Excerpts from Manners and Customs of Bible Lands
By Fred H. Wight
Foods and their preparation for eating
Customs at mealtime
The sacred duty of hospitality
Shepherd life; the care of sheep and goats
Growing and harvesting grain
Raids and blood avenging
It is easy for Occidentals to overlook the fact that the Scriptures had their origin in the East, and that each one of the writers was actually an Oriental. Since this is so, in a very real sense the Bible may be said to be an Oriental Book. But many are quite apt to read into the Scriptures Western manners and customs, instead of interpreting them from the Eastern point of view.
Many passages of Scripture that are hard for the Westerner to understand, are readily explained by a knowledge of the customs and manners of Bible lands. On the other hand, to ignore this subject is to deprive one's self of a thorough mastery of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments.
For many years the Arabs were the custodians of Palestine. In the seventh century, an army of Arabs broke away from Arabia and invaded the Near East. They brought with them the habits of life inherited from countless generations before them. Since they have lived in these lands ever since, they have largely become the conservators of the manners and customs of Bible times.
There are three classes of Arabs in these lands. First, there is the Nomad or Bedouin Arab, who is a shepherd and lives in tents. Second, there is the Peasant or Fellahin Arab, who is a farmer and usually lives in a village one-room house. Third, there is the City or Belladin Arab, who as a rule engages in business in the larger cities. The Belladin Arab has come in contact with western civilization more than the other classes, and therefore his manner of life has undergone a certain amount of change. On the other hand, the Peasant Arab has changed his customs very little, and the Nomad Arab practically none at all. Through the centuries the Arabs have for the most part considered it to be morally wrong to change their ancient customs. For this reason the manners and customs of Bible-land Arabs are very much the same as the Jews of Bible times. There are some exceptions to this rule, and most of those have to do with religious observances.
In the Bible, living in tents is of ancient origin. It goes back before the days of Abraham. The first reference in the Scriptures to tent life is concerning the man Jabal, of whom it is said, "he was the father of such as dwell in tents" (Gen. 4:20). Following the Flood the Sacred Record says, "God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem" (Gen. 9:27).
The patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob lived most of their lives in tents, in and around the land of Canaan. It was said of Abraham that he "pitched his tent" in the vicinity of Bethel (Gen. 12:8), that Isaac "pitched his tent in the valley of Gerar" (Gen. 26:17), and Jacob "Pitched his tent before the city of Shechem" (Gen. 33:18).
The Children of Israel lived in tents during their forty years in the wilderness. Moses said of them, "The children of Israel shall pitch their tents, every man by his own camp" (Num. 1:52). And Balaam "lifted up his eyes, and he saw Israel abiding in his tents according to their tribes" (Num. 24:2).
For many years after the entering of the Promised Land, Israel still lived in tents. In the days of David it was said to the King, "The ark and Israel and Judah, abide in tents" (2Sam. 11:11), indicating that many of the people at that time were tent- dwellers. Even at the time of the revolt of the ten tribes under Jeroboam and their separation from Judah, the cry went forth, "To your tents, O Israel" (1Kings 12:16). When the tribes gathered together at such small places as Gilgal, and Shiloh, they undoubtedly brought their tents with them. And after the temple was built at Jerusalem the people would make their pilgrimages there to celebrate the feasts of the Lord, and many thousands of them would sleep in tents on the mountains surrounding the city.
Like the Jews of old, the Nomad or Bedouin Arabs of Palestine, and especially those of Trans-Jordan, have been living in tents for centuries, and their manner of life is strikingly like unto that of the early Bible characters. A study, therefore, of these tent structures of Bible lands of today will throw much light on how the men of early Bible times actually lived. By such a study one can build the proper background for understanding the life and contributions of these men of the long ago.
The Bedouin's home is his tent, which is made of black goat's hair. He calls it beit sha'ar , i.e., "house of hair." It is made of coarse, heavy fabric, and serves to protect the family in winter from the cold winds; in the summer the sides are usually lifted, and the tent serves as a sunshade. This goat's hair cloth that is used in making these tents is porous when it is dry, but becomes waterproof after the first rains have shrunk it together. The Song of Solomon refers to these black goat's hair tents thus: "I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar" (Cant 1:5).
The material that makes up the Bedouin tent is the same as the sackcloth of Bible days. It must be remembered that this Oriental sackcloth is not at all like the Occidental burlap, but is rather a material made of prickly, coarse goat's hair. The Apostle John compares darkness to this sackcloth: "the sun became black like sackcloth of hair" (Rev. 6:12). In Bible times sackcloth was worn as a sign of sorrow (Gen. 37:34; 2Sam. 3:31), as a sign of humility (1Kings 21:27; 2Kings 19:1), or as a sign of repentance (Dan. 9:3; Jonah 3:5).
Tent encampments and manner of setting up of tents
If the Bedouin Arabs live together as a tribe or a clan, as they often do, or if more than one family dwell with each other, then their tents are not pitched in a promiscuous cluster, but more likely in a large circle to make it possible for at least some of their flocks to be protected inside the circle. By the side of the sheik's tent stands a long spear as an emblem of his authority (cf. practice of King Saul in 1Sam. 26:7). His tent is generally larger than the others.
The Bible says that some of the sons of Ishmael lived in tent villages or encampments (Gen. 25:16, A. R. V.). The number of tents that made up the encampment of Abraham must have been large, for in his warfare against the confederacy of kings that took Lot captive, it is stated that he used a band of three hundred eighteen trained soldiers born in his household (Gen. 14:14). The arrangement of his tents was doubtless much like that of the wealthier Bedouin Arabs of today. The main overhead portion of the Bedouin's tent is composed of one large awning which is held up by poles, and the ends of the tent cloth are drawn out by cords which are tied to pegs and driven into the ground. It was one of these tent pins that Jael used in killing Sisera (Judges 4:21).
Inside arrangement of tent
The Oriental tent is usually oblong in shape, and is divided into two, and sometimes three apartments by goat's hair curtains. The entrance leads into the apartment for the men, which also serves as the reception apartment. Beyond this is the apartment for the women and children. And sometimes there is a third apartment for servants or for cattle.
The women in the inner apartment are screened from the view of those in the reception room, but they can hear what goes on in that room. Thus Sarah in her apartment overheard what the angel guest said in the reception apartment of Abraham's tent (Gen. 18:10-15). In some cases there is a separate tent for the women. It took several tents to care for the large family of Jacob. Reference is made to Jacob's tent, to Leah's tent, to Rachel's tent, and to the tent of the two maidservants; (Gen. 31:33).
Inside furnishings of tents
The shepherd's tent is always subject to perpetual removals, as Hezekiah indicated in his song of thanksgiving, after his recovery from sickness (Isa. 38:12). Therefore, the furnishings of that tent must include only the necessities. Rugs cover the ground, but at night the bedding is brought out, which is composed of mats, or carpets on which to sleep; and their outer garments worn by day become their coverings by night. Sacks of grain are apt to be piled around the middle tent posts. Sure to be about the tent some place are the handmill, and the mortar, in which the grain is pounded. And hanging from the poles will be the skin bags or bottles, for water and other liquids. Also there will be a leathern bucket with which to draw water from any well that may be available, and an earthen pitcher, used by the women to carry the water. Cooking utensils will not be many, but will include pots, kettles, and pans. Serving dishes will include mats, platters, or larger dishes, and there will be cups for drinking. A primitive lamp burning olive oil will illuminate the tent by night. See Lighting Of The House; Why Exclusion From A Feast Was Considered To Be So Terrible. If the family is fortunate enough to have a camel, then the camel furniture will be used for sitting upon inside the tent, as Rachel was doing when her father searched the tents for the lost teraphim (Gen. 31:34). Also see The Teraphim. Little else than these furnishings would be needed for the simple life of the tent-dwellers.
The hearth is of course upon the ground. A hole is dug in the earth where there is a fire kindled, and several stones are put around it, and the cooking utensils are placed on these and over the fire. One of these hearths is inside the tent, and another one is outdoors, quite likely near to the women's quarters. In the hot weather the cooking is done outside rather than inside the tent.
Patching a tent and enlarging the quarters
New tents are very seldom made among the Bedouins. About the only time this happens is when a young groom and bride set up housekeeping for themselves in a different location from that of the groom's parents, and this rarely happens. The usual procedure is to accumulate the goat clippings of a year or so, and with these make a new strip with which to repair the old tent. The women do this work. The section of the tent roof that is most worn is ripped out, and a new piece of the cloth replaces it. The old piece is then used for a side curtain. Each year new strips of cloth replace old ones and the "house of hair" is handed down from father to son without its being completely new or completely old at any one time.
As the tent-dweller's family grows larger, or as he becomes richer and wishes to enlarge his tent, he does so by simply adding another section to his old tent, very much like the Occidental would build another room on to his house; but there is this difference: instead of building a new tent they just continue patching. Isaiah had this process in mind when he compared the prophetic prosperity of Israel to a Bedouin tent. "Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes" (Isa. 54:2).
The Character Of Tent-life
The Westerner does not begin to appreciate the pilgrim character of the Oriental tent-dweller. One traveler among these nomads had this to say about them:
The Arab's tent is his home: yet the word "home" does not mean to him what it means to us. Of our idea of home he has no conception..... His home is the little spot where his tent is pitched and his Rocks are gathered at night. His country-his fatherland-is the limited district over which he roams in summer.
We must always remember that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were pilgrims in the Land of Promise. "By faith he became a sojourner in the land of promise, as in a land not his own, dwelling in tents, with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise" (Heb. 11:9). And the writer to the Hebrews goes on to say of these patriarchs, "These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth" (Heb. 11:13, A. R. V.).
Tent-life with its simplicity, and so much of the time spent out-of-doors, has a real charm for those who are used to it. Most of them would not live otherwise if they had the choice to do so. And because the Jewish ancestors were tentdwellers, their descendants considered such a life in the spirit of true dignity. This explains the numerous references to tent life in sacred poetry and prophecy (cf. Psa. 84:1-10; Cant. 1:5; Jer. 4:20, etc.).
Foods and their preparation for eating
WHAT KINDS OF FOOD did the ancient Jews eat? "The ordinary food of the average Hebrew of Bible times was bread, olives, oil, buttermilk cheese from their flocks; fruits and vegetables from the orchards and gardens; and meat on rare occasions." Only few more varieties would have to be added to make this a complete list of foods eaten in those days.
The use of raw grain and parched grain
The eating of raw grain is a modern custom in Palestine that dates back to very ancient days. See also Eating Grain In The Field.The Arabs today often pluck the ears of grain and rubbing them in their hands, eat them. The Mosaic Law said: "Ye shall eat neither bread, nor parched corn, nor green ears , until the selfsame day that ye have brought an offering unto your God" (Lev. 23:14; cf. Deut. 23:25; 2Kings 4:42). The disciples of Jesus ate raw grain in the fields. "His disciples plucked the ears of corn and did eat, rubbing them in their hands" Luke 6:1; cf. Matt. 12:1, Mark 2:23)
So it can be readily seen that this custom of eating raw grain has prevailed for thousands of years.
Another food common in the Orient today and in use in Bible times is parched grain. This is prepared from the grains of wheat that are not fully ripe. They are roasted in a pan or on an iron plate. Such grain is eaten either with or without bread. Jesse sent some of it to his sons in the army by the hand of David (1Sam. 17:17). Abigail included some of it in her present to David (1Sam. 25:18). And David received some of it from friends at the time he had fled from Absalom (2Sam. 17:28). These Scriptures show that parched grain has been in use for centuries.
Bread the principal food
In the Orient it has been estimated that three-fourths of the people live entirely upon either bread or upon that which is made from wheat or barley flour. It is unquestionably the principal food of the East.
In the Bible such an expression as "eating bread" is often used when Occidentals would say: "eating a meal." When the Bible says, "The Egyptians might not eat bread with the Hebrews" (Gen. 43:31, 32), it means that they could not eat a meal with them (Gen. 37:25; Exod. 2:20; 1Sam. 28:22-25).
Kinds of bread used
Two kinds of bread were in use in the days when Bible events were being enacted: wheat bread, and barley bread. Both of these are in use in Palestine today. There is this distinction between them: barley bread is used by the poorer classes, whereas if a family is able to have wheat bread, it is considered to have arrived at a place well up in the comfort scale.
This same distinction was true in the Old Testament days and also New Testament times. When the "cake of barley bread tumbled into the host of Midian" in the dream of the Midianite soldier (Judges 7:13), it was an indication that the enemy despised Israel, as a more favored people eating wheat bread would despise eaters of barley bread, and yet God was to use the despised Israelites of Gideon's army to overpower those proud Midianites. The lad who had his five barley loaves and gave them to Jesus, and saw him multiply them to feed five thousand (John 6:9), must have come from the poorer class, but his humble contribution made possible a great miracle, and the crowd was satisfied with that kind of bread.
Form of loaves
In the Holy Land where the old customs prevail, bread takes three forms. First, there are the small loaves which somewhat resemble the light bread biscuits of this country. It was this kind the lad had and gave to Jesus. Second, there are the larger loaves, nearly as heavy as the modern loaves of the West, but round instead of rectangular. The ten loaves which Jesse sent by David to the camp of Israel, were probably of this form (1Sam. 17:17). Third, there are the flat loaves which are thin like paper. These are something like American hot cakes only bigger around and much thinner. When served some of these, one man from the West thought they were napkins and started to use them as such. This kind of bread is used to take the place of the knife, fork, or spoon of the Occidental; Easterners "cup it up" and use it to dip into the food sauces . See Use Of Hand Instead Of Knife, Fork, Or Spoon; Dipping Into The Dish And Giving The Sop. It is quite pliable, and the men fold it up and put it in their scrip, and take it with them, so they can eat it as needed.
