(ἀγρός, elsewhere usually rendered "field"), a plot of arable land (Mt 22:5). Moses, following the example of the Egyptians, made agriculture the basis of the Hebrew state. He accordingly apportioned to every Hebrew a certain qaantity of land, and gave him the right of tilling it himself, and of transmitting it to his heirs (Nu 26:33-54). This equal distribution of the soil was the basis of the Hebrew agrarian law. As in Egypt the lands all belonged to the king, and the husbandmen were not the proprietors of the fields which they cultivated, but farmers or tenants who were obliged to give to the king one fifth of their produce (Ge 47:20-25), just so Moses represents Jehovah as the sole possessor of the soil of the Promised Land, in which he was about to place the Hebrews by his special providence; and this land they held independent of all temporal superiors, by direct tenure from Jehovah their king (Le 25:23). Moses further enacted that for the land the Hebrews should pay a kind of quit-rent to Jehovah, the sovereign proprietor, in the form of a tenth or tithe of the produce, which was assigned to the priesthood. The condition of military service was also attached to the land, as it appears that every freeholder was obliged to attend the general muster of the national army, and (with few exceptions, De 20:5-9) to serve in it, at his own expense, as long as the occasion required. The Hebrews appear to have acquired in Egypt considerable knowledge of agriculture; but the physical circumstances of the land of Canaan were in many respects essentially different, as it was not a land rarely refreshed with rain as Egypt (De 11:10-15). The Hebrews, notwithstanding the richness of the soil, endeavored to increase its fertility in various ways. In order to avert the aridity which the summer droughts occasioned, they watered the soil by means of aqueducts communicating with the brooks, and thereby imparted to their fields a garden-like verdure (Ps 1:3; Ps 65:10; Pr 21:1; Isa 32:2,20). In the hilly part of the country terrace cultivation was practiced, so that the hills otherwise barren were rendered fertile (De 11:11; Ps 72:16; Ps 104:10: Isa 30:25). With the use of manure the Hebrews were undoubtedly acquainted; and that the soil might not be exhausted, it was ordered that every seventh and every fiftieth year the whole land should lie fallow. The dung, the carcasses, and the blood of animals were used to enrich the soil (2Ki 9:37; Ps 73:10; Ps 8:2; Jer 9:22). Salt, either by itself, or mixed in the dunghill in order to promote putrefaction, is specially mentioned as a compost (Mt 5:13; Luke, 4:34, 35). The soil was enriched, also, by means of ashes, to which the straw, stubble, husks of corn, brambles, grass, etc., that overspread the land during the fallow or sabbatical year, were reduced by fire. The burning over the surface of the land had also the good effect of destroying the seeds of noxious herbs (Pr 24:31; Isa 30:25). The soil of Palestine is very fruitful, if the dews of spring, and the rains of autumn and winter are not withheld. "Nevertheless," observes Hengstenberg, "it is to be considered that the Canaan of which Moses speaks is in a manner an ideal land. It was never what it might have been, since the bond of allegiance, in consequence of which God had promised to give the land its rain in its season, was always far from being perfectly complied with." Among the Hebrews the occupation of the husbandman was held in high honor, and even distinguished men disdained not to put their hands to the plough (1Sa 11:5-7; 1Ki 19:19; 2Ch 26:10). The esteem in which agriculture was held diminished as luxury increased, but it nevsqr wholly ceased; even after the exile, when many of the Jews had become merchants and mechanics, the esteem and honor attached to this occupation still continued, especially under the dynasty of the Persians, who were agriculturists from religious motives. SEE LAND.
