Israel’s Seven Species: Grape vine

By GARY ALLEYJuly 2014

Deuteronomy is a book of expectations. In this final book of the Pentateuch, God stokes the Israelites’ expectations concerning their entrance into the long-awaited “Promised Land,” while at the same time, He explains the rules that they are expected to follow.  One of these expectations is the agricultural bounty of the land of Canaan, often summed up by the so-called seven species.  During the time of Jesus, only these seven varieties[1] were presented in the Temple at Jerusalem as offerings of the first fruits festival (Ex 34:26).

“For the Lord your God is bringing you to a good land, a land of brooks, springs, and fountains flowing forth in valleys and hills, a land of wheat, barley, grapevines, figs, and pomegranates, of olive oil and honey (Dt 8:7-8).”

The GRAPE VINE is a climbing woody plant which produces a highly sweet, clustering fruit.  Besides the olive tree, the grape vine was one of the most cultivated trees in Israelite culture and was predominately grown to produce wine.  While raisin cakes[2] were also made from grapes, the biblical text testifies to the supremacy of wine within the ancient culture.[3]  Wine was a symbol of joy and blessing.[4]

In the Bible, Noah was the first to cultivate a grape vine and make wine (Gen 9:20-21).  Noah did this in the region of Ararat (Gen 8:4), which is located in the same area as the earliest archaeological finds for viticulture and wine making.[5]

Grape vines were grown inside walled vineyards, where often a watchtower stood to guard the fruit, with the approach of harvest season.  Typically, July and August were the harvest months in Israel.  Due to the crawling nature of the grapevine and its highly valued fermented fruit, it was critical to diligently maintain one’s vineyard.  In order to pick the grape clusters at their optimal time, day workers could be brought in at short notice to help with the immediate harvest (Mt 20:1-16).  The grape harvest was a time of song, dance, and celebration as the fruit was treaded by bare feet in the winepress, and smashed into juice that flowed down into a collection vat.  After straining, the grape juice would ferment in basins, as the bubbling gases escaped over the next six weeks.  The finished wine would then be poured into clay jars, and often sealed by clay stoppers with leather straps.

Grape vine cultivation and wine production is embedded within the biblical text metaphorically as well.  Some examples are the depictions of Israel or as a grape vine (Ezk 19:10-14), a vineyard (Isa 5:1-7), and harvested fruit (Jer 6:9).  Jesus portrayed himself as a grape vine and his disciples as its branches (John 15:5).  The blood red color of grape juice being smashed out in the winepress also became a foreboding image of God’s coming wrath upon the wicked.[6]  While the dangers and consequences of wine’s abuse by drunkards have always been proclaimed,[7] wine’s divine blessing should not be forgotten.

[The Lord] makes grass grow for the cattle,

and plants for people to cultivate—

bringing forth food from the earth:

wine that gladdens human hearts,

oil to make their faces shine,

and bread that sustains their hearts.

Ps 104:14-15

[1] Mishna Bikkurim 1,3

[2] 1 Sam 25:18; 1 Sam 30:12; 2 Sam 16:1; 1 Chr 12:40

[3] There are 185 references in the Old Testament to wine.  The most common Hebrew word for wine is “yayin”.

[4] Some examples are seen in its harvest (Isa 16:10), at weddings (John 2:1-2), in tithing to the Lord (Dt 14:22-27), and part of intimacy (Song 5:1).

[5] This region stretches down from modern-day Georgia, through Armenia, and into northern Iran.  Earliest evidence for the cultivated grapevine is from the 6th millennium BC.  Findings for viticulture in Israel date back to the 4th millennium BC.

[6] Isa 63:1-6; Rev 14:17-20

[7] Gen 19:32-35; Pr 20:1; 23:30-31; Eph 5:18; I Cor 6:10

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