Baking of bread
The most primitive method of baking bread was the laying of cakes of dough on heated stones. A Scriptural example of this is from the experience of Elijah. (1Kings 19:6, A. R. V. margin): "There was at his head a cake baken on hot stones."
Another simple method of baking is the digging in the ground of a hole four or five feet deep, and three feet in diameter, and after this oven is heated, the dough is rolled out until it is no thicker than a person's finger, and then it is struck against the oven's sides where it instantly bakes.
Sometimes a great stone pitcher is used as an oven. In the bottom of it a fire is made among small flints that retain the heat. The dough is placed on these and is quickly baked. Sometimes the dough is rolled out quite thin and is stuck on the outside of the hot pitcher where it bakes. Some have thought that it was this pitcher-oven that was meant in Lev. 2:4, where two types of unleavened bread were to be baked. The cakes of fine flour would be baked inside the pitcher-oven, and the wafers would be baked on the outside of it.
Another type of simple oven is a large earthenware jar, into which the fuel is placed, and when the jar is hot enough the thin cakes are laid on the outside to cook.
When bread was baked individually by each family in Bible days, some such method as has been described was probably used by the ordinary homes.
But often today, as in the days of Sacred Writ, bread was and is baked in either a semipublic oven, or in the oven of a public baker. Sometimes each town might have several of these ovens. One type of such an oven consists of a big earthen tube, some three feet in diameter, and about five feet long. It is sunk in the ground inside a hut. The women take their turn in baking their bread. The fuel is thrown into the tube, and when the fire gets hot, and billows of smoke and tongues of flame come from the deep hole, the hut, without any chimney in it, begins to resemble an active crater. Malachi must have seen such an oven when he wrote the words, "For behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven: and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble" (Mal. 4:1). Another type of Oriental oven "is a long, low, stonebuilt vault, like half a railway-engine's boiler, with a stone pavement down the middle, and a long narrow strip at each side for the firewood." Each night the ashes are taken out, and often the children of poor
families will bring a piece of tin, or of a broken water jar, and carry home on this some of the embers of the fire with which to start the fire at home for the evening meal. Hosea makes mention of "an oven heated by the baker" (Hosea 7:4). This would indicate that some of the people brought their bread to a baker to do the baking. The city of Jerusalem had its Baker's Street in the time of Jeremiah (Jer. 37:21).
The two most widely used vegetables in Bible times were beans and lentils . The prophecy of Ezekiel mentions both of these in one verse (Ezek. 4:9). Beans are included in the articles of food which David's friends brought to him when he was in flight from Jerusalem, because of Absalom's rebellion (2Sam. 17:28). The most famous Biblical use of lentils, was of course, the selling of Esau's birthright for a meal including lentils with bread (Gen. 25:33, 34, A. R. V.).
Thomson tells of being invited to a meal of lentils which he found to be very savory with its "appetizing fragrance and substantial taste, that to a hungry man must have been very tempting. In eating this dish, he did as his hosts did, doubled "some of their bread spoon-fashion," and then dipped it into the saucepan. He suggests that Esau no doubt used the same kind of spoon of bread in eating the pottage of lentils.
The Israelites' Egyptian diet included the vegetables: leeks, onions, and garlic (Num. 11:5). Most of these were probably used sometimes in Palestine. The prophet Isaiah mentions a "garden of cucumbers" (Isa. 1:8). Gourds were also used, as suggested by two Scripture passages (Jonah 4:6-10; 2Kings 4:39). The "pulse" which Daniel and his companions wanted as their diet, when they were captives, was probably vegetables (Dan. 1:12). The word means primarily, "something sown," and therefore would include edible seeds that are cooked, such as lentils, beans, peas, etc. It was a simple vegetable diet that was wanted instead of the rich, unwholesome food of the king's table.
Milk in Bible times was considered, not simply as something that was added to their food in cooking, but was regarded as a substantial food for all ages. Babies were fed mother's milk (Isa. 28:9). The Hebrews not only used cow's milk, but also sheep's milk (Deut. 32:14), goat's milk (Prov. 27:27), and, no doubt, camel's milk (Gen. 32:15). The Promised Land was often called "a land flowing with milk and honey"
(Exod. 3:8; Exod. 13:5; Josh. 5:6; Jer. 11:5). This would indicate that Palestine's broad pasture lands would produce an abundance of milk.
A form of milk that is in common use among the Arabs today is called by them "leben," which means, "white." It is like our sour milk curds. In order to make it, they pour milk in a dish and then put yeast in it, which starts it to working. They cover it over with a warm cloth, and after it sets for about a day it is ready to serve. The Arabs are very fond of it. They say of it, "It makes a sick man well." If they have money for only one dish, they would usually ask for leben. It was probably this "leben" that Abraham gave to his guests (Gen. 18:8), and also that Jael gave to Sisera (Judges 4:19; Judges 5:25).
It is generally agreed among Bible scholars, that in most of the cases where the word "butter" appears in our generally used translation, it does not mean the kind of butter known by the Westerner, but rather curdled milk or "leben." There are two passages that do refer to butter , but even that is in a different form from that used by those people who live outside the Orient. The first passage mentions "butter of kine"
(Deut. 32:14), and the second refers to the process of making butter, "the churning of milk bringeth forth butter" (Prov. 30:33). The Bible-time method of making butter was doubtless the same as used by the Arab Bedouins of today. Thomson describes the process and the resulting butter thus:
What are those women kneading and shaking so zealously in that large black bag suspended from that tripod? That is a bottle not a bag, made by stripping off the skin of a young buffalo. It is full of milk and that is their method of churning. When the butter has come they take it out, and boil it, and then put it in bottles made of goatskins. In winter it resembles candied honey, in summer it is like oil. That is the only kind of butter they have in this country.
Concerning the passage in Proverbs (Prov. 30:33), "Surely the churning of milk bringeth forth butter, and the wringing of the nose bringeth forth blood," Thomson calls attention to the fact, that the word churning , and the word for wringing are the same word in the Hebrew. He says:
It is the wringing of milk that bringeth forth butter, just as these women are squeezing and wringing the milk in that skin bottle. There is no analogy between our mode of churning, and pulling a man's nose until the blood comes, but in this native operation the comparison is quite natural and emphatic.
Buttermilk is not itself mentioned in the Bible, but it was without doubt used, because the process of churning, as has already been referred to, is mentioned.
In Palestine the Arabs are fond of cheese. It is convenient for them to take cheese along with them. Their cheese is somewhat like Western slices, only larger and thicker. They are about as thick as a man's hand. They are found stacked up in the markets. David's father gave him ten cheeses to take to the army captain (1Sam. 17:18). Also Barzillai brought cheese to King David (2Sam. 17:29).
As a rule, Bible characters, like Orientals in modern times, have not eaten meat, except on special occasions. When a stranger or guest was entertained, or when a feast was made, then meat would be served. Kings and other wealthy men had meat often. The daily provision of meat for King Solomon's court is given in Scripture. Four kinds of meat for the king's daily menu are mentioned: beef, mutton, game, and fowl (1Kings 4:23). Abraham served veal to his guests (Gen. 18:7). Gideon's guest was provided with a kid (Judges 6:19). On the shores of the Sea of Galilee, fish was a common article of food in the days of Jesus. Christ referred to this when he spoke of a son begging his father for a fish (Luke 11:11). This Scripture might imply that these dwellers near the lake lived mostly on fish.
The method of preparing meat has thus been described: Roasting on a spit was perhaps the oldest way of cooking flesh, but less common among the Israelites than boiling, roast flesh being used as a rule only by the rich and better classes, as is still the case in the East. The servants of Eli's sons said to those bringing offerings, "Give flesh to roast for the priest; for he will not have boiled flesh of thee" (1Sam. 2:15, A. R. V.). After the meat was cooked it was divided up into small pieces, and a broth was prepared to serve with it, and this would often have vegetables in it. Such a broth was used in the days of Gideon and of Isaiah (Judges 6:19, 20; Isa. 54:4).
Sometime between the days of Elijah and the time of Christ, the domestic fowl and the everyday use of eggs was introduced into Palestine. There would seem to be one early Old Testament reference to what might be the egg of a hen. It is Job 6:6: "Is there any taste in the white of an egg?" But the marginal rendering of the American Revised text translates it: "Is there any taste in the juice of purslain?" It is doubtful if an egg is meant here. But we do know that the use of eggs, among the Galileans around the lake, was common in Christ's time, for Jesus speaks of a son asking for an egg from his father (Luke 11:12).
God had promised Israel, "a land flowing with milk and honey" (Exod. 3:8; Exod. 13:5; Josh. 5:6; Jer. 11:5). The numerous references to honey or honeycomb in God's Word, are proof that Palestine abounded with the product of the bees. Without doubt, the Jews took care of bees in order to produce honey. However, many of the Scriptural citations indicate that wild honey was very common. The favorite haunts of the bees were in the cavities of trees, where Jonathan discovered and ate some of the honey (1Sam. 14:25-27); in the holes of the rock, where it was often extracted (Psa. 81:16); and sometimes the dried carcasses of animals, as when Samson ate honey from the carcass of the lion he had slain (Judges 14:8, 9).
The poetical books of the Hebrew Bible abound with comparisons to honey. The judgments of God's Word are compared to it (Psa. 19:10). Pleasant words are likened unto it (Prov. 16:24), as also knowledge and wisdom to the soul (Prov. 24:13, 14). And the bride and bridegroom of Solomon's Song speak of honey (Cant. 4:11; Cant. 5:1).
In New Testament times John the Baptist lived on locusts and wild honey from the wilderness (Matt. 3:4). And when Jesus wanted to prove to the disciples that His resurrection body was a real body, He asked for food and was given a piece of broiled fish with some honeycomb (Luke 24:41-43).
Dr. Thomson relates how "in the clefts of a precipice overhanging Wady el Kurn swarms of bees made their home." A man was let down over the rock by ropes, and being protected from assault from the bees, he was able to extract a large quantity of honey. Such an incident is reminiscent of the expression of Moses in his farewell song: "He made him to suck honey out of the rock" (Deut. 32:13).
Olives and olive oil
Some use is made of the pickled berry of the olive, but the bulk of the fruit is used to make oil. In the Orient, olive oil usually takes the place of butter, and is largely used in cooking meals. A survey of several Scriptures will indicate how important a food olive oil was considered to be. The widow who fed Elijah said to him: "I have not a cake, but an handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse" (1Kings 17:12). She had been depending largely on bread and oil for her food, but the supply of both was about gone. The miracle of Elijah was the multiplication of that supply, "And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord, which he spake by Elijah" (1Kings 17:16). The Meal Offering of the Mosaic law called for unleavened fine flour mingled with oil baked in a pan (Lev. 2:5). And the prophet Ezekiel in reciting to Jerusalem all its past blessings from Jehovah said of her, "Thou didst eat fine flour, and honey, and oil" (Ezek. 16:13). See also The Olive Tree.
This fruit was often used in Old Testament times, especially dried figs. Abigail took two hundred cakes of figs to David (1Sam. 25:18). A cake of figs was given the Egyptian to revive him (1Sam. 30:12), and cakes of figs were brought to David at Hebron, at a time of great rejoicing (1Chron. 12:40). See also The Fig Tree.
Grapes and raisins
During the months of September and October, the fresh ripe grapes are eaten along with bread as one of the principal foods. Canaan must have been a land of very fine grapes, for two of the spies brought back a great cluster of grapes on a branch carried on a staff between them, and secured from the Valley of Eshcol (Num. 13:23). Raisins were widely used in the days when the Jews lived in Palestine. Abigail gave David one hundred clusters of raisins (1Sam. 25:18). Raisins were brought to David at Hebron (1Chron. 12:40) and again, when he was fleeing from Absalom, he received a quantity of them (2Sam. 16:1). See also Use Of Grapes And Making Of Grape Products.
There are several varieties of sweet and sour pomegranates in the land. The juice of the sour variety is used in the absence of lemons for the purposes of that fruit. The pomegranate was greatly esteemed as a fruit in early Bible times, for it was mentioned by Moses as one of the excellencies of the Promised Land (Deut. 8:8). The Song of Solomon makes mention of the pomegranate fruit, trees, and spiced wine from its juice (Cant. 4:13; Cant. 6:11; Cant. 7:12; Cant. 8:2).
Customs at mealtime
EASTERN HABITS, connected with the eating of a meal, are such a decided contrast to Western habits, that much care should be given to the study of them, if the many references in the Bible to eating, are to be interpreted accurately.
Washing of hands before eating
Orientals are careful to wash their hands before a meal, but they would think that the Occidental way of washing in the water already made dirty by the hands, to be very untidy and disgraceful. The servant or whoever takes his place, pours water on the hands to be washed as they are held over a basin. Often the basin has a concave cover with holes, so as to allow the dirty water to run through and thus be out of sight. The method of eating without knives, forks, or spoons, makes this washing a necessity. That this method of washing was in vogue in the days of the prophets is seen by the way Elisha was characterized by the king's servants: "Here is Elisha the son of Shaphat, which poured water on the hands of Elijah" (2Kings 3:11). Elisha had served as Elijah's servant, and pouring water, so that his master could wash his hands, was an important part of his duties.
