A Year in “the Good Land”
IN 1908 an exciting discovery was made at the site of the Biblical city of Gezer, which lies toward the coastal plain west of Jerusalem: a small limestone plaque, or tablet, believed to be from the tenth century B.C.E. On it, in ancient Hebrew script, was found what is thought to be a simplified version of an agricultural year, or cycle, with its various operations. This tablet has come to be known as the Gezer Calendar.
The tablet bears a signature: Abijah. Though not all archaeologists agree, many consider it to be a schoolboy’s exercise set in verse.a Would you like to see the passing of seasons through the eyes of a boy who lived back then? Doing so might help you to recall some Bible events.
Two Months of Ingathering
The writer of this ancient calendar began with the general ingathering. While it was listed first in this calendar, you can understand why the Israelites considered this ingathering to be the climax, or the end, of the major part of the agricultural year. The month of Ethanim (later called Tishri) corresponds to September/October on our present calendar. With the bulk of the harvesting finished, this was a particularly festive time that would have involved young Abijah. Imagine his excitement while helping his father make the booth that would become their home for a week as they joyfully thanked Jehovah for the fruitage of their fields!—Deuteronomy 16:13-15.
About this time, the olives were nearly ready for Abijah’s family to harvest them by beating the tree branches, a job that may have been too hard for young Abijah but fun to watch. (Deuteronomy 24:20) They would then pick up the olives and take them to the nearest stone press to make oil. Or a family might obtain some oil by a simpler method—that of placing beaten or cracked olives in water and scooping up any oil that floated to the surface. In any case, this precious liquid provided more than food. It was also used as fuel for lamps and to treat bruises and wounds, such as a lad like Abijah might get while playing.
Two Months of Sowing
When the early rains began, Abijah might have been happy to feel the cool shower on his skin. His father probably told him how important rain is for the land. (Deuteronomy 11:14) The soil, baked hard for months by the sun, would soften and become ready for plowing. The ancient plowman skillfully guided a wooden plow, perhaps one having a metal tip, as an animal pulled it along. The goal was to make straight furrows in the soil. The land was precious, so Israelite farmers even made use of small plots, including slopes. But there they might have to use handheld implements.
Once the softened soil was plowed, wheat and barley could be sown. Interestingly, the next entry in the Gezer Calendar refers to two months of such planting. The sower might carry the grain in a fold in his clothes and spread the seed with a wide sweeping movement of his arm.
Two Months of Late Sowing
“The good land” never ceased producing food. (Deuteronomy 3:25) During December, the rainfall reached its peak and the land became green. It was the time for a late sowing of legumes, such as peas and chickpeas, as well as other vegetables. (Amos 7:1, 2) On the tablet, Abijah called this the “spring pasture” or, according to another rendering, the “late planting,” a time of delicious dishes made with many vegetables from this period.
As the somewhat cold season warmed up, the almond tree, a harbinger of spring, blossomed with white and pink flowers. This could start at the slightest warming, as early as January.—Jeremiah 1:11, 12.
One Month of Cutting Flax
Abijah next mentioned flax. That might call to your mind an episode that happened centuries before Abijah’s time on the east side of the Judean hills. In the city of Jericho, Rahab hid two spies “among stalks of flax laid in rows” that had been put out to dry on her roof. (Joshua 2:6) Flax played an important part in the Israelites’ lives. To release the flax fibers, the plant material first had to rot. This would take place slowly with the dew or more rapidly by placing the flax in a pond or a stream. Once separated, the flax fibers were used to produce linen, which was then made into sails, tents, and clothes. Flax was also used for lamp wicks.
Some object to the idea that flax was grown in the Gezer area, where water was somewhat scarce. Others maintain that flax was grown only later in the year. That is why some hold that in the Gezer Calendar, the word “flax” was a synonym for fodder “grass.”
