[Table of Contents]
J. W. McGarvey|
Lands of the Bible (1881)
C H A P T E R I V.
MODES OF AGRICULTURE.
I. PLOUGHING AND SOWING.
WHEN the rains commence in November, softening the ground which during the summer has become hardened in the sun and often cracked open to a considerable depth, ploughing for the next season's crop begins. But some of the farmers have adopted the custom of ploughing in the spring, during the leisure just before harvest. This early ploughing prevents the surface from being hardened by the sun, and as no weeds nor grass will grow during the summer, it exposes the soil more to the fertilizing effects of the dry atmosphere. It also gives rest to the land, for on this method the same piece of ground is sown in grain not oftener than every alternate year.
The plough now used is quite an improvement on that described by early travelers in Palestine, showing that the natives are capable of improvement even in agricultural implements. It is made like a very heavy "bull tongue," with two bars reaching back from the sides of it. These bars serve to widen the furrow and to increase the pulverization of the soil. The upper end of the plough is hollow, and receives the single handle, which rises with but little backward slope, and has at its top a cross-piece by which it is held. The beam is attached to this upright, and is strengthened by a wooden brace above the point of connection. It reaches forward to the yoke, and has a sufficient upward inclination to touch the yoke, to the middle of which it is tied  with a rope or a piece of raw-hide. It is a tongue, rather than a beam. The yoke is a straight pole about six feet long and three inches in diameter, which lies on top of the necks of the oxen, and is fastened to the neck not by a bow, but by a rope. All of the timber used is light but tough, and it answers its purpose better than one would
suppose, for the plough is not run more than three inches deep; its draft is light and there is very little danger of breaking, except when it strikes a heavy stone or the solid rock, then some part of the plough or of the gearing is almost certain to break, and much time is lost in making repairs. The oxen are still driven by a goad, a long stick with a sharp spike in the end, as in the ancient times.1
This simple instrument pulverizes the ground very well, and where the soil is light it stirs it to a sufficient depth. It is doubtful whether an American steel plough, running eight or ten inches deep and bringing the subsoil to the surface, would produce any better results in that soil and climate. At any rate, if our method were introduced there, not only the ploughs but the yokes would have to be imported, for the timber out of which to make our heavy yokes and plough-beams can be found there only in a very few places. It would be necessary, also, either to import a larger breed of cattle, or to plough with two or three yokes of those now in use.
The poverty of the people is such that they have an indifferent supply of cattle for ploughing, and a scarcity of even the cheap and rude  ploughs which they manufacture. While one man is using the team and the plough, several are waiting to use it in their turns. As a consequence, the ploughing and sowing continue all the winter, exposing the farmer and his stock to much hardship and to many causes of ill health, besides necessitating a very light yield from the grain that is sown late in the season. The traveler often sees this lately-sown grain so thin as not to be worth harvesting, side by side with heavy crops that are sown early. With more capital and a better supply of work-stock, the ploughing could be rushed through in the early part of the rainy season, and better results would follow. Even in November, however, cold winds and rain are encountered, and he who would push his business vigorously must disregard both. It is to this that Solomon alludes when he says, "The sluggard will not plough by reason of the cold; therefore shall he beg in harvest and have nothing."2
The sower goes immediately before the ploughman, sowing the grain that it may be ploughed under. In order to keep up with the sower it is necessary to follow him with several ploughs. The harrow is not used at all. Were the ground ploughed before sowing and then the grain harrowed in, or even covered by dragging a heavy brush over the ground, the yield would probably be greater.
HARVESTING, THRESHING, AND GRINDING.