When the Pharisees complained against the disciples of Jesus, because they ate bread without washing their hands (Matt. 15:1, 2; Mark 7:1-5), it was concerning a lengthy ceremonial washing of hands that they spoke. The Jewish hierarchy of that day had given forth a positive injunction as to exactly how this ablution should be done. It was not a law of Moses but a tradition of the elders. Jesus refused to sanction it as a rule that was binding. It was not the custom of washing hands before eating that Jesus objected to, but the authority the rabbis claimed to have in telling the people the exact and detailed manner in which it must be done.
Position while eating
According to general Arabic custom, the seemly posture while eating is "to sit erect on the floor at the low table, with the legs either folded under the body, or thrown back as in the act of kneeling." Thus in the desert tent of the Bedouin, or in the simple house of the Fellahin, this would be the position of those eating a meal. And we can be sure that this was the posture of the common people of Bible days in most cases. The exception to this rule is the custom of the wealthy, or the habit of the people on special occasions such as suppers or feasts; and this will be dealt with in a later section. It is easy to imagine Elisha and the sons of the prophets eating in the usual Oriental position, when it says concerning them: "And the sons of the prophets were sitting before him and he said unto his servant, Set on the great pot" (2Kings 4:38).
In many cases the Arab custom would seem to indicate to the Westerner that they use no table at all, when serving a meal. Actually, a mat spread upon the ground serves the purpose of a table. This is especially true of the tent Arab. This was the early Semitic table of Old Testament times, for the Hebrew word "Shool-khawn," usually translated "table," has as its root meaning, "a skin or leather mat spread on the ground." With this sort of a table in view, the Psalmist can be understood when he said concerning his enemies, "Let their table become a snare before them." David's meaning would be, "Let their feet become entangled in it, as it is spread on the ground."
If the Arabs use more of a table than this mat, then it is likely to be a polygon stool, no higher than about fourteen inches, and those eating would sit on the floor around this Stool.
With such an Oriental table in general use, it would follow that Occidental chairs would be largely missing. In regard to making use of chairs in ancient Bible days it has been said: "On ordinary occasions they probably sat or squatted on the floor around a low table, while at meals of more ceremony they sat on chairs or stools." The scriptural instances of chairs or stools used at mealtime, include Joseph's brothers sitting on seats at a banquet in Egypt (Gen. 43:33); and David's having a seat at the table of King Saul (1Sam. 20:5, 18). Both of these cases are connected with royalty or high position. On ordinary occasions the "chair" used by the vast majority of Israelites was the ground or floor on which would be spread a carpet or a mat.
At an Oriental meal the only dishes are those in which the food is placed on the table; there are no dishes given to each one having a part in the meal. Often there is only one dish for the food, and it is usually a tray of basketwork, or a copper dish. Jesus spoke of His betrayer as "he that dippeth his hand with me in the dish" (Matt. 26:23; Mark 14:20). In entertaining his guest, Gideon put the meat in a basket, and the broth in a pot (Judges 6:19).
Use of hand instead of knife, fork, or spoon
In general it may be said that the Arabs in eating do not use knives, forks, spoons, plates, or napkins which are considered so essential in the West. They say: "What does a man want of a spoon when God has given him so many fingers?" Sheets of bread, about as thick as heavy flannel; take the place of spoons or forks to some extent. A piece from this bread is broken off and shaped so as to put some of the food on it.
They use this bread to scoop up any partially liquid dish, such as soups, sauces, or gravies. Each torn off piece of bread that thus serves as a spoon is eaten along with the food it contains.
Meat is usually served in a single large dish and is eaten with the fingers. Broth is served in a separate dish and it is used to moisten the bread. This method of eating is actually not as untidy as might be supposed.
The invitation Boaz gave to Ruth to eat with his workers, indicates that these same customs must have been in operation in those days: "And at meal-time Boaz said unto her, Come hither, and eat of the bread, and dip thy morsel in the vinegar" (Ruth 2:14). And at the last supper Jesus said to his disciples, "He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, the same shall betray me" (Matt. 26:23). Furthermore, he spoke of dipping a choice portion of the meat called the sop into the dish (John 13:26). More will be said of this under the section dealing with suppers and banquets. Suffice it to say, that most of the Oriental customs of today in regard to eating date back, not only to the days of our Saviour, but also to the Old Testament era.
Washing after the meal
After a typical Oriental meal, washing the hands again is of course essential. If there is a servant, he is the one to bring in the pitcher of water and basin, and the water is poured over the hands of those who have eaten the meal. A napkin is placed over the shoulder so that the hands may be dried. They do this for each other if there is no servant to do it for them. That this method of pouring water to wash hands was used in ancient times has already been seen concerning the washing of hands before eating.
The sacred duty of hospitality
Eating alone disliked
IT IS A PART OF Oriental etiquette to want to share hospitality with others. After a meal has been prepared, an Arab has been heard to call out three times from a high spot in the neighborhood, inviting men to come and partake of the meal. These men of the desert do not like to eat their meal alone. The patriarch Job felt that way about it in his day: "Or have eaten my morsel myself alone, and the fatherless hath not eaten thereof" (Job. 31:17).
Guests believed to be sent by god
These men of the East believe that a person who becomes their guest is sent to them by God. Thus their hospitality becomes a sacred duty. When one such a host entertained Westerners, he was so happy that, he wept tears of joy that "Heaven had sent him guests". When Abraham entertained three strangers who proved to be angels, he showed much the same attitude. His enthusiasm in receiving the guests would indicate his belief, that those he was to entertain were sent to him by the Lord. It is said that he "ran to meet" the three men, that he "hastened into the tent unto Sarah" to get her to make ready food, that he "ran unto the herd," and that he "fetched a calf," and that he "hasted to dress it" (Gen. 18:2-7).
Friends as guests
In the East a friend is always welcome to receive hospitality. The Romans of New Testament times had a token of hospitality between two friends, which consisted of a tile of wood or stone, which was divided in half. Each person wrote his name on one of the two pieces, and then exchanged that piece with the other person. These were often kept and handed down from father to son. To produce the counterpart of one of these pieces would guarantee the hospitality of a real friend. The Book of Revelation no doubt refers to this custom in one of the promises to overcomers: "And will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written" (Rev. 2:17).
Strangers as guests
There is an Oriental proverb that says, "Every stranger is an invited guest." The Bedouin Arab of today, like Abraham of old, will sit in the entrance way of his tent, in order to be on the watch for stranger guests (Gen. 18:1). The inspired apostle gave command concerning hospitality to this type of guest: "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares" (Heb. 13:2). When Paul exhorted the Roman believers to be "given to hospitality" (Rom. 12:13), he was referring to the same thing, for the Greek word he used for hospitality, "fil-ox-en-ee-ah," means, "love to strangers." See also Entertaing Fellow-Believers In New Testament Times.
Enemies as guests
One remarkable feature of Oriental hospitality is that sometimes an enemy is received as a guest, and as long as he remains in that relationship, he is perfectly safe and is treated as a friend. There are certain Oriental tribes of tent-dwellers who have the rule that an enemy who has "once dismounted and touched the rope of a single tent, is safe."
If a guest is entertained by one who lives in a tent, there is no separate place provided, nor would it be expected. Usually, the first section of the tent within the entrance is the regular guest apartment, which serves as dining room and sleeping quarters. The men eat with their guest and sleep with him. It was in this guestapartment of his tent, that Abraham entertained his angel guests, when Sarah in the adjoining woman's apartment, overheard what was said (Gen. 18:1-10).
When a guest is received into an Oriental home, bowing between the guests and host is quite apt to take place. In Western lands such bowing would be of the head only, but in the East there is a more expressive custom of saluting with the head erect and the body a little inclined forward, by raising the hand to the heart, mouth, and forehead. The symbolic meaning of this action is to say something like this: "My heart, my voice, my brain are all at your service"
But those who are used to this custom on many occasions enter into a more complete bow. They do not wait to do this only for royalty, but when they want to express thanks for a favor, or supplicate for a favor, and at many other times of meeting they often fall on their knees, and then incline the body touching the ground with their head, and kissing the lower part of the other person's clothing, or his feet, or even the dust at his feet. To those not acquainted with such manners, it would seem that one person was worshipping the other like he would worship God; but ordinarily, worship of this sort is not involved in the action. Cornelius is said to have worshipped Peter: "And as Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet, and worshipped him" (Acts 10:25). Of course Peter rejected this lest it might involve divine worship. Concerning the enemies of the Philadelphian church, the Apocalypse records these words of our Lord: "I will make them of the synagogue of Satan . . . I will make them to come and worship before thy feet" (Rev. 3:9). The Revisers have a marginal note in explanation of the word "worship" in both of these Scriptures: "The Greek word denotes an act of reverence, whether paid to a creature or to the Creator." There are many examples in the Bible of this Eastern custom of bowing in varying degrees of intensity (cf. Gen. 18:2, 3; Gen. 23:7, 12; Matt. 18:26; Rev. 19:10).
Upon entering an Arab house or a Bedouin tent, the greetings used are something like this: The host will say: "Salam alakum," which means, "Peace be on you." The guest will respond with the words: "Wa alakum es-salam," meaning, "And on you peace." Knowing that these Arabic customs date back for centuries, how significant then are the instructions of Jesus to his disciples, who were to be entertained in certain homes: "And into whatsoever house ye enter, first say, Peace be to this house, and if the son of peace be there, your peace shall rest upon it: if not, it shall turn to you again" (Luke 10:5, 6).
Guests in Holy Land homes expect to be kissed as they enter. When entertained by a Pharisee, Jesus commented on his reception by saying to him, "Thou gavest me no kiss" (Luke 7:45). The difference between the Oriental and the Occidental way of greeting each other is made clear by one who lived in Palestine many years.
Here men shake hands when they meet and greet, but in Palestine, instead of doing this, they place their right hand on their friend's left shoulder and kiss his right cheek, and then reversing the action, place their left hand on his right shoulder, and kiss his left cheek. In this country men never kiss each other's faces; there it may be constantly seen. But how the practice lights up the numerous allusions in Scripture which are naturally lost to a Westerner! Once grasp the fact that their kiss answers to our hearty handshake between friends and social equals, and how much-how very much- becomes plain that was before obscure!
Scriptural examples of men kissing men might be multiplied. Jacob kissed his father (Gen. 27:27). Esau kissed Jacob (Gen. 33:4). Joseph kissed his brothers (Gen. 45:15). Jacob kissed the sons of Joseph (Gen. 48:10). Aaron kissed Moses (Exod. 4:27). Moses kissed Jethro (Exod. 18:7). David and Jonathan kissed each other (1Sam. 20:41). The Father kissed the Prodigal (Luke 15:20). The elders of Miletus kissed Paul (Acts 20:37). This custom is frequent in the Orient in modern times.
Removing the shoes
Upon entering a house to be entertained, a guest does as all Orientals would do, he takes off his boots, shoes, or slippers before entering a room. This becomes necessary since they sit on a mat, rug, or divan, with their feet beneath them, and shoes would soil the couch and the clothes, and would also make a very uncomfortable seat. The idea of defilement from the shoes led to the custom of removing the shoes upon entering sacred places. Thus at the burning bush the Lord told Moses, "Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground" (Exod. 3:5).
The guest given a drink of water
One of the first things done for a guest who has been received, is to offer him a drink of water. The doing of this is recognizing him as being worthy of peaceful reception. Thus to give a drink of water is the simplest way to pledge friendship with a person. When Eliezer, Abraham's servant, sought a welcome, he did so by requesting of the maiden who came to the well to draw water (Gen. 24:17, 18), "Give me to drink, I pray thee, a little water of thy pitcher." And when she made answer, "Drink, my lord," it was an indication that he was welcome to be a guest at the nearby home. With this significance attached to a drink of water, the promise of Jesus takes on new meaning (Mark 9:41), "Whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward. "
The guest served a meal
The sharing of food is in the East a very special act of hospitality. It means far more than it means in the West. It is a way of making a covenant of peace and fidelity. When Abimelech wanted a permanent covenant with Isaac, the confirmation of that covenant came when Isaac "made them a feast, and they did eat and drink" (Gen. 26:30).
An Oriental considers as sacred the expression, "bread and salt." When it is said, "There is bread and salt between us" it is the same as saying, "We are bound together by a solemn covenant." A foe will not "taste the salt" of his adversary unless he is ready to be reconciled to him.
In some rural districts of Syria today there is a custom that a person on a mission of importance will not eat bread and salt of his host until first the purpose of his errand is made known. They think that the covenant of "bread and salt" must not be entered into until the attitude of the host is known regarding the mission of the guest. Thus Abraham's servant refused to eat at the table of Laban, until first he made known his mission of seeking a wife for Isaac (Gen. 24:33).
Dr. Thomson, Syrian missionary, was once guest in a Bedouin sheik's tent. The host dipped a bit of bread in some grape molasses and gave it to the missionary for him to eat. Then he said to him, "We are now brethren. There is bread and salt between us. We are brothers and allies." When the Gibeonites sought a covenant of friendship with Israel in the days of Joshua, it was said that the Israelites "took of their victuals, and asked not counsel at the mouth of the Lord" (Josh. 9:14). Once having entered into this covenant, Israel was bound to keep it.