In ancient Egypt, the peasants or husbandmen, like the modern fellahs of the same country, seem to have formed a distinct class, if not caste, of society (Wilkinson, Anc. Egypt. 2:1, 2). The government did not interfere directly with the peasants respecting the nature of the produce they intended to cultivate, and the vexations of later times were unknown under the Pharaohs. They were thought to have the best opportunities of obtaining, from actual observation, an accurate knowledge on all subjects connected with husbandry; and, as Diodorus observes, "being from their infancy brought up to agricultural pursuits, they far excelled the husbandmen of other countries, and had become acquainted with the capabilities of the land, the mode of irrigation, the exact season for sowing and reaping, as well as all the most useful secrets connected with the harvest, which they had derived from their ancestors, and had improved by their own experience." "They rented," says the same historian, "the arable lands belonging to the kings, the priests, and the military class, for a small sum, and employed their whole time in the tillage of their farms;" and the laborers who cultivated land for the rich peasant, or other landed proprietors, were superintended by the steward or owner of the estate, who had authority over them, and Che power of condemning delinquents to the bastinado.lrhis is shown by the paintings of the tombs, whichfrequently represent a person of consequence inspecting the tillage of the field, either seated in a chariot, walking, or leaning on his staff, accompanied by a favorite dog. To one officer were intrusted the affairs of the house, answering to "the ruler," "overseer," or "steward of Joseph's house" (Ge 39:5; Ge 43:16,19; Ge 44:1); others "superintended the granaries," the vineyard (comp. Mt 20:8), or the culture of the fields; and the extent of their duties, or the number of those employed, depended on the quantity of land, or the will of its owner.
At the present day the lower orders in Egypt, with the exception of a very small proportion, chiefly residing in the large towns, consist of fellahhin (or agriculturists). Most of those in the great towns, and a few in the smaller towns and some of the villages, are petty tradesmen or artificers, or obtain their livelihood as servants, or by various labors. In all cases their earnings are very small; barely sufficient, in general, and sometimes insufficient, to supply them and their families with the cheapest necessaries of life. Their food chiefly consists of bread (made of millet or of maize), milk, new cheese, eggs, small salted fish, cucumbers and melons, and gourds of a great variety of kinds, onions and leeks, beans, chick-peas, lupins, the fruit of the black egg-plant, lentils, etc., dates (both fresh and dried), and pickles. Most of the vegetables they eat in a crude state. When thee maize (or Indian corn) is nearly ripe, many ears of it are plucked, and toasted or baked, and eaten thus by the peasants. Rice is too dear to be an article of common food for the fellahin, and flesh-meat they very seldom taste. It is surprising to observe how simple and poor is the diet of the Egyptian peasantry, and yet how robust and healthy most of them are, and how severe is the labor which they can undergo (see Lane, Mod. Egypt. chapter 7).
Dr. Thomson thus describes the modern lower class of farmers in Palestine (Land and Book, 1:531 sq.): "These farmers about us belong to el-Mughar, and their land extends to the declivity immediately above Gennesaret, a distance of at least eight miles from their village. Our farmers would think it hard to travel so far before they began the day's work, and so would these if they had it to do every day; but they drive their oxen before them, carry bed, bedding, and board, plow, yoke, and seed on their donkeys, and expect to remain out in the open country until their task is accomplished. The mildness of the climate enables them to do so without inconvenience or injury. How very different from the habits of Western farmers! These men carry no cooking apparatus, and, we should think, no provisions. They, however, have a quantity of their thin, tough bread, a few olives, and perhaps a little cheese in that leathern bag which hangs from their shoulders — the 'scrip' of the New Testament — and with this they are contented. When hungry, they sit by the fountain or the brook, and eat; if weary or sleepy, they throw around them their loose 'aba, and lie down on the ground as contentedly as the ox himself. At night they retire to a cave, sheltering rock, or shady tree, kindle a fire of thornbushes, heat over their stale bread, and, if they have shot a bird or caught a fish, they broil it on the coals, and thus dinner and supper in one are achieved with the least possible trouble. But their great luxury is smoking, and the whole evening is whiled away in whiffing tobacco and bandying the rude jokes of the light-hearted peasant. Such a life need not be disagreeable, nor is it necessarily a severe drudgery in this delightful climate. The only thing they dread is an incursion of wild Arabs from beyond the lake, and to meet them they are all armed as if going forth to war." SEE AGRICULTURE.