Any plant having a flexible stem supported by creeping along a surface or by climbing a natural or artificial support. While ancient Israel grew different types of plants that produced vines, such as cucumbers and melons (Numbers 11:5;
Isaiah 1:8), the word vine in the Bible almost always refers to the grapevine or vineyard. The climate of Palestine was well suited for growing vineyards. Along with the olive and fig trees, the grapevine is used throughout the Old Testament to symbolize the fertility of the land (Deuteronomy 6:11;
1 Samuel 8:14;
2 Kings 5:26;
The origin of viticulture lies in the antiquity of the unknown past. The Bible traces the origin of caring for vineyards to the time of Noah (Genesis 9:20-21). Such knowledge seems to have been an indigenous undertaking known in many regions of the ancient world. References to vineyards appear from the time of Gudea (a ruler in ancient Sumer before 2100 B.C.). A wall painting found in a tomb at Thebes in Egypt, dating from before 1400 B.C., depicts the entire process of wine making from the gathering and treading of the grapes to the storing of the wine in jars.
The planting and care of a vineyard required constant and intensive care. The most detailed description of the work involved is found in
Isaiah 5:1-6. Hillsides are frequently mentioned as the most desirable locations for the vines, especially since they were less suitable for other forms of agriculture (compare
Amos 9:13). However, vineyards were also grown in the plains and valleys; the Hebron area was particularly noted for its grapes (Numbers 13:22-24).
Stone walls and/or hedges were usually built around the vineyard to protect the grapes from thirsty animals and from thieves (Song of Solomon 2:15;
Jeremiah 49:9). Watchtowers were also built to provide further protection. The hewing out of a winepress or vat completed the vineyard installation (Isaiah 5:2). During the harvesting season, the owner of the vineyard might live in a booth to stay close to his valuable crop (Isaiah 1:8).
After the grapes had set on the branches, the vines were pruned (Leviticus 25:4;
John 15:1-2). This process produced stronger branches and a greater fruit yield. The pruned branches were useless except to be used as fuel (Ezekiel 15:2-8). The vines for the most past were allowed to run on the ground, though occasionally they might climb a nearby tree (compare
Ezekiel 19:11). Perhaps it was this latter occurrence that made it possible for a man to “sit under” his vine (1 Kings 4:25). Only in the Roman period were artificial trellises introduced.
The harvest of the grapes took place in August or September. How many grapes an average vineyard produced is unknown (compare
Isaiah 5:10), but a vineyard was considered so important that a man who had planted one was exempt from military service (Deuteronomy 20:6). Some of the harvested grapes were eaten fresh (Jeremiah 31:29), and others dried into raisins (1 Samuel 25:18). Most were squeezed for their juice to make wine.
Several laws governed the use of vineyards in Old Testament times. Vineyards could not be stripped totally of their grapes; the owner was to allow gleanings for the poor and the sojourner (Leviticus 19:10), and the fatherless and the widow (Deuteronomy 24:21). See Gleaning. Vineyards were to lie fallow every seventh year (Exodus 23:10-11;
Leviticus 25:3-5), and other plants could not be sown in them (Deuteronomy 22:9). This latter law apparently was not followed by New Testament times (compare
Luke 13:6). Vineyards were cultivated by their owners, hired laborers (Matthew 20:1-16), or rented out to others (Song of Solomon 8:11;
The Bible frequently uses vine or vineyard as symbols. Vine is often used in speaking of Israel. Thus Israel is said to have been brought out of Egypt and planted as a vine on the land but was forsaken (Psalms 80:8-13; compare
Isaiah 5:1-7). Israel was planted a “choice vine” but became a “wild vine” (Jeremiah 2:21; compare
Hosea 10:1). As the dead wood of a vine is good for nothing but fuel, so the inhabitants of Jerusalem would be consumed (Ezekiel 15:1-8;
On the other hand, the abundance of vines and vineyards were seen as expressions of God's favor. The fruit of the vine gladdens the heart of humankind (Psalms 104:15;
Ecclesiastes 10:19) and suppresses pain and misery (Proverbs 31:6-7). Israel was “like grapes in the wilderness” when God found them (Hosea 9:10), and the remnant surviving the Exile is compared to a cluster of grapes (Isaiah 65:8). Finally, an abundance of the vine symbolizes the glorious age to come when the treader of the grapes will overtake the one who sows the seed (Amos 9:13-15; compare
In the New Testament, Jesus often used the vineyard as an analogy for the kingdom of God (Matthew 20:1-16). Those who hope to enter the kingdom must be like the son who at first refused to work in his father's vineyard but later repented and went (Matthew 21:28-32 and parallels). Ultimately, Jesus Himself is described as the “true vine” and His disciples (Christians) as the branches (John 15:1-11). See Agriculture; Eschatology; Israel; Wine, Winepress.
John C. H. Laughlin