Records of Israel’s “Lush Vineyards”

Credit: BiblePlaces.com, Istanbul Archaeology Museums

Leviticus 25 instructs about the sabbath year, and the restrictions on planting crops. “For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest.”

Records from the 8th century BCE show that Samaria experienced years of successful harvests.  

The Samaria Ostraca are a collection of records written in the ancient Hebrew script on clay shards. The ostraca were found at the palace in Samaria, the capital of the Kingdom of Israel. They are records of wine and oil, two key crops for ancient Israel. They are presumably records of taxes collected by the kingdom or from lands held by royal officials.

These records of high value goods, oil and wine, accord well with the 8th century BCE prophets. The prophets Hosea, Amos and Micah are critical of Israel for their flaunting wealth while others suffered in poverty. Hosea remarks that “The merchant uses dishonest scales and loves to defraud. Ephraim boasts, I am very rich; I have become wealthy. With all my wealth they will not find in me any iniquity or sin.” Amos remarks that “You levy a straw tax on the poor and impose a tax on their grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them; though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine. For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins. There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts. Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times, for the times are evil.” And Micah says that “They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them. They defraud people of their homes, they rob them of their inheritance.”

These Samaria Ostraca record the produce of the “lush vineyards” that produced the wealth of which the prophets speak.

The Samaria Ostraca are held at the Istanbul Archaeology Museums.