The guest made lord of the house
An Eastern proverb runs thus: "The guest while in the house is its lord." This is a true statement of the spirit of the hospitality of the East. One of the first greetings a Palestinian host will give his guest is to say, "Hadtha beitak," i.e., "This is your house." This saying is repeated many times. Thus actually the guest during his stay is master of the house. And whenever the guest asks a favor, in granting it the host will say, "You do me honor."
There must have been the same attitude between host and guest in the days of Lot. The host was considered to be a servant, and the guest was lord. Thus Lot spoke of himself and his guests: "Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant's house" (Gen. 19:2).
Privacy not expected by the guest
An Oriental guest would think he was ill-treated if he were left alone at any time. He does not need privacy at night, because he sleeps with his clothes on. He is happy to have others sleep with him. If a sleeping place is assigned to him in an upper room, then some of the family sons sleep alongside of him that he might have their companionship. He would feel he was being deserted if treated the way he would be if entertained in the West, just as a Westerner would feel oppressed by the constant attentions of an Oriental host.
Protecting a guest
In the lands of the East, when a host accepts a man to be his guest he thereby agrees at whatever the cost to defend his guest from all possible enemies during the time of his entertainment. Dr. Cyrus Hamlin, an American missionary in the East, was entertained by a governor. The host took a piece of roast mutton and handed it to the missionary, saying as he did so, "Now do you know what I have done?" In answering his own question he went on to say: "By that act I have pledged you every drop of my blood, that while you are in my territory no evil shall come to you. For that space of time we are brothers." The Psalmist felt utterly secure, though he had enemies close by him, when he knew that God was his host. "Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies" (Psa. 23:5).
The abuse of hospitality
Among Eastern nations it is considered a terrible sin indeed for anybody who has accepted hospitality from a host to turn against him in the doing of an evil deed. This feeling goes back to very ancient times and is often alluded to by various writers. The prophet Obadiah refers to this sin: "The men that were at peace with thee have deceived thee . . . They that eat thy bread have laid a wound under thee" (Obad. 1:7). The Psalmist David speaks of this terrible evil, "Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me (Psa. 41:9). And the Lord Jesus quotes this very passage from the Psalms as having its fulfillment in the treachery of Judas the betrayer, who ate at the same table with Him (John 13:18).
Shepherd life; the care of sheep and goats
Sheep in the land of israel
LARGE NUMBER OF SHEEP IN PALESTINE. From the days of Abraham down to modern times, sheep have abounded in the Holy Land. The Arabs of Bible lands have largely been dependent through the centuries upon sheep for their living. The Jews of Bible times were first shepherds and then farmers, but they never abandoned entirely their shepherd life. The large number of sheep in the land can be understood when it is realized that Job had fourteen thousand sheep (Job. 42:12), and that King Solomon at the Temple's dedication, sacrificed one hundred and twenty thousand sheep (1Kings 8:63).
Fat-tailed sheep the variety mostly in use
The fat tail provides reserve strength for the sheep, much like the hump does on a camel. There is energy in the tail. When the sheep is butchered, this fatty tail is quite valuable. People will buy the tail, or part of it, and use it for frying. That this variety of sheep was in use in ancient times is seen by references in the Pentateuch to the fat tail of the sheep. "Also thou shalt take of the ram the fat, and the fat tail, and the fat that covereth the inwards" (Exod. 29:22, A. R. V.). "The fat tail entire, he shall take away hard by the backbone" (Lev. 3:9, A. R. V.).
Youngest boy often the shepherd
The youngest boy in the family becomes shepherd of the sheep, especially when the Arab peasant is a shepherd as well as being a farmer of grain. As the older son grows up he transfers his energies from sheep raising to helping the father with sowing, plowing, and harvesting the crops, and passes on the shepherd's task to the next younger boy. And so the job is passed from older to younger until the youngest of all becomes the family shepherd. Such must have been the custom when Jesse raised his family of eight sons. "And Samuel said unto Jesse, Are here all thy children? And he said, There remaineth yet the youngest, and behold, he keepeth the sheep" (1Sam. 16:11). David, being the youngest of eight sons, became the family shepherd. His experiences as a shepherd lad were often used to illustrate his beautiful psalms. His Shepherd Psalm has become the classic of the ages.
The shepherd's garb
The dress of an Arab shepherd lad is a simple tunic of cotton that is girded around his body by a leathern girdle, and his outer garment, called aba , is often of camel's hair, like that of John the Baptist (Matt. 3:4). The aba keeps the boy warm, is able to shed the rain, and at night is used as a blanket in which to wrap himself.
The shepherds scrip
This is a bag made of dried skin. When he leaves home to go and tend the sheep, his mother will put into it some bread, cheese, dried fruit, and probably some olives . It was into this bag that David placed the five smooth stones when he went to battle with the giant Goliath (1Sam. 17:40).
The shepherd's rod
It is like a policeman's club. It is often made of oak wood and has a knob on the end of it. Into this knob nails are sometimes driven so as to make a better weapon. It is very useful for protection, and no shepherd would be without it. It was no doubt the rod that David used in protecting his sheep from wild animals (1Sam. 17:34-36). He mentions both the rod and the staff in his Shepherd Psalm (Psa. 23:4).
The prophet Ezekiel refers to the custom of the sheep passing under the shepherd's rod for the purpose of counting or inspecting them. "I will cause you to pass under the rod" (Ezek. 20:37). The law of Moses speaks of tithing the flock for a specific purpose at such a time. "And concerning the tithe of the herd, or of the flock, even of whatsoever passeth under the rod, the tenth shall be holy unto the Lord" (Lev. 27:32). To do this Jewish writers tell us that the shepherd allowed the animals to come by him as they would under the rod at a narrow entrance. The head of the rod was dipped into some coloring fluid and was allowed to come down upon every tenth one that passed by, thus marking him as the one to be given to the Lord for sacrificial purposes.
The scepter , which the ancient kings of the East usually had with them, had its origin in the shepherds rod . Kings were considered to be shepherds of their people. Thus the scepter, or rod, of the king became a symbol of protection, power, and authority. Young translates Micah 7:14: "Rule thou thy people with thy rod, the flock of thine inheritance."
The shepherd's staff
David mentions the staff along with the rod in his Shepherd Psalm (Psa. 23:4.). It is a stick five or six feet long and sometimes but not always has a crook at the end of it. It is used like Western men would use a cane or walking stick. It is useful in handling the sheep, and also for protection.
The shepherd's sling
It was a simple affair, being composed of two strings of sinew, rope, or leather, and a receptacle of leather to receive the stone. It was swung a time or two around the head and then was discharged by letting go one of the strings. The shepherd, in addition to using his sling against wild animals or robbers, found it very handy in directing the sheep. A stone could be dropped close to a sheep that was lagging behind and startle it into coming along with the rest of the flock. Or if one would get away in another direction, then a stone would be slung so as to drop just beyond the straying sheep, and thus bring him back. It was the shepherd's sling that young David used in slaying the giant Goliath (1Sam. 17:40-49). In her plea to David, Abigail was no doubt contrasting two items of his shepherd's equipment when she said, "The soul of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of life with the Lord thy God; and the souls of thine enemies, them shall he sling out, as out of the middle of a sling" (1Sam. 25:29). The "bundle of life" could be translated either "the pouch of life," or "the bag of life," and most probably refers to the shepherd's scrip. David's enemies were to be like the stones in his sling, being that which was to be thrown away; whereas David's soul would be like the provisions in his scrip, which were to be kept and guarded by the Lord himself.
The shepherd's flute
A dual-piped flute of reed is generally carried by the Arab shepherd. It is true that minor strains of music come from this flute, but the heart of the shepherd is stirred, and the sheep of the flock are refreshed by the invigorating music that comes from this simple instrument. There can be little question but that David used such an instrument when he was with his flock, in the same way the shepherd lads have done for centuries around Bethlehem. It is of interest to know that the word in the Arabic language which is the equivalent of the Hebrew word for "Psalm" is mazmoor , which means "played on a pipe or flute."
Food planned for the flock
One of the principal duties at all seasons of the year is for the shepherd to plan food for his flock. In the springtime there is an abundance of green pasture, and usually the sheep are allowed to graze near to the village where the shepherd's home is located. After the grain is reaped, and the poor have had an opportunity to glean what is left for them, then the shepherd brings in his flock, and the sheep feed on certain fresh growths, or dried blades, or an occasional ear of grain that the reapers may have left, or was overlooked by the gleaners. When this source of food is exhausted then the pasture is sought in other places. The wilderness of Judea which is located along the western side of the Jordan Valley is carpeted in the spring with a certain amount of grass and this turns into standing hay as the hot weather comes, and this becomes food for the sheep during part of the summer.
Scripture often refers to shepherds looking for pasture for their flocks. "And they went to the entrance of Gedor, even unto the east side of the valley, to seek pasture for their flocks" (1Chron. 4:39). The Psalmist thanks God for the pasturage which the Lord as Shepherd provides for His people: "So we thy people and sheep of thy pasture will give thee thanks for ever" (Psa. 79:13).
In the late autumn or winter months, there are times when the shepherd can find no pasturage that is available for his flock, and then he must become responsible for feeding the animals himself. If the flock is small there may be times when it is stabled within the peasant house, and the family lives on a sort of mezzanine floor above it. At, such seasons of the year the shepherd must provide the food. This is what Isaiah meant when he said: "He shall feed his flock like a shepherd" (Isa. 40:11). In some sections of Syria, flocks are taken at this season to places in the mountain country, where the shepherd busies himself with the bushy trees, cutting down branches that have green leaves or tender twigs, that the sheep and goats can eat. Micah was probably speaking of this custom of providing food for the sheep, when he said: "Feed thy people with thy rod, the flock of thine heritage" (Micah 7:14).
Water provided for the flock
In selecting pasturage for the flock, it is an absolute necessity that water be provided, and that it be easy of access. Often flocks are stationed near to a stream of running water. But the sheep are apt to be afraid of drinking water that moves quickly, or that is agitated. Therefore the shepherd looks for pools of water, or provides some quiet place where they may quench their thirst. How appropriate then are the words concerning the divine Shepherd: "He leadeth me beside the still waters" (Psa. 23:2). But when all such watering places are dried up in the heat of summer, as is often the case in Palestine, then wells are used. Usually a large rock is placed over the mouth of the well and this must be removed, as Jacob did, before the sheep can be watered (Gen. 29:8-10). Noontide is usually the time for watering the sheep. When Jacob was at the well, he said, "Lo, it is yet high day ... water ye the sheep" (Gen. 29:7). The matter of water supply plays an important part in locating the flock for pasturage.
A simple improvised sheepfold
Such is sometimes made by the shepherd when he is a distance from his home, or especially when he may be in the territory of mountains. It is a temporary affair that can be taken down easily when it comes time to move on to another location. A fence is built of tangled thorn bushes or rude bowers. This is all the protection that is needed, as the shepherds often sleep with their flocks when the weather permits. Ezekiel mentions such a sheepfold when he predicts the future of Israel: "I will feed them in a good pasture, and upon the high mountains of Israel shall their fold be" (Ezek. 34:14) .
Sheep in Palestine and vicinity have always been valuable because of the important products that are derived from them.
Wool has been a valuable product in Bible lands. In ancient times most of the clothing which the Israelites wore was made of wool. The large outer garment or mantle was usually woolen. The shearing months in Palestine are May and June. The sheep are washed before they are sheared. Solomon's Song speaks of "a flock of ewes that are newly shorn, which are come up from the washing" (Cant. 4:2, A. R. V.). The color of the wool varies somewhat according to the color of the animal shorn, but white wool is considered to be most valuable. The prophet compares sins forgiven with the whiteness of wool (Isa. 1:18).
From ancient times to modern days it has often been customary for pastoral people to make for themselves coats out of the skins of the sheep with wool still adhering to the skins. The Epistle to the Hebrews tells of the persecuted heroes of faith, saying of some of them that they "wandered about in sheepskins" (Heb. 11:37). The skin of sheep was at times tanned and then used as leather, but the skin of the goats was superior to that of sheep for this purpose.
Sheep for meat or sacrificial purposes
Sheep were often eaten when meat was desired. For the ordinary person, meat was not on the daily menu, but was only used on special occasions of rejoicing, as when a feast was prepared, a wedding supper, or when a guest of honor was being entertained. The animal was usually cooked as soon as it was killed, and then was often boiled, although sometimes it was roasted.
The sheep was used in Bible times more than any other animal for sacrificial purposes. A young male lamb was used in most cases as a thanksgiving offering, as atonement for transgression, or as redemption of a more valuable animal. The offering of the Passover Lamb was the most important religious act of the year. This lamb had to be a male, which was selected after minute examination, in order that it be free from any blemish, and it was to be a first year lamb. It was killed on the fourteenth of the month Abib (after the Babylonian captivity Nisan, about the equivalent of our April), and the blood was sprinkled with hyssop. In Egypt the blood was sprinkled on the lintels and doorposts of the houses, but in Canaan it was sprinkled on the altar. The meat was roasted with fire, rather than boiled, and not a bone was broken, as was customary when it was boiled. It was eaten by the entire household in the spirit of haste, as if a journey was being started. Anything left of it was burned with fire, and not left over for the next day. The Feast of the Passover was the most important of all the Jewish annual feasts, and formed the background for the Christian ordinance of the Lord's Supper (cf. Exod. 12; Lev. 23:5 f.; Matt. 26:17-29).
