Egypt for Years of No Reaping

“Now the famine was still severe in the land. So when they had eaten all the grain they had brought from Egypt, their father said to them, Go back and buy us a little more food.”

The famine that struck Canaan in Genesis 43 followed a pattern of drought in the Book of Genesis. Abram had faced drought and went to Egypt. Isaac experienced drought and went to Gerar. Now Joseph used the drought to keep his brothers in Egypt.

These stories play out due to inconsistent rains in the seasons in Canaan that interrupted the agricultural cycle. The importance of the agricultural cycle to life is apparent in one of the earlier Phoenician or paleo-Hebrew inscriptions discovered in Canaan.

Tel Gezer is the site of the ancient city of Gezer. The city lies roughly between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, near modern day Ramla. In antiquity it sat along the trade route between Egypt to the south and Syria to the north, where goods could be transported to Mesopotamia, and was a path to reach the central hill country. Because of its strategic location, the city became an important Canaanite city-state. Its importance is evident in the Bible, where in 1 Kings 9 “Pharaoh king of Egypt had attacked and captured Gezer. He had set it on fire. He killed its Canaanite inhabitants and then gave it as a wedding gift to his daughter, Solomon’s wife. And Solomon rebuilt Gezer.”

The Gezer Calendar inscription was discovered at the site. The dating of the inscription is not clear, and it may be a 10th century BCE artifact. The inscription records an annual agricultural cycle:

Two months gathering

Two months planting

Two months late sowing

One month cutting flax

One month reaping barley

One month reaping and measuring grain

Two months pruning

One month summer fruit

The two months of gathering would roughly correspond with our October-November, and the cycle completes with summer fruit collected in the September time frame.

Given the uncertainty about the dating of the inscription, it is unclear if it was written by a Canaanite, Israelite or an inhabitant of the kingdom of Judah. The name of the author of the inscription is incomplete. The last letters on the inscription are Aleph-Bet-Yod, which spell Abi. It is thought that the full name would have spelled Abiyah. The suffix of -Yah to the name would indicate that the author worshiped the Israelite or Judahite God, and was not Canaanite.

The image above is of a replica Gezer Calendar inscription on display at the site of Tel Gezer. The original sits in the Museum of Archaeology in Istanbul, Turkey.