Pasture (prop. מִרֵעֶה or מִרעַית, from רָעָה, to feed, νομή). In the first period of their history the Hebrews led an unsettled pastoral life, such as we still find among many Oriental tribes. One great object of the Mosaical polity was to turn them from this condition into that of fixed cultivators of the soil. Pasturage was, however, only discouraged as a pursuit unfriendly to settled habits and institutions, and not as connected with agriculture. Hence, although in later times the principal attention of the Hebrews was given to agriculture, the tending of sheep and cattle was not at any time neglected. SEE CATTLE.
The shepherds who move about with their flocks from one pasture-ground to another, according to the demands of the season, the state of the herbage, and the supply of water, are called nomands — that is, not merely shepherds, but wandering shepherds. They feed their flocks on the "commons," or the deserts and wildernesses, which no settled or cultivating people have appropriated. At first no pastoral tribe can have any particular property in such tracts of ground in preference to another tribe; but in the end a particular tract becomes appropriated to some one tribe, or section of a tribe, either from long occupation, or from digging wells therein. According to the ideas of the East, the digging of a well is so meritorious an act that he who performs it acquires a property in the waste lands around. In the time of the patriarchs Palestine was but thinly peopled by the Canaanites, and offered many such tracts of unappropriated grounds fit for pasturage. In these they fed their flocks, without establishing any exclusive claims to the soil, until they proceeded to dig wells, which, being considered as an act of appropriation, was opposed by some of the inhabitants (Ge 21:25-26). After the conquest of Canaan, those Israelites who possessed large flocks and herds sent them out, under the care of shepherds, into the "wildernesses," or commons, of the east and south, where there are rich and juicy pasturages during the moist seasons of the year (1Sa 17:28; 1Sa 25:4-15; 1Ch 27:341; Isa 65:10; Jer 1; Jer 39). The nomads occupy, successively, the same stations in the deserts every year. In summer, when the plains are parched with drought, and every green herb is dried up, they proceed northwards, or into the mountains, or to the banks of rivers; and in winter and spring, when the rains have reclothed the plains with verdure, and filled the watercourses, they return. When these pastors remove, they strike their tents, pack them up, and convey them on camels to the next station. Nearly all the pastoral usages were the same anciently as now. The sheep were constantly kept in the open air, and guarded by hired servants, and by the sons and daughters of the owners. Even the daughters of emirs, or chiefs, did not disdain to tend the sheep (Ge 24:17-20; Ge 29:9; Ex 2:16). The principal shepherd was responsible for the sheep entrusted to his care, and if any were lost he had to make them good, except in certain cases (Ge 31:39; Ex 22:12; Am 3:12). Their services were often paid by a certain proportion of the young of the flock (Ge 30:30). On the more dangerous stations towers were erected, from which the approach of enemies might be discovered. These were called the Towers of the Flock (Ge 25:21; 2Ch 26:10; Mic 4:8). SEE SHEPHERD.