Focus of Study: The Economy

Focus of Study: The Economy

Option C: Focus of study- The economy, including:

Importance of agriculture

In ancient Israel, as with the ancient Near East more broadly, agriculture was the primary concern of every household and would have taken up most of its time and effort. There was no real market in which to sell and agricultural products and food as is the case today, so every household needed to make use of its land to feed itself. As such, agriculture was the main occupation of the vast majority of the population. This made access to fertile land a central concern, and some Israelites and other peoples around them were mobile pastoralists who moved around to find land for grazing their herds.Geographically, the lowlands that surrounded Israel’s core territory in the hill country of Palestine were better for growing crops, but the Israelites made their highland home more productive by clearing forests and building terraces on the side of the hills to farm on. Unlike in Mesopotamia, fields were not irrigated with canals. Instead water was collected from unground springs that served some settlements and rain was collected in large cisterns cut into the rock. Rain only falls in the wet season, in winter and autumn, and could vary drastically from year to year, and springs can dry up during the summer months. Because of this and other dangers like locusts, the threat of crop failure and famine was always very real. Primary crops include wheat, legumes, barley, olives, grapes and figs, while Israelites also kept sheep, goats, cattle and oxen for ploughing.


Oded Borowski, ‘Agriculture’ in Anchor Bible Dictionary vol. I, pp. 95-98.

Borowski reviews the details of agricultural practice in Israel.

Jennie Ebeling, ‘Agrarian Life’, Bible Odyssey, (Society of Biblical Literature, 2017)

Ebeling discusses agriculture’s place in life and its dangers.

1 Kings 4:22-23

A list of all the agricultural products supplied to Solomon and his household.

Proverbs 20:4

The importance of having the fields ploughed when the autumn rains come to water them.

1 Kings 8:37

Look up any verse here.

Solomon’s prayer makes references to locusts and animal diseases.

Occupations, crafts and industry: wood, stone, metal, mining

Crafts in materials like wood, stone and ivory and working with metal where done in the primarily within the household, supported by the household’s agriculture, more part-time as opposed to being professions in the modern sense. In the later periods of the Israelite monarchy, such activities began to be done on a more organised, full-time scale. Outside the household context there was a need for those with skills in building, so especially in wood and stone, on royal construction projects, the results of which can be seen at sites like Samaria, Megiddo and Lachish.Unlike other parts of the ancient Near East, Israel was in a region where there was abundant supply of wood and stone, and metals like Iron and copper were reasonably accessible. The Hebrew Bible does not refer to such skilled labourers very much so it if difficult to glean much information on this topic. For example, 2 Samuel 5:11 uses the same word for craftsmen who work with either wood or stone, while 1 Samuel 13:19 uses that same term again for what would now be referred to as a blacksmith.Wood rarely survives in the archaeology of Israel so it is difficult to know what was carved from it and how. The best evidence comes from stone carving for buildings and for evidence of metal production, both the products (like weapons) and the tools of production. This includes the remains of bellows, which was like a diaphragm made from a skin fitted over a clay vessel that could be raised and lowered to force air through a pipe into the furnace. Tuyeres, which were the fitting between the bellow and the pipe, are also sometimes found.



C. J. Davey, ‘Some Ancient Near Eastern Pot Bellows’, Levant XI (1979), pp. 101-111 (pp. 101-102).

Davey explain how the kind of ancient pot bellows that were used in Israel and the Near East work.

Morris Silver, Prophets and Markets (Kluwer-Nijhoff, 1983), pp. 17-18.

Morris reviews archaeological and biblcial evidence for metalworking in ancient Israel.

2 Samuel 5:11

Carpenters (craftsmen of wood) and stonemasons (craftsmen of stone).

1 Samuel 13:19

Blacksmith (just called a craftsman).

Technology: tools, weapons, engineering, water systems – the Siloam Tunnel 

There was a long tradition of impressive engineering projects to create easier access to water in the area in and around Israel in the Bronze Age and this continued into the Iron Age, when the kingdoms of Israel came to be. One such recently-excavated example of a massive water system from the Bronze Age can be found at Gezer, a huge shaft dug down to reach the water table.The Siloam Tunnel in Jerusalem was built in the 8th century BC and is generally agreed to be the channel for brining water into the city built by Hezekiah according to 2 Kings 20:20 in preparation for impending Assyrian attack, and hence it is also called Hezekiah’s Tunnel. An ancient Hebrew inscription found in the tunnel in the 19thcentury memorialises the point at which the two teams of workers excavating the tunnel through bedrock met each other. The tunnel starts near ancient Jerusalem’s primary water source, the Gihon spring, on the eastern side of the City of David ridge. From there it carried water inside the city’s defences to the Siloam Pool at the City of David’s southern end. It was only the latest of a series of water engineering and defensive works for the Gihon spring, and was built to make access to water from within the city’s defences easier and to alleviate dangers to access to the spring in the case of an attack on the city.