Milk from the sheep is especially rich, and in the Orient is considered to be of more value than that of the cattle. Milk is seldom drunk in its fresh condition, but rather is made into "leben," or into cheese. Buttermilk is also much used.
The horns of the rams are considered to be of great value. In many Western lands, growers of sheep have endeavored to develop a hornless breed, but in the East the horns are thought of as an important part of the animal. The ram's horn has been used chiefly as a vessel in which liquids have been carried. For carrying purposes a wooden plug is driven into the large end of the horn so as to close it, and sometimes it is covered with raw hide to hold it in place. The small part of the pointed end of the horn is cut off, and the opening closed with a stopper. The ram's horn was used in Bible times to carry oil. Samuel was told to take his horn of oil and anoint David to be the future king (1Sam. 16:1). Solomon was anointed king by the oil in the horn of Zadok the priest (1Kings 1:39). Reference has already been made to the shepherd's use of oil with his sheep, and this was carried in a ram's horn.
The ram's horn was also made into a trumpet and has been called by the Jews, Shofar . The Mosaic Law called for the sounding of rams' horns at certain times. Each year of Jubilee was ushered in by the blowing of these horns. "Then shalt thou cause the trumpet of the jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month, in the day of atonement shall ye make the trumpet sound throughout all your land" (Lev. 25:9). In connection with the Feast of Trumpets there was to be "a day of blowing the trumpets" (Num. 29:1). The most famous use of the rams' horns was in connection with the encircling and destruction of the city of Jericho by Joshua's army. "And seven priests shall bear before the ark seven trumpets of rams' horns; and the seventh day ye shall compass the city seven times, and the priests shall blow with the trumpets" (Josh. 6:4). The trumpets were also used as signals to gather the people (Jer. 4:5).
The ram's horn trumpet measures about eighteen inches long and is in one piece. It is made from the left horn of the fat-tailed sheep, which is "not spiral but flattish, curved backwards, and forming nearly a circle, the point passing under the ear. This structure, added to the large size of the horn, adapts it well for its purpose. In order to bring it to the proper shape, the horn is softened by heat (i.e. hot water) and then modeled into the very form which was used by the Jewish priests."
Care Of Goats-leadership Ability
There are many goats being cared for by Bible land shepherds. A shepherd looks after them much as he would care for a flock of sheep. Sometimes the goats belong to one flock along with the sheep, and in this case:
It is usually a he-goat that is the special leader of the whole (Jer. 50:8; Prov. 30:31), walking before it as gravely as a sexton before the white flock of a church choir. It is from this custom that Isaiah speaks of kings as "the he-goats of the earth" (Isa. 14:9, A. R. V., M.), a name applied to them by Zechariah also (Zech. 10:3), and to Alexander the Great by Daniel, who describes him as a he-goat from the west, with a notable horn between his eyes (Dan. 8:5): a fitting symbol of his irresistible power at the head of the Macedonian army.
How goats differ from sheep
Most of the Palestinian and Syrian sheep are white, whereas most of the goats are black. The goats like the slopes of the rocky mountains, whereas the sheep prefer the plains or mountain valleys. The goats are especially fond of young leaves of trees, but the sheep would rather have grass. Goats will feed during all the day without the heat of summer affecting them; but when the sunshine is hot, the sheep will lie down under a tree, or in the shade of a rock, or in a rude shelter prepared by the shepherd for that purpose. Song of Solomon makes mention of this rest time for the sheep: "Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon" (Cant. 1:7). The goats are bolder, more venturesome, more playful, more apt to clamber to dangerous places, more apt to break into the grainfields, more headstrong, more vigorous, and more difficult to control than are the sheep.
Use of goat's milk
The milk derived from goats is especially excellent and rich. Most of the "leben" used today and in Bible times is made from goat's milk. Buttermilk and cheese are also utilized as milk products. The book of Proverbs speaks of the importance of goat's milk to the Hebrew people: "Thou shalt have goat's milk enough for thy food, for the food of thy household, and for the maintenance of thy maidens" (Prov. 27:27).
Use of the meat of kids
The meat of an adult male goat is of course rather tough, and so not ordinarily used. The female goats are seldom killed because they are needed to increase the flock. Thus it is the meat of the young male kid that is largely used in Bible lands. In Old Testament times, when visitors were entertained, often a kid was made ready for the meal (cf. Judges 6:19). The prevalence of the flesh of kids in Christ's day is brought out by the reference of the Prodigal's brother. "And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends" (Luke 15:29). There is sarcasm in this reproval, for the kid was of less value at a banquet than would have been a lamb, and considerably inferior to the fatted calf , which was killed and served on only special occasions to do honor to a very special guest. The brother was objecting to the father serving the fatted calf at the banquet honoring the return of the Prodigal, whereas he as the elder brother had not been given even a kid to make merry with his friends.
Use of goats' hair and goats' skin
The hair of the goat was considered to be of great value to the Hebrew people. When the materials were brought for the construction of the Tabernacle in the Wilderness, only the finest and the costliest that could be obtained were accepted; and goats' hair was included in the list of materials the children of Israel offered unto the Lord. See (Exod. 35:23). Tabernacle curtains were made of goats' hair (Exod. 26:7). The tents of the Bedouin Arabs are made of goats' hair, just as were similar dwellings in Old and New Testament times. Goats' skins have been used widely in Bible lands for leather, and are considered to be better for this purpose than the skin of sheep. This leather is used in making the Oriental "bottle" for carrying or storing water or other liquids.
Use of goats for sacrifices
The Levitical Code often allowed the Hebrews a choice of a sheep or of a goat for the offering. "If his offering be of the flocks, namely, of the sheep, or of the goats, for a burnt sacrifice" (Lev. 1:10). On the Day of Atonement, it was required that a goat be sacrificed by the high priest, and that another goat should be "the scapegoat." "And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness" (Lev. 16:22). Moses had ordered that the scapegoat should be taken out into the wilderness and turned loose. But in order to prevent its return to Jerusalem, it became customary to lead the creature to the height of a mountain, where it was pushed over and would be certainly killed. This was the symbol of the forgiveness of sin through the sacrifice of Christ. Although John the Baptist spoke of Jesus as the Lamb of God, he may have had in mind also the picture of the scapegoat when he said: "Behold, that is God's Lamb, who takes and bears away the sin of the world" (John 1:29, Centenary, Montgomery).
Growing and harvesting grain
THE NUMEROUS REFERENCES to the growth of grain, which are found in the law of Moses, indicate that it was expected that the Israelites would become an agricultural people after entering the land of Canaan, and that the cultivation of grain would become one of their chief industries. It is a remarkable fact that the methods used by them in growing and harvesting this crop are, virtually the same as those that have been used by the Palestinian Arab peasants for centuries down to the present day.
Waiting for rain before beginning to plough
In Palestine, ploughing is done after the early rains have softened the earth (cf. Psa. 65:10). These rains usually come the latter part of October or the first part of November. If they do not come then, the farmer must wait for them before he can plough his ground. Job said, "They waited for me as for the rain" (Job 29:23). Jeremiah described lack of rain thus: "There was no rain in the earth, the ploughmen were ashamed, they covered their heads" (Jer. 14:4). Once the rain has come, the industrious farmer will start his ploughing. "The sluggard will not plough by reason of the cold" (Prov. 20:4). Such a man will retreat into his home and enjoy the warmth of his fire, but he will miss the harvest. Dr. Thomson tells of one year when the farmers waited until the month of February for sufficient rain to enable them to plough the ground for the grain crop. The harvest came late, but was abundant.
Getting ready for ploughing
The farmer gets ready for ploughing after the first rain starts falling, if he has not already done so before. He will spend the time making sure that his plough is in good repair and ready for action. He may need to cut and point a new goad to use in prodding his team of oxen. He must also see to it that his yoke is smooth and fits the necks of the animals. An ill-shaped or heavy yoke would gall them. The Lord Jesus spoke of "the easy yoke" promised to His obedient followers (Matt. 11:30). When the ground has been softened sufficiently by the rain, then the ploughing can begin.
One type of Syrian or Palestinian plough is made up of two wooden beams which are joined together, and at the front end it is hooked to a yoke, and at the rear end it is fastened to a crosspiece, the upper part of which serves as the handle, and the lower part holds the iron ploughshare or colter. Even today many may be seen in Bible lands plowing with what we might term a "forked stick." Bible writers often mention iron ploughshares (1Sam. 13:20, etc.). These ploughs could without much work be changed into swords for warfare. Thus the prophet Joel said: "Beat your ploughshares into swords" (Joel 3:10). Exactly the reverse of this prophecy was suggested by both the prophets Isaiah and Micah in predicting the Golden Age (Isa. 2:4; Micah 4:3).
The yoke is a rude stick that fits the necks of the cattle. Two straight sticks project down each side, and a cord at the end of these sticks and underneath the cattle's necks holds the yoke on the necks. These yokes of wood are often spoken of in the Scriptures (Jer. 28:13, etc.).
A goad is carried by the native ploughman today, and was also used in Bible times. It is a wooden rod varying in length from five to seven feet, with a sharp point at one end. With this the farmer can hurry up his slow-moving animals. It was such an ox-goad that was used by Shamgar in slaying six hundred Philistines (Judges 3:31). The conviction of sin that came to Saul of Tarsus and led to his conversion was compared to the pricks of an oxgoad: "It is hard for thee to kick against the goad" (Acts 26:14, A. R. V.).
Use of oxen
In Bible times oxen were used almost exclusively for ploughing. For this reason the expression " a yoke" was used by the Hebrews to mean the measure of land which a yoke of oxen could plough in a day (cf. 1Sam. 14:14, and Isa. 5:10). "Oxen" as the Hebrews used the term, meant both sexes of the animal, cows being used as well as bulls for purposes of draught, but the latter were castrated. This explains the reason for the law specifying concerning a heifer to be used for sacrificial purposes, that it be one "upon which never came yoke" (Num. 19:2). The law of Moses forbade ploughing with an ox and an ass yoked together (Deut. 22:10). The Apostle Paul spoke of "the unequal yoke" in connection with partnership between believers and unbelievers (2Cor. 6:14) Today, the Arabs usually make use of oxen in ploughing, but sometimes utilize camels, and occasionally yoke together an ox and a donkey, or a camel and a donkey.
The ploughing of the ground in Oriental fashion is quite primitive. The plough, which at best is a slight implement, can be carried if necessary two miles to the farmer's place of work. Of course by comparison with modern ploughs, it could be said merely to scratch the surface of the soil. The ploughman holds the one handle of the plough with one of his hands, while he carries the goad in the other hand, with which to prod the animals. Jesus said, "No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62). He described the operation accurately in saying hand, i.e. one hand , rather than two hands, as is the case with a Western farmer. It would be fatal for the Palestinian farmer to look back, because his implement is so light that the worker often has to press down with all his weight upon it to keep it from leaving the furrow.
The Eastern farmers will sometimes plough together, each man having his own plough and team of oxen, and one following close behind the preceding one. This sort of farmer's club is adopted as a protection from roving Bedouin robbers, and also because co-operation is desired when the wheat farms are large. Thus Elisha was found ploughing with eleven other ploughmen and a total of twenty-four oxen (1Kings 19:19).
Use of pickax or mattock
Where the ground is hard, or on the rocky hillside, it is not possible to use the plough. In such places, if the peasant farmer is industrious, he will prepare the soil by using the pickax or mattock. Isaiah speaks of "hills that shall be digged with the mattock" (Isa. 7:25). By using such an implement, all the available ground is utilized for the crop."
Kinds of grain sown
There are various kinds of grain used in the Orient. The word " corn," as used in English translations of the Bible, is actually the family name for cereal grains , because the "maize" or "Indian corn" of modern days was doubtless unknown to Bible writers. The two principal (grains cultivated in ancient Palestine were wheat and barley. There is one mention in the Old Testament of the use of millet (Ezek. 4:9). The Revisers in the A. R. V. have changed the word "rye" in Exodus 9:32 and Isaiah 28:25 to mean "spelt." In modern times, both rice and maize or Indian corn are used in Palestine, although the former is largely imported.
How and when the seed is sown
The farmer usually carries his seed to his field in a large sack on the back of his donkey, and then the leather bag which he carries under his arm is replenished with seed from the sack. As a rule, the seed is scattered broadcast on the ground, and then it is covered over by the ploughing. Often the sower walks along, scattering his seed, and then one of his family, or a servant if he has one, follows directly with the plough. The Biblical word "to sow," as used in the Pentateuch (Gen. 26:12; Lev. 25:3, etc.), means, "to scatter seed."
Rain and the maturing of the crops
The Palestine grainfields are largely dependent upon the rain that falls, for their fruitfulness. No rain falls in the land from May to September. The former rain , spoken of in Scripture, falls in the latter part of October or the first part of November usually. It is this rain that is the signal for the farmer to begin his ploughing and plant his seed. The Bible also speaks of the latter rain , which ordinarily falls in March and April, and it is this rain that is of so much value in maturing the barley and the wheat crops. The heavy winter rains come the latter part of December and during January and February. The prophecy of Joel mentions all three of these kinds of rain: "And he will cause to come down for you the rain, the former rain, and the latter rain in the first month" (Joel 2:23). The word rain here means heavy, gushing rain that falls in winter months, and the rainy season starts with the former rain in the fall, and ends with the latter rain in the spring. Barley harvest is usually in April and May, and wheat harvest in May and June. Thus we see that Jeremiah was quite correct in his order of seasons in relation to the harvest time, when he said: "The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved" (Jer. 8:20).