The Syrian farmer is in no hurry about the commencement of his harvest. He can begin, if he chooses, as soon as the grain is sufficiently matured; but he usually waits till it is "dead-ripe" and the stalk is yellow to the roots. Neither is he in any hurry, like the American farmer, to get through. The American begins before the grain is dry enough to shatter out, because with his machinery he handles it so roughly as would otherwise cause waste; and when he begins he must hurry through lest the rain hinder him and ruin his grain. But the Syrian farmer knows that he will not have a shower during harvest-time, let the latter be ever so long, and his mode of handling his grain is such as not to shatter it, though ever so ripe. He cuts it with a sickle, as did his fathers back to the days of Abraham, and as our fathers did less than a hundred years ago. Some writers represent the harvesters as sitting on their haunches while using the  sickle;3 but the author saw harvesting in process from end to end and from side to side of the entire country, and he saw no one in this lazy posture. The grain is tied in little bundles, which are loaded on the backs of camels or donkeys and transferred to the heap at the threshing-floor. They are not tossed with a pitchfork, but moved gently by hand. The grain must be removed from the field because the soft, tillable ground is unsuited for a threshing-floor, and because the threshing-floor must be near the village for the sake of convenience. The Jews in ancient times used carts for this purpose, instead of donkeys and camels.4
When all the grain is harvested and laid up in heaps, not stacks, about the threshing-floors, the threshing begins, unless the necessity of getting out some grain for immediate use has led to some threshing before. Often this is the case, and it is not a rare thing to see persons employed in threshing a few sheaves with a rude flail when the harvest has scarcely begun. This is done when the old crop of wheat is already exhausted, or when some of the fresh grain is wanted for parching. The "parched corn" so often mentioned in the Bible5 is still in common use. The threshing-floor is a hard piece of ground, made harder by tramping and beating, or, when it can be found of sufficient size, the flat surface of a rock. The grain is laid upon this in a circle from forty to eighty feet in diameter, and then oxen, horses, and mules are driven around upon it until the most of it is shattered out and the straw broken to pieces. Then follows the process of grinding the straw into chaff and disengaging all the grain that may yet be encased in the ears. This is effected by dragging over it a rough slide, usually about three feet wide and five feet long. It consists of three planks of hard timber about two inches thick, laid edge to edge, with two battens nailed across them to hold them firmly together, and one end slightly turned up so that the instrument will slide over the straw. The bottom is bored full of inch auger-holes not deep enough to go through, and rough stones of the right size to make a tight fit are driven into these holes deep enough to leave nearly half their size above the surface of the plank. These stones constitute a kind of teeth, and as the slide is dragged round and round the threshing-floor by a horse or a mule, with a man or boy sitting on it, they grind the straw into fine chaff and shatter out the very last grain of wheat. This instrument was used in early times by the Jews, and  was probably included in the instruments offered by Araunah to David.6 It is called the mow'rej. This mass of grain and chaff is then heaped into a conical pile in the centre of the floor, or at a short
distance outside the circle, and another bed of the unthreshed grain is laid down to go through the same process. I have seen the driver of a mow'rej lying down on it fast asleep while the horse continued his rounds.
When a favorable wind blows, and this occurs nearly every day from nine A. M. till four P. M., the heap of threshed grain is tossed into the air, first with a three-pronged wooden fork, until the coarser straws are separated, and then with a wooden shovel called "a fan" in the English Bible.7 The wind blows the straw and chaff to one side, while the grain falls back into the heap. Sometimes when the grain is nearly clean it is poured from a shallow basket held on top of a man's head, that the wind may blow away the remainder of the trash. When the entire process is completed, there is still some fine chaff left among the wheat, and nearly always some dust and grit from the threshing-floor. The people have no means of removing this except by washing the grain. It is in most instances not removed at all, but ground with the wheat. But the author has seen women engaged in washing their wheat by dropping it into a little stream dammed up for the purpose, stirring it around a few minutes, and then laying it out to dry. In the hot sun and dry atmosphere the moisture is absorbed too quickly to injure the grain. The ancient Jews completed the process  of cleaning their grain by the use of a sieve, and it was customary among them for the owner and the workmen to sleep at the threshing-floor while the winnowing was going on.8 This last was for the double purpose of hastening the work and guarding against thieves. It is still customary to guard the heaps both of the threshed and the unthreshed grain day and night.
When the wheat is sufficiently winnowed it is put away in granaries, of which there are two kinds, one kind above the ground and the other beneath it. Those below ground are jug-shaped excavations from four to six feet deep, plastered, and drawn to a narrow mouth at the top. Sometimes a great many of these are dug in a group very close to each other. The author saw, on a piece of sloping ground not far from Jericho, about an acre of space that was honey-combed with them, but they had been abandoned and their tops had fallen in. Of course these granaries are made only in very dry spots or spots in which the drainage is so good that water will not accumulate. Where such ground cannot be obtained a structure of about the same shape and capacity is built above ground out of sun-dried brick, plastered outside, and terminating at the top with a conical point. The grain is put in and taken out through an opening in the side. The chaff is put away with the wheat. It helps to keep it dry, and it is used for feeding stock. Anciently the grain was stored in similar structures, but more secure and more durable, and they are called both garners and barns in the English Bible.9
For the purpose of grinding wheat and barley none but hand-mills were anciently employed, and there are many allusions to their use in the Bible. But water-mills and horse-mills have now been in use a long time, and wind-mills have been erected recently at Jerusalem and at Haifa. At Jerusalem there are three wind-mills and at Haifa one.
