The Fruit of the Vine: Viticulture in Ancient Israel. (Reviews of Books)

By Borowski, Oded | The Journal of the American Oriental Society, January-March 2002 | Go to article overview

The Fruit of the Vine: Viticulture in Ancient Israel. (Reviews of Books)


Borowski, Oded, The Journal of the American Oriental Society


The Fruit of the Vine: Viticulture in Ancient Israel. By CAREY ELLEN WALSH. Harvard Semitic Monographs, vol. 60. Winona Lake, Ind.: EISENBRAUNS, 2000. Pp. vii + 259. $29.95.

The growing interest among biblical scholars in the daily lives of the average Israelite is resulting in an increasing number of works, exemplified by the book under review. In this respect it could be entitled "Everything you wanted to know about viticulture (grape-vine cultivation), wine making, and drinking in biblical times." The author presents six chapters chockfull of information related to viticulture and textual analyses of the biblical references to this field. She "seeks to bridge the current interpretive gap between biblical studies and historical study of ancient Israel and illuminate the meanings of viticulture and wine use in the culture of ancient Israel" (p. 8). She looks at viticulture and winemaking from the practical as well as the symbolic point of view. The former is highly important because, as Walsh says, to understand biblical imagery replete with references to viticulture and wine, it is necessary to understand "... their meaning within the texts ... [because] without an historical a nalysis of the practical aspects of ancient viticulture" this task is impossible (p. 2).

In the introduction, Walsh lays out the reasons for the book, originally written as a dissertation at Harvard University. She emphasizes that to understand the text one needs to be familiar with its background. To understand the large number of biblical metaphors and similes referring to viticulture, one needs to have some knowledge in this field of horticulture. As Welsh puts it, "... viticulture, no less than drinking, marked the social sphere of Israelite practitioners, and so its details were often enlisted to describe social relations in the Hebrew Bible" (p. 3). Furthermore, "[t]he additional thematic and theological meanings attached to such biblical representations of the vine and wine imagery are also refined by knowledge of the viticulture technology practiced by the Israelites" (p. 4). The need to understand the agricultural background of the text is repeated several times because the "... investigation of the meanings of viticulture and wine use in ancient Israel and the Hebrew Bible is focal to u nderstanding Israelite culture" (p. 10).

Chapter one, "Viticulture as a Vital Facet of Israelite Culture," traces the history of viticulture in Syria-Palestine; looks at Egyptian and Mesopotamian agriculture and the common drink (beer) they produced and compares it with that of Palestine (wine); examines the geographical conditions favorable to viticulture in Syria-Palestine; and examines the Israelite agricultural calendar and its relationship to viticulture as reflected in the Gezer Calendar. In chapter two, "The Sociology of the Vintner," Walsh examines the question "Who Was a Vintner? …

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