Cutting the ripened grain
The ripe grain is cut with a sickle. In early times sickles were made of flint, which material was abundant and therefore cheap. In later periods there were some made of bronze or of iron, but the former were more prevalent in all periods. The flint was at first set in the jaw-bone of an animal, or in a curved piece of wood. The prophet Jeremiah speaks of "him that handleth the sickle in the time of harvest"
(Jer. 50:16). And the prophet Joel commands: "Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe" (Joel 3:13).
Binding the grain into sheaves
The cut grain is gathered on the arms and bound into sheaves. The Psalmist makes reference to the mower filling his hand, and the binder of sheaves filling his bosom (Psa. 129:7). And Song of Solomon speaks of an heap of wheat (Cant. 7:2), and Joseph in his dream saw "binding sheaves in the field" (Gen. 37:7). Thus the cut grain was gathered in the arms and bound into sheaves.
Transportation of grain to the threshing floor
The usual method of transporting the grain to the threshing floor is as follows: two large bundles of the grain are made secure by a network of rope and then placed a few feet apart. Then a camel is made to kneel in the space between them, and then the bundles are fastened to the animal's packsaddle. The driver gives his signal, and the camel rises and begins to march off to the threshing floor, which is usually located not far from the village. Here he kneels again and is relieved of his burden of grain, and goes back for another load. When a camel was to be had, this was the method of transportation that was doubtless used in Bible times. Otherwise the much, used donkey was utilized for the purpose. When sheaves of grain are loaded on the donkey, a sort of cradle is suspended to the flat saddle, and the cut grain is thrown over this and tied by a rope . The brothers of Joseph used asses to carry sacks of grain and also straw for them to eat (Gen. 42:26, 27).
A typical Oriental threshing floor has been described by Thomson thus:
The construction of the floors is very simple. A circular space, from thirty to fifty feet in diameter, is made level, if not naturally so, and the ground is smoothed off and beaten solid, that the earth may not mingle with the grain in threshing. In time, the floors, especially on the mountains, are covered with a tough, hard sward, the prettiest, and often the only, green plots about the village, and there the traveller delights to pitch his tent. Daniel calls them summer threshing floors; and this is the most appropriate name for them, since they are only used in that season of the year.
Methods of threshing
Three methods of threshing were in use in ancient times, and in some places in the East today. (1) A flail was used for threshing small quantities of grain. Ruth must have used such a wooden instrument. "And beat out that she had gleaned: and it was about an ephah of barley" (Ruth 2:17). And without doubt Gideon was also using such an instrument when he was threshing a small amount of wheat secretly, for fear of the enemy. "Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites" (Judges 6:11, A. R. V.).
(2) A threshing instrument was often used.Picture: Threshing Grain One type that has been used in Bible lands in modern days, is composed of two wooden planks joined together, about three feet wide and six feet long, and underneath has rows of cut square holes, and sharp stones or pieces of metal are driven into these. Isaiah well describes such a threshing instrument: "Behold, I will make thee a new sharp threshing instrument having teeth" (Isa. 41:15, A. R. V.). This threshing board is pulled by the oxen over the grain, and the thresher sits or stands upon the instrument, with his goad in his hand to hurry up the animals. Another type of threshing instrument takes the form of a small wagon with low cylindrical wheels that serve as saws. The prophet must have been thinking of this sort of instrument when he mentioned "the cart wheel" in connection with the threshing activity of the farmer (Isa. 28:27, 28).
(3) The oxen alone were driven over the grain in order to thresh it. This method was the most common method used by the Jews in Old Testament times. The animals were turned over the layer of grain as it lay upon the threshing floor, and their hoofs did the work of threshing. Many of the Fellahin today will say that this is the best way of threshing. "This must have been the same in Bible days, for the Hebrew verb 'to thresh' is doosh , which has as its root-meaning 'to trample down', 'to tread under foot'" (cf. Job 39:15; Dan. 7:23).
The oxen not muzzled while threshing
Even today the Arab peasant farmer does not muzzle his oxen while they are treading the grain on the threshing floor. He says it would be a great sin to do so. This agrees with the teaching of the Mosaic Law. "Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn [grain]" (Deut. 25:4). The Apostle Paul quotes this Scripture to enforce his argument that "the laborer is worthy of his hire" (1Cor. 9:9; 1Tim. 5:18).
What the threshing process accomplishes
What happens has been described as follows:
As these heavy sledges are drawn over the layer of straw and ears, they rub out the grain. This by its form and weight, sinks immediately through the straw, and thus escapes being hurt. The straw, which by its lightness remains on the surface, is slowly broken and crushed into tiny pieces. Thus a double process goes on by means of this simple but effective treatment. Not only is the corn threshed out, but the straw is at the same time prepared for cattle and camel fodder. In this crushed state it is called "teben" and is used to mix with the barley with which all their animals are fed, just as we mix chopped hay with oats; but this crushing is far superior to our chopping as a means of preparing cattle food.
Winnowing the grain
Winnowing was accomplished by the use of either a broad shovel or of a wooden fork which had bent prongs. With this instrument, the mass of chaff, straw, and grain was thrown against the wind. Because there was generally a breeze blowing in the evening, this was the time when it was normally done. So Naom I Said to Ruth concerning Boaz: "Behold, he winnoweth barley tonight in the threshing floor" (Ruth 3:2).
When the Bible speaks of the farmer's fan, it does not mean that some instrument was used to increase the wind. Rather, the fan was the shovel or wooden fork used when unseparated grain and straw was thrown against the wind. The prophet Jeremiah tells of God using a fan to winnow His people Israel: I have winnowed them with a fan in the gates of the land" (Jer. 15:7, A. R. V.).
When the grain and straw, not as yet separated, are thrown into the air, the wind causes the mass of material to fall as follows: Since the grain is the heaviest, it naturally falls beneath the fan. The straw is blown to the side into a heap, and the lighter chaff and the dust are carried beyond into a flattened windrow. This gave to the Psalmist his figure: "The ungodly are not so, but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away" (Psa. 1:4). The chaff is burned as Scripture often indicates. "And the flame consumeth the chaff" (Isa. 5:24). John the Baptist was familiar with the winnowing process and the burning of the chaff. He said: "Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (Matt. 3:12; Luke 3:17).
Dr. Lambie reports seeing an additional process used by Bible land Arabs. After being thrown against the wind, the grain is placed on a rock and the farmer uses a http://126.96.36.199/~bible/reference/m&c/m_c139.html (1 of 2) [27/06/2004 11:20:04 p.m.] Manners and Customs of Bible La mat about eighteen inches square with which to fan the grain, while a helper keeps turning it over, in order to get rid of any remaining chaff. There is no definite reference to such a practice in the Bible, but it is possible this method may have been used in olden times as an additional means of cleaning the grain, or perhaps it was employed when the winds were quiet.
Sifting the grain
When the winnowing process is over, then comes the sifting of the grain. The wheat or barley will still be more or less mixed with certain amounts of chaff, little stones, and perhaps some tares. Sifting is therefore necessary before the grain can be ground into meal. This is the task of the women. The sifter seats herself on the floor, and shakes the sieve which contains the grain, until the chaff begins to appear on the top, and this is blown away by lung power. The stones are removed as are also the tares. The Lord Jesus made reference to the "sifting" of Simon Peter. He said: "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not; and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren" (Luke 22:31).
Storing the grain
Smaller quantities of grain are often stored away for future use by the family, in "barrels" made of a combination of clay and wickerwork. If there is a larger quantity of grain it is sometimes placed in a dry cistern under the ground, and the location of the place is kept a secret by covering over the opening. Actually there were no flour barrels in the homes of Old Testament characters. The Revisers have correctly changed the word "barrel" to "jar." Earthenware jars were used to store grain or flour. see (1Kings 17:12, 14, 16; 1Kings 18:33, A. R. V.).
Both underground storage places for grain and buildings above ground have been in use in modern times. In the Bible, three words are used in our English translations for grain storage places: the storehouse, the garner, and the barn (Deut. 28:8; Matt. 3:12; Prov. 3:10). These places were often located below the surface of the ground, but were sometimes above ground. The barns of the rich fool Christ told about, must have been of the latter type, because he said: "I will pull down my barns and build greater" (Luke 12:18). When excavators uncovered the city of Gezer, they discovered that granaries had been important buildings in ancient times. Some of them were connected with private homes, while others were evidently public storehouses. Most of them were circular in shape, like some that have been in use on the maritime plain of Palestine in recent years. Their size varied greatly.
VARIETY OF CAMELS IN BIBLE LANDS. The Arabian or dromedary camel, which has one hump on its back, is the one in use in Syria and Palestine today, and is the kind found among the desert Arabs of the East. The Bactrian camel, that has two bumps, comes from another region altogether, and is rarely seen in Bible lands. It was the Arabian camel that was used in Bible times.
By whom the camel was used
The camel was used largely by the early Hebrew patriarchs. These men measured their wealth by the number of domestic animals they possessed, and camels were included among them. "Abram had sheep, oxen, she-asses, and camels" (Gen. 12:16). Rebekah rode on a camel on her trip to become the bride of Isaac (Gen. 24:64). "Jacob had much cattle, asses, and camels" (Gen. 30:43). It was a company of Ishmeelites with their caravan of camels that carried Joseph down into Egypt (Gen. 37:25, 28). The patriarch Job had three thousand camels before his testing experience, and this number was doubled afterwards (Job 1:3; Job 42:12).
The Hebrew people as a whole during most of the Old Testament times did not make large use of the camel. Living in hilly country, and being a pastoral and agricultural people, they did not have so much need for the camel. Their kings usually possessed camels which were used for travel and transport purposes. Thus Scripture says King David had many camels, some of which had been captured in war (1Sam. 27:9).
The camel's use of water
Surely, this animal was divinely designated for desert country. Its remarkable characteristic is of course its ability to go for a long time without drinking water. This does not mean that it can get along with less water than other animals, but simply that it has the ability to store up water in a series of cells or sacks with which its interior region is furnished. The camel is able to consume as much as nine gallons at a single drink, and this water taken in a few minutes will last it for several days. A camel that is thirsty for water has been known to scent water at a great distance, and will go at great speed to the spot where the water is located. When camel caravans unexpectedly run out of water, the men will sometimes kill one of the camels and extract from its stomach water enough to save the life of the people in the caravan.
The process of watering the camels
Genesis tells how Rebekah watered the camels of Abraham's servant: "And she hasted, and emptied her pitcher into the trough, and ran again unto the well to draw water, and drew for all his camels" (Gen. 24:20). The Bedouin Arabs of the desert do not water their camels at all in winter if their grazing is good. When the weather begins to warm up, they water them every week or nine days. As the summer becomes hotter, the camels are watered oftener, until the very hot weather when they are watered under ordinary conditions every other day. Leather buckets are usually utilized to draw the water out of the well, and a leather receptacle serves as trough, out of which the camels drink the water poured therein. This trough is supported by wooden stands, and is kept in the tent of the desert Arab ready for use when it comes time to water the camels. The camel's food . Under ordinary conditions, the camels are fed teben, which is the short straw that comes from the Oriental threshing floors. Each camel caravan will carry some of this packed closely in bags. But when on a journey and it becomes necessary, the camel often lives on what can be found by it along the way, even in desert country. It is able to make good use of the scanty herbage to be found in those regions. Under these circumstances its favorite food is a shrub that is called ghada, that has slender little green twigs. It also makes use of a thornbush which it is able to devour because it has a hard and horny palate. Camels have been known to travel for twenty days without receiving anything as food except what they discovered for themselves along the way.
The camel's feet
These are indeed made for desert traveling. They consist of two toes that are long and that rest upon hard elastic cushions that have a horny and tough sole. The soft cushions of their feet cause their tread to be as noiseless as that of a cat. Thus the camels do not sink in the desert sands, and the toughness of their feet enables them to stand the burning soil, and the stones that are often mixed with the sand.
The camel's hump
This serves important purposes. It makes it possible for the back of the animal to receive burdens that are to be transported. And the fatty matter that accumulates in the bump provides a supply of reserve energy which can be utilized by the animal as occasion demands. The condition of the bump is always examined when an Oriental buys a camel.
Mounting a camel
This is not an easy art for a Westerner to learn. It would be impossible to do this while the animal is standing, and so it is trained to kneel and stay in this position until the rider has mounted it. It is natural for the camel to kneel because it is born with warts on the legs and breast which serve as cushions to rest its weight when kneeling. When it kneels it begins by dropping on its knees, and then on the joints of the hind legs, then it drops on its breast, and finally on its hind legs that are bent. In rising, the process is reversed: the hind quarters rise first, tending to throw the rider forward, after which the front quarters rise rapidly, tending to throw the rider backward, then the forward movement of the animal would tend to throw the rider forward again. An experienced camel rider sways to and fro, yielding his body to the movements of the animal. This movement of the camel causes some inexperienced riders to have "seasickness." Most Westerners who attempt to ride the camel find the journey to be a very uncomfortable one. Abraham's servant "made his camels to kneel down without the city by a well at the time of the evening, even the time that women go out to draw water" (Gen. 24:11).
