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Agrarian Life

Ancient Israelite women’s lives were very strongly tied to the seasons, as were the lives of all of the agriculturalists who lived in the ancient near east. Most of the population participated in agricultural activities just about year round, especially in the village context early on.

So the fertility of the land was extremely important. If you have an unsuccessful harvest season, especially a cereal harvest of wheat or barley, then you’re in trouble. And so, we do have, you know, biblical accounts that talk about the effects of drought, for example, on their harvests and then what happens next; and those can be extremely difficult for people living at a subsistence level which is where the ancient, most of the ancient Israelites were living.

Their daily lives revolved around their subsistence. It revolved around planting and harvesting crops, transforming them into food. You know these are processes that took hours per day. So, they were very, very highly attuned, to when they would be able to most successful, the kinds of crops that they should experiment with, the investment that they would have made in things like olive trees and grape vines and other things that take some years to get established.

So, the harvest seasons, in particular, were vital, and so a successful harvest meant that people would survive, through a year, through harsh conditions sometimes; and they were celebrated with festivals that were tied to the harvests.

  • Jennie Ebeling is an associate professor of archaeology and chair of the Department of Archaeology and Art History at the University of Evansville in Indiana. Codirector of the Jezreel Expedition and a stone artifact specialist, Ebeling has edited volumes on household archaeology and ground stone artifacts and is the author of Women’s Lives in Biblical Times (T&T Clark, 2010).