The hand-mill consists of a nether and an upper millstone, the top of the former a little convex, so as to promote the movement of the flour toward the circumference, and the lower surface of the latter correspondingly concave. An iron pivot rises from the centre of the lower stone, on which the upper stone is supported and around which it revolves. A hole six inches in diameter through the centre of the upper stone allows the grain to be thrown in, and an iron bar extending across this opening rests on the pivot, supports the stone, and allows it a rotary motion. The stones are not over two feet in  diameter. A wooden pin an inch or more in diameter is let into the top of the stone near its circumference, and rises high enough to serve as a handle with which to turn it. The mill is usually operated by two women, who sit flat on the floor at opposite sides. Each one turns it half-way, and one puts in the grain with the disengaged hand. The flour comes out on the floor all around the nether stone, and is gathered up as it accumulates. Sometimes, when a small quantity of grain is to be ground, and there is no haste, the mill is operated by a single woman. The author has seen several instances of this. Hand-mills are used at present only as a dernier resort, when it is quite inconvenient to procure grinding at mills of some other kind.
Horse-mills are numerous in Jerusalem, and the traveler as he walks the streets frequently hears the sound of grinding. They are also found in all the large towns. The stones for these are constructed in the same manner as for the hand-mills, but they are usually about three feet in diameter. The horse moves around in a circle, drawing the end of a lever, the other end of which is morticed into a perpendicular shaft with which the gearing of the machinery is connected. There is no bolting-chest in the mill, neither is there a wooden case around the stones to collect the flour and make it come out at a single spout. It comes out, as in the case of the hand-mill, all around the stones, and is much exposed to the dust and trash of the dingy building. There is, however, at Nazareth a horse-mill, recently erected by a German, which has a simple bolting-machine, and makes very fair flour. This mill is operated by a tread-wheel, and it is alone of its kind.
Water-mills are built wherever practicable. The number of ruins of such mills that are seen in some parts of the country shows plainly that they were once more numerous than at present. The millstones are of the same form and size as those used in the horse-mills. The paddles of the water-wheel are immediately under the floor of the mill and under the stones, being attached to the shaft which passes through the lower and turns the upper stone. As a consequence the stone turns uniformly with the wheel. The water issues from an orifice just opposite the wheel and spends its force on the paddles as they rapidly revolve. There is no casing about the circle of paddles to confine the water and concentrate its force, and consequently a large part of its power is lost. In order to give force to the water as it issues from the orifice, it is collected into an upright cylinder built of stone and cemented inside. This is 12 or 14 feet high, and its interior diameter is from 15 to 20 inches. A stream of water from the mill-race pours into the top of this cylinder and keeps it full, so that the entire  perpendicular pressure of the column imparts its force to that which rushes through the orifice below and impels the wheel. Such mills are constructed on the hill-side adjoining the stream where a race, tapping the stream some distance above, and led along the hill-side with a gradual fall, is sufficiently high above the parent stream to allow its water to flow into the mill. In some instances, where the descent of the parent stream is very rapid, there is room between it and the race for two mills, the water passing through both in succession before it reaches its natural bed. There are several such pairs of mills on Wady Bedân', the chief tributary of Wady Far'rah, and the people of Nab'lus resort thither for their grinding. Sometimes the principal stream is itself dammed, and the mill constructed just below the dam. There is such a mill in the Plain of Jez'reel, and eight or ten on Crocodile River, in the Plain of Sha'ron.10 With a little more art in their construction, and with the addition of a bolting-apparatus, these mills would make very good flour at a very cheap rate.
Wind-mills have been introduced only within the last ten or twelve years, and those thus far constructed are of European manufacture. They do very good work, and can be operated from six to ten hours a day nearly every day in the year. It is probable that as capital increases, and with it a demand for better articles of diet, they will become universal in those parts of the country that are destitute of mill-streams. Steam-mills are not to be thought of, nor steam-machinery of any kind, on account of the scarcity of fuel.
Under the head of Products of the Soil, Chapter II., § III., we have already given as full an account as our space will allow of other grains, fruits, and vegetables belonging to the department of agriculture.
TENURE OF LANDS.
Under the law of Moses lands were inherited perpetually by the descendants of those to whom they were first distributed after the conquest under Joshua. A man could sell his lands only temporarily, for they were restored to the heirs of the original owners in the year of jubilee, which was every fiftieth year; and they could be redeemed at any time by paying a fair equivalent for their use until the jubilee.11 The operation of this law was suspended by the Assyrian and  Babylonian captivities, and there is no evidence of its restoration afterward. If it were even partially restored after the return of the captives it was finally discontinued by the dispersion of the Jewish nation A. D. 70.