The equipment used by desert arabs for travel by camel
This includes a camel saddle which has two tall pommels in front and behind; large saddlebags that hang down on each side of the saddle, a leather apron that hangs down in front of the saddle, stretching down on the sides of the camel's neck almost to its knees; the camel stick; a leather bag containing dates; and other bags with supplies.
Camel furniture for women
Sometimes the women ride the camels in the same way that the men do, but more often a special arrangement of saddle takes care of them. "Camel furniture" was a part of Jacob's traveling equipment for his womenfolk, and when such was placed in Rachel's tent, she hid the stolen teraphim therein (Gen. 31:34, A. R. V.). They often sit in large basket-like appendages which have been slung on each side of the animal." Another common arrangement for the wives of sheiks was:
One made of two slabs, or planks of wood, about ten feet in length, which were fastened upon the frame of the saddle and at right angles to it. From the end of those, ropes were stretched over upright posts fixed above the middle of the saddle, to support an awning under which the women sat upon quilts and cushions.
Such an arrangement served the same purpose as a western umbrella.
These have been widely used in the East. Owners of camels often put various ornaments on their favorite animals. Sometimes they cover the collars with cowrie shells which are sewn on them according to a pattern. Ornaments that are crescent-shaped are sewn on red cloth and make a jingling sound with each step of the animal. Often, ornaments of silver are displayed on the camel's neck. Concerning Gideon, Scripture says: "And Gideon arose, and slew Zebah and Zalmunna, and took the crescents that were on their camels' necks (Judges 8:21, A. R. V.). Thus the camels ornaments of that day were the same as used by the Arabs of today.
The camel as a beast of burden
Through the centuries the camel has been used for carrying burdens. In the Bible, "forty camels' burden," is referred to in one passage (2Kings 8:9); and in another, bread was carried on "asses, and on camels, and on mules, and on oxen" (1Chron. 12:40). In still another, treasures were to be carried on the humps of camels (Isa. 30:6). A special packsaddle is used when the animals carry loads.
A narrow bag about eight feet long is made, and rather loosely stuffed with straw or similar material. It is then doubled, and the ends firmly sewn together, so as to form a great ring, which is placed over the hump, and forms a tolerably flat surface. A wooden framework is tied on the packsaddle, and is kept in its place by a girth and a crupper. The packages which the camel is to carry are fastened together by cords, and slung over the saddle. They are only connected by those semi-knots called "hitches," so that when the camel is to be unloaded, all that is needed is to pull the lower end of the rope, and the packages fall on either side of the animal. So quickly is the operation of loading performed, that a couple of experienced men can load a camel in very little more than a minute.
It is camel caravans that have been largely used to transport goods from one country to another in Bible lands, or to go a great distance especially in desert territory. Isaiah prophesied to the Dedanites, who were caravan merchants between the shores of the Persian Gulf and Palestine: "In the forest in Arabia shall ye lodge, O ye caravans of Dedanites" (Isa. 21:13, A. R. V.). The number of camels in a caravan in modern times has differed widely, but one writer tells of joining a caravan which was divided into four companies, and the first three of these numbered sixteen hundred camels. The usual arrangement of a caravan is a string of camels with each one tied to the one before it, and the leader of the caravan either riding on the back of, or walking by the side of a donkey. A cord from the first camel in the line, is tied to a ring that is fastened to leather strips on the hips of the donkey. Thus the camels learn to follow implicitly the donkey that heads the procession.
Various camel products
The Arab of today makes use of camel meat and camel milk. The Mosaic law forbade the Jews to use camel meat "because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof; he is unclean unto you" (Lev. 11:4). It is possible that they did use the milk, at least in patriarchal times (cf. Gen. 32:15). Camel's hair serves many purposes in the Orient. At the right season of the year it is removed in tufts and the women spin it into strong thread. Various coarse fabrics are made from this thread. The Bedouin tents are sometimes made of camels hair, as are also carpets, rugs, "abayas" or the outer garments, and other items. Matthew says of John the Baptist that he "had his raiment of camel's hair" (Matt. 3:4). The camels skin is made into leather and from this material are made sandals, leggings, and water bottles. Even the dung of camels is commonly used for fuel.
The donkey as the oriental pack animal
He has been the beast of burden from time immemorial. The packsaddle used with this animal differed somewhat according to the load being carried. When firewood was carried, a crosstree was used as a saddle. No doubt Abraham loaded his donkey in this way with wood for the sacrifice he was to make (Gen. 22:3). When sheaves of grain were carried by the donkey, a kind of cradle was either suspended to the crosstree or to the flat saddle. This saddle had as its under layer thick felt, and as its upper layer haircloth, with a padding of straw or sedges between. When sacks of grain or cut straw are carried, they are thrown over this saddle and tied with a rope going under the beast's breast. The sons of Jacob probably packed their donkeys in this way (Gen. 42:26, 27). Large baskets are used for carrying bread and other provisions. If fruit is being taken, two boxes are slung in a similar way. Jesse and Abigail doubtless packed their donkeys in such a way when they sent their presents (1Sam. 16:20; 1Sam 25:18). Children are often carried in larger boxes on the donkeys. Sacks of grain are sometimes slung across the bare back of the donkey. The Donkey Sometimes Utilized For Ploughing.
The ox has been more generally used for this purpose, but occasionally the donkey becomes the animal to pull the Oriental plough. The prophet Isaiah speaks of both the ox and the donkey being used thus: "Blessed are ye that sow beside all waters, that send forth thither the feet of the ox and the ass" (Isa. 32:20). The law of Moses forbade the mixed yoke, i.e., ploughing with an ox and a donkey together, or any other combination (cf. Deut. 22:10).
The donkey sometimes used for grinding grain
Here again, the usual method of grinding the grain is for the women to use smaller stones for their mills. The larger mill is elevated so that a single tree becomes suitable for the work. A camel may be used in place of a donkey. It was this type of a mill that the Philistines required Samson to pull (Judges 16:21). Jesus referred to this larger type of millstone when he said: "But whoso shall cause one of these little ones that believe on me to stumble, it is profitable for him that a millstone turned by an ass should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be sunk in the depth of the sea" (Matt. 18:6, A. R. V. margin). The size and weight of this stone made its illustrative use by Jesus very forceful.
The donkey used for riding
Before the tenth century B. C. it was used more than any other animal for this purpose. At that time, the mule came into use, especially among the rich, but the donkey has continued to be in use by many through the years.
Riding the donkey not considered a mark of humility
Rich people and important people rode on this animal. Of Abraham Scripture records that he "rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass" (Gen. 22:3). Concerning one of the judges it was said, "And after him arose Jair, a Gileadite, and judged Israel twenty and two years. And he had thirty sons that rode on thirty ass colts, and they had thirty cities" (Judges 10:3, 4). Also Achsah, the daughter of Caleb (Judges 1:14), and Abigail, the wife of wealthy Nabal (1Sam. 25:23), each rode on an ass.
White donkeys used by persons of high rank
"Speak, ye that ride on white asses, ye that sit in judgment, and walk by the way" (Judges 5:10). These white donkeys are used today in many places in the East by people of high social standing They are usually larger animals and are supposed to be swifter.
The Donkey Used As A Symbol Of Peace-times
The horse has usually symbolized times of war, but the donkey, times of peace. In Old Testament times this was especially true from the days of King Solomon. This fact helps to explain the words of the prophet about the Messiah that were fulfilled in the triumphant entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem: "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy king, cometh unto thee; he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, even upon a colt the foal of an ass" (Zech. 9:9; cf. John 12:15). Here the use by Jesus of the donkey was to signify that He was Prince of Peace, rather than Captain of an army, when He entered the Holy City.
Drivers sometimes used for donkeys
When women rode on donkeys, it was customary at times to have a driver for the animal. Thus it says concerning the trip made by the woman of Shunem: "Then she saddled an ass, and said to her servant, Drive, and go forward; slack not thy riding for me, except I bid thee" (2Kings 4:24). On the journey made by Moses and his family (Exod. 4:20), his wife and sons were mounted on their donkey while Moses no doubt walked alone, beside the animal. Because of this arrangement of travel for the journey of Moses and his family, it is believed by many that Mary and the child Jesus rode on the donkey (Matt. 2:13-15), and Joseph walked alongside in their flight into Egypt. However, in the Orient, many times husband and wife are seen to ride both of them on the backs of a donkey.
Special Donkey Riding-saddles
Those used in the Orient today are rather large. A cloth of wool folded several http://188.8.131.52/~bible/reference/m&c/m_c200.html (1 of 2) [27/06/2004 11:21:44 p.m.] Manners and Customs of Bible La times is spread over the animal's back. On this is placed a thick pad of straw which is covered with carpet. It is flat on top instead of being rounded. The pommel is quite high, and a cloth or carpet of bright color is often thrown over the saddle. This usually has fringed edges and tassels. It is quite likely that the saddle of Bible times was much simpler than this arrangement. It was probably a simple covering of cloth or skin which was used for the convenience of the rider, and especially to protect the animal from chafing.
Mules used by the arabs of bible lands
They scarcely ever breed the mule themselves, but instead import them from either the Lebanon district of Syria, or from Cyprus. The Arabs very seldom use the mule for the purposes of agriculture, but rather use it for riding or for carrying of burdens particularly in rocky country.
Mules used in later old testament times
The mule is not mentioned in the Bible until the reign of King David. The law of Moses prohibited the rearing of any animals which were the result of the union of different species (Lev. 19:19). So the Jews never bred mules, but evidently they thought the law did not prohibit them from using them. From the days of King David, they came to be used as beasts of burden, and for the saddle, and were imported from other countries, especially Egypt. Included in the tribute which King Solomon received from other nations was a quantity of "mules, a rate year by year" (1Kings 10:24, 25; 2Chron. 9:24). The first Scriptural reference to the mule is in connection with the sheep-shearing feast planned by Absalom for the plot against Amnon. It says: "All the king's sons arose, and every man got him up upon his mule, and fled" (2Sam, 13:29). Each prince had a mule for his personal travel use, and thus this animal had taken the place of the donkey for such use. The mule was used by King David when he traveled in state, and to ride upon the mule belonging to the king was considered to be much the same thing as sitting upon the throne of the king. Thus David said concerning Solomon whom he wanted to make king to succeed him: "Take with you the servants of your lord, and cause Solomon my son to ride upon mine own mule, and bring him down to Gihon" (1Kings 1:33). When Adonijah, who attempted to usurp the throne against the wishes of his father, heard that Solomon had ridden on the mule of David, he knew thereby that he had been made the new king (1Kings 1:44 f). By the time of Isaiah, the mule was in common use. The prophet says: "And they shall bring all your brethren for an offering unto the Lord out of all nations upon horses, and in chariots, and in litters, and upon mules, and upon swift beasts, to my holy mountain Jerusalem" (Isa. 66:20). Kings had especially made use of them, as Ahab who was much concerned about keeping his mules alive in time of famine (1Kings 18:5). The Bible does not anywhere mention the obstinate disposition of the mule. A reference by the Psalmist says: "Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee" (Psa. 32:9). But this is not a reference to that trait of character for which the mule is noted today in the West. The New Testament does not mention the mule.
Bible time horse same as arab horse today
Assyrian and Egyptian sculpture would indicate that the horse of Bible times was the same as the Arabs use today. In those days the horse was used mainly for war purposes, although Isaiah, in connection with threshing, speaks of the use of horses (Isa. 28:28), thus indicating that to a limited degree at least, horses were used in agriculture. But today the Arabs make much use of horses for riding. The horse is looked upon as part of the Arab's family. Although it is heavily bitted, the reins are rarely used. It is controlled by the rider's voice. When the camp or oasis is reached, the horses are unsaddled or unharnessed and allowed to roam free. They will graze around the place and always come when called. Hoofs of the Arab horses are never shod, this practice being made useless by the hot climate. In ancient days the same thing was true. In Scripture the quality of a horse was judged partially by the hardness of its hoofs. Isaiah said: "Their horses' hoofs shall be counted like flint" (Isa. 5:28). Micah wrote: "I will make thy hoofs brass" (Micah 4:13).
Care of horses
In Old Testament days the horse was cared for much as it is by the Arab today. In addition to the use of grass in grazing, the horses were fed barley and cut straw. Thus both "barley also and straw for the horses" (1Kings 4:28), were in use in King Solomon's time. The Psalmist indicates the use of bit and bridle: "Be ye not as the horse ... whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle" (Psa. 32:9). And the Book of Proverbs speaks of "a whip for the horse" (Prov. 26:3).
Horses and chariots used in egypt from early times
Joseph rode in "the second chariot" which King Pharaoh had (Gen. 41:43). When the Israelites made their escape from the bondage of Egypt, they were pursued by "all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh, and his horsemen, and his army" (Exod. 14:9). In later years, Egypt was the main source for the supply of horses used by the kings of Israel (1Kings 10:28, 29).
The domestic cattle of Palestine have been much like those raised in the West, only there have not been as many kinds of breed. In the time of Israel's prosperity, cattle were much more numerous than they have been among the Arabs today, and were probably better developed animals. The ancient Jews used the cattle for sacrifices, and for this purpose they had to be without flaws. The Arabs do not use cattle for meat very much, but rather use sheep and goat meat. Various words are used in our English Bible to indicate cattle. The word "ox" is often used, and it is sometimes indicated that this animal was especially fatted for table use. "Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith" (Prov. 15:17). The words "bull" or "bullock" are used in Scripture to designate the male cattle. The bullock was one of the animals that could be offered under the law of Moses as a burnt offering (Lev. 1:5). Milk-giving cows, sometimes called "milch kine," were in common use (1Sam. 6:7; Deut. 32:14). Bull calves were often used in Bible times for meat. But the chief use of oxen was by the farmer in his various activities. The Jews used the oxen where the modern farmer has used the horse. Oxen were put under the yoke and made to pull the plow. Cows as well as bulls were utilized, the latter having been castrated. "Elisha was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen" (1Kings 19:19). Oxen were used in threshing grain. "Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn [grain]" (Deut. 25:4).