Christopher Rollston, ‘The Siloam Inscription and Hezekiah’s Tunnel’, Bible Odyssey, (Society of Biblical Literature, 2017)

A discussion and translation of the inscription

Ronny Reich, Eli Shukron, ‘Light at the End of the Tunnel’, Biblical Archaeology Review 25 (1999), pp 22-28.

Hezekiah’s Tunnel in the context of ancient Jerusalem’s water works

Yigal Shiloh, ‘Jerusalem: Water Supply Systems’, New Encyclopaedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land vol. 2, p. 329-332.

Shiloh discusses the archaeology of Hezekiah’s Tunnel

2 Kings 20:20

The apparent mention of Hezekiah’s commissioning the constructing of the tunnel

Economic exchange: trade with Judah and Assyria 

Although it made it a target, Israel’s geographic position between Africa, Arabia and the Near East gave it an enviable position in international trade, even if Israel didn’t always control the trade routes themselves. For much of Israel’s history such trade didn’t take place in a market setting of ‘buy low, sell high’ in order to turn a profit as is the case in the modern world, but more a matter of social custom in terms of how ‘prices’ were set. Trade functioned as a way to get hold of resources that were needed, like metals that were only produced in certain areas, or prestigious items that could be used as gifts or to pay the required tribute to imperial overlords like Assyria.For a long time, international trade in the ancient Near East was largely the domain of kings, where it functioned as a way to maintain relations with other kings.During the period of ancient Israel, the places that were most prominent in international trade were Cyprus and the Greek world, mostly through the Phoenicians, who spread a wide net in the Mediterranean mostly by establishing colonies. The best archaeological indicator of trade comes from pottery, and in Israel it is common to find Greek, Cypriot and Phoenician pottery that would have been traded either for its own aesthetics or for what was carried inside, like perfumes that are now long gone. Israel and Judah probably didn’t have any sort of trade that could be easily detected archaeologically, while Assyrian pottery likely did start to be important to some degree after the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel since Assyrian pottery began to be copied locally.



Ephraim Stern, ‘Assyrian Type Pottery’ in The Ancient Pottery of Israel and its Neighbours vol. 2, pp. 533-553 (pp. 533-534)

A description of Assyrian pottery copied in Israel, including a colour photograph of examples

‘Trade Routes of Palestine’, Bible Odyssey, (Society of Biblical Literature, 2017)

How the major international trade routes passed through or near Israel

Vadim Jigoulov, ‘Colonization, Phoenician’ in The Encyclopedia of Ancient History, pp. 1672-1673.

An overview of Phoenician colonies in the Mediterranean

1 Kings 5:1-9

Solomon makes a trade agreement for Hiram to secure cedar wood for his Temple

1 Kings 10:22

A joint trading venture between Solomon and Hiram of Tyre for exotic foreign goods

2 Kings 18:14

Hezekiah pays tribute to the king of Assyria in silver and gold

Features of fortified cities, including silos, Megiddo stables

During the period of the Israelite monarchy, several cities were built or rebuilt with fortifications, which can be divided into two rough types: either the city wall was solid or it was a ‘casemate’, essentially a pair of parallel walls with cross-walls at right angles, forming a series of rooms (casemates). Such cities also had large gate structures that featured pairs of open chambers across from each other on either side of the central passageway that led into the city. These chambers could have been used for storage, exchanging goods, and sometime they had benches. The walls of the chambers supported rooms above the gateway itself.Inside these cities were houses, silos for storing grain harvested in the fields around the city, and other larger buildings that served administrative functions and probably as residences for some local or regional governor. Such administrative buildings include long structures divided within by rows of pillars. These buildings were probably used for storage of things like the taxes to the king that people paid with part of the agricultural produce of their household. A series of such buildings found at Megiddo have been interpreted as stables, an identification suggested by elements such as what appear to be horse-troughs. Although the subject of some debate, it appears now more likely than not that these are stables for the chariot forces of the 9thcentury BC kings Omri and Ahab. Fortified cities like Megiddo acted as strongholds at strategically important points in the landscape as well as centres in the kingdom’s administrative network.



Gabriel Barkay, ‘Iron Age II-III’ in The Archaeology of Ancient Israel, pp. 302-373 (pp. 305-315).

Barkay reviews the archaeological aspects of such fortified cities.

Deborah Cantrell, ‘Stable Issues’ in Megiddo IV vol. II, pp. 630-642 (pp. 630-637).

Cantrell discusses how the pillared buildings at Megiddo would have functioned as stables.

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