One Month of Barley Harvest
Each year, close to the spring equinox, Abijah observed the green ears of barley, the crop he mentioned next on his calendar. The corresponding month in Hebrew is Abib, meaning “Green Ears,” possibly referring to the stage when the ears are ripe but still soft. Jehovah commanded: “Let there be an observing of the month of Abib, and you must celebrate the passover to Jehovah.” (Deuteronomy 16:1) Abib (later called Nisan) corresponds to parts of today’s March and April. The time of the ripening of barley may have played a role in determining the start of this month. Even today, Karaite Jews observe this ripening to establish their new year. In any case, barley firstfruits had to be waved before Jehovah on the 16th of Abib.—Leviticus 23:10, 11.
Barley had a very important place in the everyday life of most Israelites. Cheaper than wheat, barley was often preferred for making bread, particularly by the poor.—Ezekiel 4:12.
One Month of Harvest and Measure
If you think back to Abijah’s time, you can imagine that early one morning he might have noticed the heavy clouds dissipating—no more rain for a while. The plants of the good land were now dependent on the dew. (Genesis 27:28; Zechariah 8:12) Israelite farmers were aware that many crops harvested during the sunniest months of the year needed a subtle balance of winds until Pentecost. The cold, wet wind coming from the north might have benefited developing cereals, but such were damaging to fruit trees once they blossomed. The hot, dry wind from the south helped the blossoms to open and pollinate.—Proverbs 25:23; Song of Solomon 4:16.
Jehovah, the Master of the elements, had set in motion a finely tuned ecological system. In Abijah’s day, Israel was really “a land of wheat and barley and vines and figs and pomegranates, a land of oil olives and honey.” (Deuteronomy 8:8) Abijah’s grandfather may have told him about the extraordinary period of abundance under wise King Solomon’s rule—clear evidence of Jehovah’s blessing.—1 Kings 4:20.
After mentioning harvesting, the calendar contained a word that some take to mean “measuring.” That might refer to measuring the harvest to give portions to the owners of the field and to the workers or even to pay as a tax. However, other scholars understand the Hebrew word to be “feasting” and see in this an allusion to the Festival of Weeks, which fell in the month of Sivan (May/June).—Exodus 34:22.
Two Months of Leaf Plucking
Abijah next wrote about two months of tending vines. Might he have helped to pluck the abundant foliage off the vines to allow the sun to reach the grapes? (Isaiah 18:5) Then came the time to gather the grapes, an exciting period for a youth back then. How delicious the first ripe grapes were! Abijah had likely heard about the 12 spies sent into the Promised Land by Moses. They went in the days of the first ripe fruits of the grapes to see how good the land was. On that occasion, one bunch of grapes was so large that it took two men to carry it!—Numbers 13:20, 23.
One Month of Summer Fruit
The last entry on Abijah’s calendar referred to summer fruit. In the ancient Middle East, summer was the part of the agricultural year that focused on fruit. After Abijah’s time, Jehovah used the expression “a basket of summer fruit” to illustrate that ‘the end had come to his people Israel,’ using a wordplay with “summer fruit” and “end” in Hebrew. (Amos 8:2) This should have reminded unfaithful Israel that it had reached its end and that Jehovah’s judgment was due. Figs were no doubt among the summer fruits that Abijah was referring to. Summer figs might be pressed into cakes to eat or used as a poultice for boils.—2 Kings 20:7.
The Gezer Calendar and You
Young Abijah was likely in direct contact with the agricultural life of the country. Farm activities were widespread among the Israelites in those days. Even if you are not in close contact with agricultural activities, the references in this tablet from Gezer can help to bring your Bible reading to life, making it more understandable and meaningful.
a There is not full agreement about the correspondency between the list on the Gezer Calendar and the months generally followed in the Bible. Furthermore, some agricultural operations could take place at slightly different times in the various areas of the Promised Land.
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A POSSIBLE RENDERING OF THE GEZER CALENDAR TEXT:
“Months of vintage and olive harvest;
months of sowing;
months of spring pasture;
month of flax pulling;
month of barley harvest;
month of wheat harvest and measuring;
months of pruning;
month of summer fruit.”
b Based on Textbook of Syrian Semitic Inscriptions, Volume 1, by John C. L. Gibson, 1971.
Archaeological Museum of Istanbul
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Farmer: Garo Nalbandian
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Excavation at Gezer
© 2003 BiblePlaces.com
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Dr. David Darom
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U.S. Department of Agriculture