Faust on Farms in Ancient Israel

I have been reading a paper by Israeli archeologist, Avraham Faust: The Farmstead in the Highlands of Iron Age II Israel.   Iron Age II would include the late preexilic period in  Samaria and Judah.

He has suggestions that illuminate two verses.

First, in the farmsteads  archeologists found lots of winepresses , but there was little evidence of olive presses or threshing floors for grain.  The possible explanation is that farmers took olives and grains to settlements for processing, but that farms marketed their own wine “labels”.  This would fit with the song of the vineyard in Isaiah 5:2:

He built a hedge around it, removed its stones,

and planted a vine.

He built a tower in the middle of it,

and constructed a winepress.

He waited for it to produce edible grapes,

but it produced sour ones instead (NET Bible).

He also talks about the various ways the Hebrew Bible uses the word haserim (villages). Another word, ir, means settlements, although it gets translated as cities or towns.  The two terms often overlap.  Usually the settlements had walls and gates.  But this verse from the Holiness Code in Leviticus makes a distinction:

The houses of villages, however, which have no wall surrounding them must be considered as the field of the land; they will have the right of redemption and must revert in the jubilee (25:31 NET Bible).

Leviticus calls unwalled farmsteads “villages”.  So the general term, hasserim, may have always included farmsteads as well.  The many times that the Bible speaks of a city or settlement and its “villages” just means the settlement and its rural environs.

It looks like the isolated farmsteads became few over time and were replaced by settlements.  Faust thinks this was because as the population grew using most of the land for farming rather than houses made sense.  But it could also have been be for security reasons as foriegn military threats arose.

Faust does not talk about this but there are implications for the centralization of worship. For many reasons I believe the Hebrew Bible has partly obscured the fact that for a long time there were several Yahweh sanctuaries in many places in Israel.  The reforms of kings Hezekiah and Josiah began to require that sacrifice usually take place at Jerusalem’s Temple.

I envision a situation where farmers once held individual farmsteads (each man had his own vine and fig tree–Micah 4:4) within the tribal or clan holdings.  It made sense to take offerings to nearby priests and shrines.

But as population grew in Judah (partly because of refugees from the north) and threats from the great empires arose, people began to gather more in walled settlements.

If I remember correctly, Faust thought that something like this had happened in Iron Age I in response to the Philistine threat.

Micah says that royal officials were dishonestly accumulating private holdings.  Hezekiah, for one, might have encouraged this for national security reasons.  But the process may have been already far along when he came to power.  As agriculture became more centralized, the Jerusalem priests with royal and prophetic backing may have pushed centralization for both religious and economic reasons.  Whole settlements began to make seasonal pilgrimages to Jerusalem bearing or herding their offerings.

As I said, these are my thoughts.  Faust did not draw so many conclusions.  He is very tentative and cautious.

About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
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1 Response to Faust on Farms in Ancient Israel

  1. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Reblogged this on James' Ramblings and commented:
    Reblogging for future reference.

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