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 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 over-flowed 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 of particular ditches with a system of mud walls that could be broken down again.


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 a 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 grain 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 development fo farm implements and irrigation techniques that agriculture began to advance.


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 done through the year in agriculture

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. (Please click on part 2 of M&C)


  • 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)


(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

Leave a Reply