Agriculture in the Holy Land: Plowing

Different plows were in use in Palestine in the early 20th century and they all varied subtly by region. But there were similarities. They all had a symmetrical iron plowshare with a sharp point and flaring wings. This was attached to a wooden pole that ended in the hand piece, by which the plow was directed. The yoke was connected to the plow through the draw bar, often consisting of several strong, long pieces of wood, that were often bent.

I took this picture of a plow at Nazareth Village, which aims to recreate life during the time of Jesus. It seems that the form of the plow has substantially remained the same for over 3,000 years, if not longer.

In Palestine, a plow is not used to turn the soil, rather it is used to loosen the soil. Turning the soil would dry it out. By just scratching below the surface and loosening the soil, little water is lost through evaporation. Indeed it limits evaporation and, more importantly, allows the soil to absorb the precious rain.
The animal most commonly used to haul the plow was the steer. Castrated oxen were also used often, as they were easier to manage. Only occasionally were cows used for plowing. Gustaf Dalman even reports seeing donkeys, horses and camels in front of the plow.
Generally, two animals were used to haul a plow. While it happened occasionally in Palestine that an ox and a donkey would carry the same yoke, that is specifically prohibited in the Bible.

You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together.
Deuteronomy 22:10

When plowing, the farmer continually shouted commands to the oxen. Gustaf Dalman experienced that these commands were critical. “That I did not know anything about such a conversation with the animal, was probably the cause that, in the year 1900, a plow-ox declared me unfit for plowing by kicking me despite my Arab clothing.”

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