During part of the year, the cattle in Palestine are allowed to graze. In the thickly populated sections, a boy will act as herdsman to see that they do no harm. But in the thinly populated districts, the farmers will sometimes turn their herds loose and let the cattle forage, hunting their own pasturage. While doing this they take on some of the characteristics of a wild animal. The Bible refers to some of these habits. The Psalmist cried: "Many bulls have compassed me, strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round. They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion" (Psa. 22:12). The prophet Joel referred to the custom of turning herds loose to search for their own pastures: "How do the beasts groan! the herds of cattle are perplexed, because they have no pasture" (Joel 1:18). Under the dire conditions described by the prophet, the cattle could find no pasturage.
Special use of the fatted calf
The "fatted calf" as used by the Jews served a special purpose. This calf was stallfed as is indicated by the prophet Malachi: "And grow up as calves of the stall" (Mal. 4:2). This animal is not only allowed to eat all that he wants to eat, but he is forced to eat more. The whole family, and especially the children, are interested in feeding it. It is fattened up in order that it may be killed for some special occasion. Two occasions called for the slaying of this animal. First, if a special guest was to be received and thus honored, the calf was then killed. When the witch of Endor entertained King Saul with a meal, the account says that she "had a fat calf in the house; and she hasted, and killed it" (1Sam. 28:24). The wellknown New Testament example was when the prodigal's father said to his servants, "Bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry" (Luke 15:23). It was the custom to kill the animal, cook it, and then eat it, in quick succession. Abraham, Gideon, Manoah, the witch of Endor, as well as the prodigal's father, are examples of this. The Bedouin Arabs do this today when unexpected guests arrive. These Orientals would appear to be expert in the art. Second, the "fatted calf" was sometimes slain as a special sacrifice or offering unto the Lord. The prophet Amos mentions "the thank offerings of your fatted calves" (Amos 5:22, Keil).
There are two kinds of dogs that are referred to in the Bible. First , there is the wolf-like, short-haired creature, that stands guard over the tent or the house, and which barks fiercely at strangers that come that way. He will eat whatever garbage is tossed to him, and in the evening he is usually heard barking about the city (cf. Psa. 59:6). Sometimes he is allowed to be under the table ready to receive scraps given to him (cf. Matt. 15:27). Second , there is the shepherd dog that goes out with the shepherd to help him in rounding up the sheep. Job speaks of these animals as "the dogs of my flock" (Job 30:1). Because dogs were so often regarded as mere scavengers, the Bible does not use the word "dog" as Westerners are accustomed to think of this animal. The price of a dog was never brought to the house of the Lord (Deut. 23:18). To call anybody "a dog" was to consider him as very low down indeed (Rev. 22:15). The attitude of the Orientals toward dogs needs to be kept in mind in interpreting the Scriptures that refer to them.
Wells, springs, or fountains
WELLS AND THEIR LOCATION. In many cases wells have been depended upon for water in Palestinian towns through the years. Often the well is located outside the city walls, but sometimes the people are fortunate to have the well inside their town. Archaeologists have discovered at least two ancient cities in addition to Jerusalem, that brought water inside their city through a tunnel. The city of Gezer had such a tunnel that led from within the city to a water supply beneath. And the Canaanites at Megiddo, rather than go outside their city for water, sunk a shaft straight down to the level of the spring, and then dug a tunnel horizontally until they reached it.
Securing water for home use
We have already seen (Chapter 8, pp. 88-90) that it is the duty of the women to go to the well to get the family supply of water. This is carried by them in pitchers of earthenware either upon their shoulder or head. If larger supplies of water are needed, then the men carry such in sheepskin or goatskin "bottles."
Famous wells and fountains of scripture
Wells were dug by the early patriarchs in various places in the land of Canaan. The town of Beersheba was named after an event that happened at the time Isaac's servants dug a well there. The name means "The Well of the Oath," commemorating the covenant made between Isaac and Abimelech, which followed soon after the trouble over possession of wells at Gerar (Genesis 26).
Jacob's well at Sychar was made famous by the incident of Jesus talking with the woman of Samaria there. There is nothing left at these wells that may be used for drawing water from a depth. Each woman who comes for water brings with her, in addition to the pitcher in which to carry the water, a hard leather portable bucket with a rope, in order to let it down to the level of the water The Samaritan woman had brought all this with her, but Jesus had no such equipment with him. Hence she said to him, after he had asked her for a drink: "You have no bucket, sir, and the well is deep" (John 4:11, Twentieth Century N. T.). In response to his request she drew from the well and gave him a drink.
It was water from a Bethlehem well for which David in the wilderness longed. To appreciate his desire, one needs to know what thirst in the wilderness means, and also be acquainted with the cool water of the Bethlehem wells and cisterns. In the hillsides around Bethlehem are terraced vineyards, and most of these have a rockhewn cistern located in them, which collects rain water in the winter months and preserves this water in a delightfully cool condition in the hot summer months. The men of Bethlehem boast of their cool water. One man was given a drink, but expressed a longing for water out of his father's vineyard, saying that it was so cold that he couldn't drink an entire glassful without taking it away from his lips at least three times. Thus David, stationed at the cave of Adullam, and living in the parched wilderness, and weary from fighting, said: "Oh that one would give me drink of the water of the well of Bethlehem, which is by the gate" (2Sam. 23:15). When three of his men risked their lives in fighting Philistines in order to secure for him some of this cool Bethlehem water, David "poured it out unto the Lord" (2Sam. 23:16). This was according to the ancient custom of a libation offering, or the pouring on the ground as an act of worship, wine, or oil, or milk, or honey, or water. Sometimes these drink offerings were poured by the Hebrews on the animal sacrificed to the Lord. In doing what he did, David was giving to the Lord the drink of water that had cost so much for the men to secure for him.
Throughout the centuries the town of Nazareth has had but one main source for its water supply, a well or fountain that is located at the northwest extremity of the town. We may be fairly certain that Mary came here with her pitcher to draw water for her household use, and that here the boy Jesus often quenched his thirst.
One of the most important springs in Palestine is the one at Jericho . Its water comes from the Judean wilderness mountains located behind the town. This spring contributes to a pool of water adjoining the excavated mound of old Jericho, and this is now called "Elisha's Fountain." It is believed to be the waters healed by the prophet long ago (2Kings 2:21). Although the level of this water gets quite low in the hot weather, it seldom dries up entirely, and is a source of water for men, animals, and the oasis of banana, fig, and date palms of the vicinity.
The word "well" to the average native of Palestine has meant "spring" or "fountain," but in the Bible account it often means "cistern." Actually the cistern has been a more common source of Palestine's water supply than has the well. To drink water out of the family cistern was the proverbial wish of every Jew, and such was the promise that King Sennacherib of Assyria used to try and tempt the Jews into making peace with him. He said to them: "Make an agreement with me by a present, and come out to me, and then eat ye every man of his own vine, and every one of his fig tree, and drink ye every one the waters of his cistern" (2Kings 18:31; cf. Isa. 36:16). These family cisterns were often dug in the open courtyard of houses as was the case of "the man which had a well [cistern] in his court." At the time of year referred to this cistern was dry and so two men could easily be hidden therein (2Sam. 17:18-19). During the rainy season the rain water is conducted from the houseroofs to these cisterns by means of troughs. Usually the water is drawn up by means of a rope that runs over a wheel, and a bucket made of animal skins is fastened to the rope. Jeremiah used the picture of a cistern that leaked water, to illustrate one of his sermons: "For my people have committed two evils"; the prophet said of the Lord, "They have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water" (Jer. 2:13).
Pools of water in and around the city
Throughout most of its history, the Holy City has depended largely upon private cisterns which its inhabitants have maintained to catch rain water. The city itself has had through the years no living fountain or spring within its walls. The spring of Gihon now called "The Virgin's Fountain," is located in the Valley of Kidron just outside the old city of the Jebusites or the City of David. King Hezekiah constructed a conduit or tunnel from this spring through the rock underneath the city to a place in the Tyropean Valley, where a reservoir was constructed to receive the water (2Kings 20:20). This reservoir has gone by the name of The Pool of Siloam . This water project was undertaken mainly to give the city a water supply in time of siege. The pool has been an important source of water for Jerusalem through the centuries. Here the Arab women of the old city often come to wash their clothes, or their vegetables, or their children. And farther in the pool or mouth of the tunnel, they get their pitchers filled with the family supply of water. And at this pool also an occasional shepherd will come to wash his sheep.
Other pools located in and around the city that have supplied water include the Pool of Hezekiah , located inside the walls and fed with water through an underground conduit from the Pool of Mamilla. This latter pool lies 2000 feet to the west of Jaffa Gate outside the walls, and is in the Valley of Hinnom and receives drainage water coming down that valley. The Pool of the Sultan lies just outside the Southwestern corner of the wall in this same valley. The Pool of Bethesda is to be found just inside the Eastern wall, between St. Stephen's Gate and the Northern, wall of the temple enclosure. It was here that many sick ones bathed in Christ's time, believing its waters had healing properties. It was here Christ healed the impotent man (John 5).
Raids and blood avenging
When there is no strong ruler among the desert tribes of Arabs, who is able to keep peace between the tribes, then some of the tribes may revert to the old pastime of raiding another tribe. They will select a tribe that is well supplied with cattle and goods, and will send out scouts to familiarize themselves with the tribe they wish to raid. They will organize their forces and plan to arrive there on a set night and usually in the dark of the moon. They will come up in stealth. One of the men or boys will approach the tents in order to attract the attention of the dogs, and then this young man will run in a different direction in order to attract the dogs away from the tents. When the place is sufficiently cleared of the dogs, then the men will rush in from different directions, untie the camels, drive off the sheep and cattle, and steal all the valuable property they can, to take home to their tents and give to their sheik. This will be done amid the screaming of the women. The men who oppose them are overcome. But the raiders are careful not to harm the women, and they are careful not to shed blood. The Mohammedan religion permits raids, but does not allow lives to be lost in the process. If blood is shed then a "blood feud" is started, and this is a very serious matter, for they often run for generations. The tribe will endeavor to kill as many as were killed in the raid.
Practice in old testament days
In the book of Judges, bands of desert people called "the Children of the East," were a constant menace to the Israelites. When these pastoral encampments neared the borders of agriculture, a raid would be planned against the harvest of Israel, or any of their flocks, herds, or other valuable goods. Scripture says of these people: "And so it was, when Israel had sown, that . . . the children of the east, even they came up against them; and they encamped against them, and destroyed the increase of the earth . . . and left no sustenance for Israel, neither sheep, nor ox, nor ass" (Judges 6:3, 4). The tent-dwelling robbers were known in the days of Job, for he says of them: "The tents of robbers prosper" (Job 12:6, A. R. V.). The prophet Obadiah tells of robbers stealing by night. "If thieves came to thee, if robbers by night . . . would they not have stolen till they had enough?" (Obadiah 1:5). These robbers of ancient times are in many ways similar to the Arab raiders of modern times. The latter illustrate for us methods used by the former.
The shedding of blood during a raid starts a blood feud which may continue for many years. The basis for this feud is a custom or law that is common among many Semitic people. The unit of society among these peoples is the tribe or clan. The members of any one tribe have a responsibility to punish anybody who wrongs a member of their clan. The blood of a murdered member of the tribe "crieth . . . from the ground" (Gen. 4:10), and the nearest male relative is especially duty bound to avenge the murder. In olden times, instead of the state executing a murderer, it became the duty of the kinsman to avenge the death of the relative. The law of Moses recognized this right of the kinsman, but it did protect one who killed a person by accident and not by purpose, and so provided the cities of refuge, where such a man might flee and receive justice. "These six cities shall be a refuge, both for the children of Israel, and for the stranger, and for the sojourner among them: that every one that killeth any person unawares may flee thither" (Num. 35:15). But these cities of refuge were no protection for a real murderer. He was turned over to the kinsman for vengeance. "The revenger of blood [i.e., the kinsman] himself shall slay the murderer: when he meeteth him, he shall slay him" (Num. 35:19).
Application of the principle to bible times
The Bedouin tribes of Arabs today govern themselves according to the old customs and laws. The whole tribe shares with the kinsman in the responsibility to avenge the shedding of blood. These old regulations need to be known in order to have an understanding of what happened in the twenty-first chapter of Second Samuel. A famine came to the land of David three successive years, and when David inquired of the Lord for the cause of it, "The Lord answered, It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites" (2Sam. 21:1). King Saul had broken the covenant Israel had made with the Gibeonites, and had cruelly murdered many of these people. As a tribe of people this band of men felt duty bound to avenge the crime of Saul, but had no opportunity to do so. According to the law of the kinsman, commonly accepted among them, since the guilty man was dead, certain of his descendants should pay the penalty for the crime. Thus the death of seven male descendants of Saul atoned for Saul's sin, as far as this tribe was concerned.