Hebrew Bible and ANE History Lists Commentary

News and Comments that relate to the Hebrew Bible and to my posts on various ANE and Hebrew Bible related mailing lists - Yitzhak Sapir

Friday, April 14, 2006

A Song of My Loved One of His Vineyard: The Ancient Terrace Agriculture

A Hebrew "Jerusalem in the Net" site has begun an archaeological column, and their first column involves an article by Yuval Baruch, Jerusalem District Archaeologist for the Israeli Antiquities Authority, on the terrace agriculture of Jerusalem. A translation follows:

Ein Lavan Pool
Photo source: Ein Lavan Website
When one speaks of Jerusalem archaeology, the immediate impression is one of ancient sites in the Old City and its environs. These are sites for which all the superlatives are fitting: eternity, strength, faith, grandeur, and other words which were invented to be used by tour guides.

The faces of archaeology in Jerusalem are many and varied. ... Sometimes, the archaeological site is by the grocery store, near a parking lot, one to which you can just walk over and see, without planning months ahead.

Today's site involves the terraces of Lavan Valley, near the Ir Ganim neighborhood, in the Jerusalem mountains.


The Ancient Farmers

We will use the early spring to visit the Lavan Valley near the Ir Ganim neighborhood. The valley is a tributary of the Rephaim Valley, one of the main drainage basins of the Jerusalem hills. Along the valley are remains of abandoned groves, which make use of the ancient terrace structure.

The name of the place (the Lavan Valley) was apparently given because of the color of its stones, soft white chalky marlstone, which is typical of the Jerusalem hills.

A constructed water channel
Photo source: Gideon Sulemani via 02.net (Hebrew)
A small spring gurgles in the center of the slope. The water gushes out of a hewn tunnel and its waters stream in a channel to a large pool. The pool and additional terraces near it were reconstructed by the members of the urban Kibutz "Reshit" that settled in Ir Ganim.

This steady source of water and the diligence of the ancient farmers made possible a farming village that began in the Second Temple period and was able to survive the hardships of the land at least until the end of the Byzantine period (7th century CE).

The spring flows on a marlstone layer that one of its very noticeable properties is that it is watertight, and so the rainfall water are collected upon it. The water flows onto the surface in a thin trickle. This kind of spring is called a "layer spring." The Second Temple period farmers, who knew a little hydrology and geology, cut horizontal tunnels, some very long, whose purpose was to increase the outflow of the springs. These tunnels channeled the waters from the depths of the land to collection pools in the end of the spring.

Photo source: Gideon Sulemani via 02.net (Hebrew)
The wide farming "steps" (the terraces) sprawl from the spring towards the south-west, utilizing the natural and moderate gradation.

Their construction allowed our ancient farmers to increase their fields and develop a thriving agriculture of groves: vineyards, olive groves, fruit orchards, and others by which our land is blessed. Small buildings are integrated along the terraces and served as small guard-towers to watch the fields. Around the spring are various farming structures: a wine press, a columbarium cave (no directional signs are present), as well as hewn burial caves.

This is the picture that is so well described in the Vineyard Proverb of Isaiah 5: "Let me sing of my well-beloved, a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My well-beloved had a vineyard in a very fruitful hill; And he digged it, and cleared it of stones, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also hewed out a vat therein; and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes."

Ein Lavan Pool
Photo source: Gideon Sulemani via 02.net (Hebrew)
Ein Lavan is part of an ancient dense settlement along the Rephaim Valley that included, among other sites, Ein Hania, Ein Yael, and Ein Al-Balad. In all of them, gurgling springs are found and these have become centers for a wide variety of tourists who enjoy nature and cold greenish water.

The Terraces: The True Remains of the Land. An authentic, and real testimony to its agricultural and rocky nature

The terraces, guard houses, and other elements of the ancient agriculture in the Jerusalem hills hold important historical, natural, educational, and scenic value.

For thousands of years, the farmers and ancient villagers around Jerusalem worked to build the terraces, and their efforts made possible the scenery that surrounds the city. It is hard to imagine the city and its new neighborhoods without the farming terraces that are built along the slopes of the hills, and we are all in debt to this great human effort.

These aren't remains of monumental buildings built of hewn stone and decorated with reliefs or mosaics, and it is also hard to attach ancient tales of bravery and historical episodes, but these are the true remains of the country, a real and authentic testimony to the agricultural nature, stony scenery, and the great efforts that the ancient dwellers of the land made to create a thriving agriculture and turn it into a land flowing with milk and honey.

The terraces are made of unhewn stones, and at times also from rocks that were taken apart from ancient buildings. They were placed along the rocks, making use of the natural gradation of the hill's slopes. The back of the terraces was filled with earth that was cleared of rocks. Piles of cleared rocks remain and are another testimony to the efforts of the ancient villagers.

Terraces on building remains
Photo source: Gideon Sulemani via 02.net (Hebrew)
Between the terraces small guard houses were built, having various shapes: square, rectangular, and there are even beautiful, impressive circular ones. Some are only one story high, while others are made of two or even three stories.

The guard houses served as guard towers in the fields and the valuable agricultural produce and farming equipment was kept. On the top of the tower a hut was built on which the vines climbed.

An ancient collection pool
Photo source: Gideon Sulemani via 02.net (Hebrew)
In the summer, and especially during the grape harvest season, the farmers tended to stay and sleep in the guard tower, near the fields and produce. In the area, various agricultural structures were built, mainly wine presses that were hewn in the rocks, columbarium caves, collection pits, and more.

The increasing development of the city makes it increasingly hard to see these remains of the ancient agriculture, and we, the public, and the Israeli Antiquities Authority, are obligated to preserve them.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank-you so much for providing this English translation! It's a good read.

4/15/2006 06:30:00 PM  

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