Chapter 24: Beneath the Surface

24:13 Eat honey, my son, for it is good; honey from the comb is sweet to your taste.

24:14 Know also that wisdom is sweet to your soul; if you find it, there is a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.

      Amihai Mazar and the apiary at Tel Rehov. Wild bees verses domesticated bees, honey and beeswax. Near East Archaeology 70:4 :11
      There were numerous uses for honey in antiquity; in Egypt honey was used as a sweetener, a salve for sores, to prepare medicines, and for rituals. Beeswax was also used for various purposes, such as casting bronze objects in the lost wax technique, preparation of medicinal salves, writing on wooden boards coated with a layer of wax, and so on. It is thus evident that beehives were of prime economic value.
      Based on ethnographic examples, along with estimates by experts on beekeeping, it appears that a cylindrical beehive of the type and size discovered at Tel Rehov could produce some three to five kilograms of honey per year, depending on the extent of annual blossoming, the upkeep of the beehives, and the methods used to cull the honey. In addition, between 0.5 and 0.7 kilograms of beeswax would have been produced annually from each hive. If indeed we can reconstruct at least one hundred active hives in the Tel Rehov apiary, we can assume an annual yield of about three to five hundred kilograms of honey and fifty to seventy kilograms of beeswax.
      The term "honey" appears fifty-five times in the Bible, sixteen of which as part of the metaphor of Israel as "the land of milk and honey." This honey has been always understood as having been produced from fruits, such as dates and figs, with bees' honey mentioned explicitly only twice, both times in relation to wild bees (Judg 14:8–9 and 1 Sam 14:27). However, careful reading of biblical metaphors mentioning honey led Forti (2006) to suggest that they refer mostly to bee's honey, through in her view, due to the lack of agriculture in the Bible, the references are to honey collected in nature. Indeed, in no case does the Bible mention bee rearing as a productive industry. The discovery of the beehives at Tel Reh ov shows that this was a well developed economic branch during the First Temple period. We can now assume that at least some of the notations of honey in the Bible pertain to bees' honey. Egyptian sources shed interesting light on the production of honey in Canaan. The wealth of honey, oil, and wine is noted in the description of the land of '-r-r in Canaan in Sinuhe's biography attributed to the Middle Kingdom (Lichtheim 1973: 226). Sources dating to the reign of Thutmosis III numerate the amounts of honey imported from Canaan to Egypt, for example one shipment with 430 jars and another with 264 jars paid as taxes (Breasted 1906, 2: nos. 462, 518). Bees' honey (bit) in ancient Egypt figures prominently in both texts and pictorial depictions (Crane 1983; Serpico and White 2000; Kritsky 2007). Four well-known wall paintings and reliefs that deal with the subject include a Fifth Dynasty relief from the Sun Temple of Neuserre at Abu Gurob, two from tombs of the New Kingdom Eighteenth Dynasty (Tomb of Rekhmire [TT100] and Tomb of Amenhotep [TT73] at Thebes), and still another from the tomb of Pabasa (TT279) of the Twenty-Sixth Dynasty (Crane 1983:35–39; Kritsky 2007). In all these cases, the hives are cylindrical and arranged in tiers, almost identical to the hives from Tel Reh ov. The illustrations show how the beekeepers smoked out the bees and extracted honeycomb into large bowls, as well as how the honey was then processed and stored in jars. Egyptian texts detail the numerous uses of honey, which include sweetening food, the process of mummification, cultic practices, and medicine and salves, which utilized the antibiotic quality of honey to cure sores. Jars of honey were often given as royal gifts (Breasted 1906, 1: no. 366) and honey is mentioned along with other precious commodities such as gold, silver, copper, incense, and oil in the Harris Papyrus. Beeswax was considered to possess magical qualities and was also used for practical purposes such as boat building, glue for paint, to attach a blade to its handles, to style wigs, and to cast in the "lost wax" technique; from the Ptolemaic period on, it was also used for writing on tablets. The fact that the symbol of Lower Egypt was a bee and that one of the titles of the pharaoh was "Bee," indicates the central importance of bee rearing and honey and beeswax production in ancient Egypt. Administrative texts from Ugarit mention honey (nbt, Akkadian nubtu), while literary and ritual Ugaritic texts mention it as a substance that was sacrificed to the gods. In Hittite literature, the bee is a symbol of abundance and plays a central role in the myths of the "missing deities" dating to the Hittite Old Kingdom, particularly the myth of Telipinu (Collins 2002:245–47). The Hittite laws stipulate severe punishment for thieves of bee swarms and hives, an indication that such installations indeed existed in ancient Hatti (Crane and Graham 1985:31–32). A particularly interesting reference to beehives appears on a Neo-Assyrian stele dating to the eighth century b c e , in which the ruler of Suhu on the Middle Euphrates boasts of how he initiated the rearing of bees in hives, an act never before undertaken by his forefathers (Dalley 1984:202–3; Cavigneaux and Ismail 1990:403, col. IV, lines 13–15). Many sources, among them the Talmudic literature, note the rearing of bees during the Hellenistic and Roman periods. Notably, Columella, the Roman historian who provides the most comprehensive account of beekeeping in antiquity, actually derided the use of clay to build hives as one of the least suitable materials. Talmudic sources indicate that most of the beehives of that period in Italy and in Israel were portable and were to be found within the confines of the towns, adjacent to dwellings. While it is known that fired jars served as hives in the Classical period and despite the wealth of written and pictorial sources, no beehives or apiaries of commercial scope had ever been revealed in an archaeological excavation until the This discovery has shed light on a hitherto unknown branch of the ancient economy, and, in our case, we are fortunate that we can place the find within its context in the society, culture, and economy of ancient Israel.

24:30 I went past the field of the sluggard, past the vineyard of the man who lacks judgment;

24:31 Thorns had come up everywhere, the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins.

24:32 I applied my heart to what I observed and learned a lesson from what I saw:

      There were no grocery stores in the ancient world, so each family had to grow their own food each year. There was minimum space inside the ancient village or city to grow much more than a small family herb garden. To provide anything close to 2,000 calories daily for each family member, they had to provide it by their own small grape vineyards and grain fields (inherited from their ancestors). There would have also been some olive, pomegranate, date or fig trees, as well – but hardly an orchard of them. The other dimension of ancient village life was the keeping of flocks and herds – not so much for daily meat but for a multitude of dairy products (see the wise saying in 27:23-27). It would have been very hard work for all to survive and, of course, many didn't.
      Based on what we know from antiquity and what happens in Middle Eastern villages today, fields were quite small. To keep animals from ruining the crops, stone walls were built around small fields and vineyards. Larger fields did not have walls but corner stone boundary stones (see Dt 19:14; Pr 15:25; 22:28; 23:10). To maximize their minimal water and soil resources, the ancient would have done their best to keep down the weeds and thorns. To not do any of this would have been inexcusable and could have meant starvation for the family.