹו כֶּרֶם הָיָה לִֽידִידִי בְּקֶרֶן בֶּן־שָֽׁמֶן׃ 2 וַֽיְעַזְּקֵהוּ וַֽיְסַקְּלֵהוּ וַיִּטָּעֵהוּ שֹׂרֵק וַיִּבֶן מִגְדָּל בְּתֹוכֹו וְגַם־יֶקֶב חָצֵב בֹּו וַיְקַו לַעֲשֹׂות עֲנָבִים וַיַּעַשׂ בְּאֻשִֽׁים׃

Luke 12:16-18

16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.

16 Εἶπεν δὲ παραβολὴν πρὸς αὐτοὺς λέγων, Ἀνθρώπου τινὸς πλουσίου εὐφόρησεν ἡ χώρα. 17 καὶ διελογίζετο ἐν ἑαυτῷ λέγων, Τί ποιήσω, ὅτι οὐκ ἔχω ποῦ συνάξω τοὺς καρπούς μου; 18 καὶ εἶπεν, Τοῦτο ποιήσω, καθελῶ μου τὰς ἀποθήκας καὶ μείζονας οἰκοδομήσω καὶ συνάξω ἐκεῖ πάντα τὸν σῖτον καὶ τὰ ἀγαθά μου