Neolithic dairy farming and the land flowing with milk and honey…

Ramla, Palestine, 1938.
Ramla, Palestine, 1938.

A recent study by a team of scientists and archaeologists from the Universities of York and Bristol, together with colleagues from the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, have reported evidence of dairy production and processing in northern Mediterranean farming communities from Neolithic times. The identification of milk and bovine carcass fats in over 500 pottery vessels, as well as a study of faunal remains for slaughter patterns, at over 82 sites from the 7th-5th millennia BCE suggests that dairy farming was an important (if localised) element within farming communities at this time. The report helps to provide a clearer picture of the place and role of cattle exploitation in Neolithic Mediterranean farming and, although the research is centred on northern sites, it could strengthen the case for a mixed agricultural economy in the southern Levant.

Damascus cow (modern) native to Syria. Image:
Damascus cow (modern) native to Syria. Image: from My Daily Cow at

The traditional view that the Israelite nation emerged from nomadic tribes has recently been challenged by numerous scholars (for example see, Khazanov, 1983; Hiebert, 1996; Borowski, 1998; Sasson, 2008). Anthropological and archaeological evidence has refused to sit easily with the old tripartite, cultural-evolutionary model that premeates so much of biblical studies. This 18th/19th century theory (championed by scholars such as Wellhausen, Alt, von Rad and Noth) contends that human societies progress in a linear manner through three distinct phases: Hunter-gatherer > nomadic pastoralism > sedentary (agrarian) farming. The references to cattle (בָּקָר – ba.qar; ) in early strata Hebrew texts – particularly those relating to the Patriarchal History – indicate a close association with its past (in the form of cultural aetiology) and the husbandry of cattle. Even the figure who traditionally  has been most equated with nomadism (Abraham) is described as owning cattle (for example, Gen 15:9-10; 18:7-8; 21:27; 24:35). Read more


Rough deal for hired hands? John 10:12

‘The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.’ [NRSV]

This blog was first posted on Newman Research Centre for the Bible and its Reception: 26/06/2015

1938: A Bedouin shepherd carrying a young lamb on the hills of Palestine
1938: A Bedouin shepherd carrying a young lamb on the hills of Palestine

John 10: 1-18 contains two of the seven so-called ‘I am’ (εγω ειμι) statements that characterise the teaching of Jesus in John’s Gospel; the gate (v.9) and the shepherd (v.11).*

However, unlike the other εγω ειμι statements, this metaphor is developed in a much richer way. For the image to work, it is contrasted with two negative and opposing images – ‘the thief’ (vv. 1 & 8-10) and ‘the hired hand’ (vv. 11-13). Unsurprisingly, attention is generally placed upon the image of the Good Shepherd, the focus of this teaching (παροιμια – proverb/parable), and most commentaries tend to dismiss these figures as little more than a rhetorical device (for example, Carson, 1991).

Nevertheless, the choice of these opposing images, particularly the figure of ‘the hired hand’ (μισθωτος), can tell us about, not only the historical context of this story, but also hint at possible developments of the Jesus tradition within sections of the early church. Read more