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Agricultural practice

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This information is taken largely from Borowski's book "Agriculture in Iron Age Israel", in particular chapter 4 dealing with calendar matters. The intention here is to look at the contents of the Gezer calendar in relation to the yearly cycle.

Summarising Borowski's points, we have:

  1. The Old Testament mentions a considerable number of agricultural activities, and in some cases connects some of them in sequence or links them to particular festivals. However, there is no attempt to build a complete picture of the agricultural year.
  2. Agricultural seasons vary to some extent through Israel because of geography or climate, but one would expect a tendency to standardise seasons once a centralised administration was in place.
  3. The Gezer manual describes a list of agricultural tasks and does not explicitly tie these to calendar months, though the tables below attempt to make inferences about this from farming practice. The orthography of the table indicates a date around 925 BCE, thus at about the time of the division of the two kingdoms. Gezer is never linked with the southern kingdom of Judah, and is commonly believed to have remained as part of the northern kingdom of Israel until the fall of Samaria. The orthography of the tablet suggests a northern dialect, supporting this. 1 Kings 12:32-33 relates that Jeroboam, the first king of the northern kingdom altered the feast of ’sp from the start of the seventh month to the eighth. He has a lengthy discussion of issues to do with when in the month this might have been celebrated - these are worth investigating but not repeated here.
  4. Borowski believes that the tablet's use of the word yrx indicates not an exact calendar month, but a span of time of approximately a month, feeling that this is more in keeping with the use as a task-manual rather than calendar as such. The tablet lines are as follows:
    • L1: yrxw ’sp   //   yrxw z
    • L2: rv   //   yrxw lqš
    • L3: yrx vcd pšt
    • L4: yrx qcr svrm
    • L5: yrx qcr ??l(?)
    • L6: yrxw zmr
    • L7: yrx qc
  5. The tablet also gives no starting point in the calendar year for the activities - by comparing them with the festivals and actual farming practice (albeit more recent than the Iron Age) he deduces the pattern outlined below.
    • Line 1a is taken as "2 months of ingathering" - many commentators have seen this as applying especially to olives, the harvesting of which takes place in the region of Gezer between mid September and mid October. The allocation of two months of work is seen as allowing for pressing for oil as well as collecting the crop.
    • Line 1b/2a is taken as "2 months of sowing", referring primarily to cereal crops.
    • Line 2b is taken as sowing legumes and vegetables. Some commentators relate lqš to late rains, malqoš, but all other lines refer to human activities rather than natural cycles, and the late rains typically fall in February.
    • Line 3 is taken as "a month of hoeing weeds", probably to be stored as animal fodder. There have been other interpretations which Boronski rejects on agricultural grounds. There is doubt as to whether the last word should be pšt or pst.
    • Line 4 is taken as "a month of harvesting barley", and in his scheme the start of this first harvest period is celebrated with the festival of maccot/pessach.
    • Line 5 is partially unreadable and has aroused considerable debate. He takes it as qacir wakayil, "harvesting and measuring", largely on orthographic grounds. Agriculturally this would relate principally to wheat: in festival terms it ends with šavuvot
    • Line 6 is taken as 2 months of "grape harvesting"
    • Line 7 is taken as "a month of harvesting summer fruit" (qayic, again following northern orthography), which would relate primarily to tree fruits such as figs and pomegranates.
  6. The conclusions he reaches are summarised in the two tables below.


The annual cycle

Month (name)Festival Gezer activityModern equivalent
    March - Spring equinox
I (vAbib)maccot qcr svrm 
II (Ziw)  qcr wkl 
 šavuvot  May
III  zmr 
IV  zmr 
V  qc 
    August - start of Gezer calendar
VI  ’sp 
 ’sp in Judah  September - Autumn equinox
VII ('Etanim)  ’sp 
 ’sp in Israel  October
VIII (Bul)  zrv 
IX  zrv 
X  lqš 
XI  lqš 
XII  vsd pst 


Planting and harvesting

The following table follows modern agricultural practice in Israel. X=Plant, O=harvest

CropOct NovDec JanFeb MarApr MayJun JulAug Sep
Wheat  XX      O     
Barley  XX     O      
Oats  XX      O     
Peas   X X   OO     
Chickpeas      X    O    
Lentils   X     OO     
Vetch  XX     OO     
Sesame   X     X   O  
Flax   X         O  
Millet       X X   OO 
Vegetables     XXX  (various)
Grapes           O OOO
Figs              OO
Pomegranates              OO
Olives OO            O
Gezer activity’spzrv lqšpst qcr


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