Under the present Turkish rule the lands of Palestine are held in three ways. Some are held as the property of the Sultan, some as individual possessions, and some as the property of mosques and other institutions of a religious character. In English phraseology these are called, respectively, crown-lands, freehold, and glebe-lands. Purchases of government lands must be confirmed by a firman from the Sultan before the title is good; and in securing this there is often great delay and expense. In some instances, however, purchases of extensive tracts have been made at a ridiculously low price. An instance is related in the following terms by Conder: "A Greek banker named Sursuk, to whom the government was under obligations, was allowed to buy the northern half of the Great Plain [Plain of Esdra'elon] and some of the Nazareth villages for the ridiculously small sum of £20,000 ($100,000) for an extent of seventy square miles. The taxes of the twenty villages amounted to £4000 ($20,000); so that the average income could not be stated at less than £12,000 ($60,000), taking good and bad years together. The cultivation was materially improved under his care, and the property must be immensely valuable, or would be if the title could be considered secure; but it is highly probable that the government will again seize the land when it becomes worth while to do so."12
Whoever may be the owner of lands, the inhabitants of every village are the cultivators of the soil immediately around them. The limits of the territory thus claimed by each village are marked by valleys, by ridges, or by large stones, and so are the subdivisions among the villagers themselves. The extent of territory varies somewhat with the population of the village, and the nearness or remoteness of other villages. In more exact terms, it varies from three or four hundred to four or five thousand acres.13
The tax on land belonging to the government is one-tenth of its entire annual product, and this is assessed before the harvest begins. Of course there is usually an overestimate of the yield. No man is allowed to thrust in his sickle until this assessment is made. The assessor often delays until, for fear of serious loss to the crop, the cultivator gives him a heavy bribe to proceed. The temptation to gross injustice, already pressing hard on the officer, who wishes both to fill  his own coffers and to gain favor with his superiors by bringing a large income to the government, is greatly increased by the fact that the taxes are farmed out by districts to the highest bidder. A man having bidden high, and feeling a necessity for not only collecting the amount of his bid but an additional sum to enrich himself, studies out all manner of devices to oppress the poor husbandman. These farmers of the revenue and their subordinates are the same class of officials as those called publicans in the New Testament, and they as well deserve the title "miserable sinners" as did their predecessors of the New Testament period.
The tax on the glebe-lands, or those belonging to religious institutions, is a fixed amount of produce per annum, without regard to the yield of the lands. This, in unfavorable years, is often ruinous. Conder, in his remarks on this point, says, "At Kurâ'wa, in 1873, the people told me with tears in their eyes that the olive crop had been so poor that the value was not as much as the amount of the tax to be collected."14 And the author was informed, when in the vicinity of Michmash, in the spring of 1879, that between three and four hundred men from the villages in that part of the country had fled across the Jordan with their families to avoid trouble about taxes which they could not pay.
According to Conder the taxes are brought into the towns where the local governors reside by Bashi-Bazouks, or the irregular soldiery. But sometimes the governor himself makes a tour of the villages to collect them, when he and his numerous attendants must be fed and lodged at the expense of the villagers. This adds very greatly to the weight of the grinding taxation under which the people groan. Conder pertinently remarks that under such a government it can scarcely be a matter of surprise that the Fel'lahîn are lazy, thriftless, and sullen. "What is the use of trying to get money," they demand, "when the soldiers and the Kai'makâm (governor) would eat it all?"
Another evil which makes a heavy drain on the productive labor of the country is the conscription for the Turkish army. Conder says, "There is no sadder sight than that of the recruits leaving a village of Palestine. They are marched off in irons to headquarters, leaving their weeping families behind them, and hurried away to Europe or Armenia, where they lead a miserable life, receive but little pay, and are bullied by ignorant officers."15 The author witnessed at Hebron a more pleasing sight,--the return of a few conscripts who had been  taken from the town for the Russian war. Their male friends went out to meet them with the firing of guns and shouts of welcome, and received them with kissing and warm embraces. Meantime, a group of women in a double line, at a little distance, sang a monotonous song and marched about in irregular curves, keeping time to their own music. After the entire party had disappeared within the town we could hear at our camp loud wailing from those women who were disappointed about the return of their husbands, sons, or brothers, and who learned from those who did return the sad fate of their loved ones lost in battle. Sheikh Ab'bas, of Hebron, told us that he himself was in the Russian war; that he served his own government twenty-two months without receiving a cent of wages; and that in the mean time he suffered for want of both food and clothing. At the end of that time he was taken prisoner by the Russians, who fed him well, made him comfortable with warm clothing, and released him when the war was over. Good Mussulman as he was, he evidently felt more kindly to the Russians than to the Turks, and would prefer, in another war, to fight on the side of the former.
The facts presented in this section enable the reader to see one of the chief causes of the present miserable condition of Palestine, and how the country might be rejuvenated under a just and well-administered government. That its condition is actually improving even under these circumstances, and has been for the last twenty years, is a proof of the irrepressible tendency to material prosperity which characterizes the present age. The ability of the people to prosper at all under such a condition of things is due to the extreme cheapness of the necessaries of life and to the small amount of these necessaries on which they have learned to live. Conder says he has heard of a family of five who lived on only £25 ($100) a year. 
[Table of Contents]
J. W. McGarvey|
Lands of the Bible (1881)
Back to BibleStudyGuide.org.
These files are public domain. This electronic edition was downloaded from the Restoration Movement Texts.