Palestine Calling
by
W. M. Christie

Chapter XII

Trades and Occupations in Palestine


In every age the Jewish people have been industrious, active, and energetic in all that tends to the accumulation of wealth and property, and in this they have been to a remarkable extent successful. During the centuries when they had their national home in Palestine, they engaged chiefly in agriculture and handicraft. It was only after they were dispersed, separated from the soil, and very often by law cramped and limited in the occupations that they might pursue, that they became traders and usurers. It is quite possible that they may have inherited a tendency in this direction by the mixture of Canaanite blood, that in Palestine helped to make the race. The Canaanite was a trader, and we know that the word "Canaanite" had, in the later days of the Judean kingdom, come to be synonymous with "trafficker."

When Israel was settled in the Holy Land, it was intended that they should become an agricultural people, and that the nomadic occupations should be, for the most part, confined to East Jordan land. The calendar was based on the principles that the nation was agricultural, and the feasts and taxes in connection with religion took for granted that harvests were to be reaped and fruits gathered in. We find indeed a kind of protest against the change of life, and the abandonment of nomadic habits, a kind of conservatism on the part of the Rechabites, or Kenizzites, who had joined Israel, but, in so far as they are commended by the prophets, it is not in connection with nomadism, rather as obedient to an earthly father, and as refusing the temptation to wine.

Still, an agricultural community has need of tradesmen as well as of merchants. Accordingly, although the Temple of Solomon and the palace at Jerusalem were mainly built by Phoenician workmen, it is not long until we meet with men of various arts and crafts in Israel itself. By the time of the end of the kingdom they could evidently compare favourably with those of Babylon, for Nebuchadnezzar, about to enter on his great building schemes, thought well to transport such to his own capital. These were workers in wood and stone, coppersmiths, silversmiths, and goldsmiths, all of which are mentioned in the historical books. The tools mentioned and the indications of methods show that the stage of development was practically that of the native workman to-day. Other Old Testament occupations were those of the weaver, the dyer, the fuller, and the baker, while we have mention of embroidery and indications of dress ornamentation.

In the first century of our era all these are known to have been practised, and many other occupations were also taken up, and developed. The Jewish records of that time set forth very clearly the duty of every man to learn some trade. It is said that every man must teach his son a trade, and that he who does not do so, teaches him to be a thief (M. Kid. iv. 14; B. Kid. 29 a). It is further stated that a boy should be taught the trade of his father (Erach. 16 b). It was perhaps on this principle that Christ learned the trade of carpenter.

The dignity of labour is often set forth. Hillel says one ought to love work (Ab. I. 10), that work ought to accompany study, that both together are good, while we are told that learning without occupation leads to sin (Ab. ii. 2; iii. 21; ii. 2). The artizan at work was not expected to rise in the presence of a rabbi (Kid. 33 a), but he did so to welcome the first fruits (M. Bik. iii. 3).

It is only natural, then, that we should find the leaders and teachers of Israel engaged in various trades. Many of these are mentioned in connection with their writings. Hillel, a descendant of David, was, we are told, a woodcutter; Rabbi Jochanan, a maker of sandals; Rabbi Jehudah, a baker; Rabbi Abin, a carpenter; R. Simeon an embroiderer; while two others are named as fishers in the Sea of Galilee. All this is in perfect harmony with what we meet in the New Testament. The twelve seem, so far as we are able to judge, to have had each a trade. We know that Peter and his associates were fishers, while some of the others were doubtless peasants from Cana of Galilee and engaged in agriculture. Later on we have Paul as a tent-maker, and Luke, without doubt a proselyte in the first instance, as a physician, while others whom we meet had like occupations.

All trades, however, were not treated with equal respect. There was a difference between trade and trade. The Jews had their laws as to what was clean and unclean, and these influenced their attitude to the various trades and occupations. Any trade that had to do with unclean things was in low estimation. Thus tanning, which had to do with the preparation of skins, was associated with an odour that stuck to the workman, who was thus reckoned as almost on a level with lepers. The Mishnah says, "The world cannot exist without perfumers and tanners. Well for you if you are a perfumer; woe to you if you are a tanner." If a man became a tanner his wife was regarded as having good grounds for a divorce (Kidd. 82 b; Keth. vii. 10). It may here be noted too that tanyards, like graves, had to be at least fifty cubits beyond the walls of a town (M. Bab. Bath. ii. 9), nor were they permitted on the east side of it. In these circumstances Simon the tanner must have had his premises to the north of Joppa, where tanyards still exist, and that rules out the traditional site. It is worthy of remark that Peter was already in suspicious company when dwelling in his house, where he received the revelation parallel to the rabbinical saying, "No unclean thing descends from heaven" (B. Sanh. 59. b).

But though we have here an expression in favour of perfumers, still that occupation had its drawbacks. Its pursuit meant a good deal of talk with women, and it was thought unseemly that a father should put one of his family to a trade where there was much contact with the opposite sex. Talk with women was altogether deprecated (Ab. i. 5; 100 B.C.), and to salute them was forbidden. No wonder, then, that the disciples marvelled that Christ talked with the woman of Samaria.

A still further standard was applied to the judging of trades. There were occupations that put men in the way of temptation. These had to do with the possibility of appropriating things entrusted to one in connection with the trade, and in some cases to secure fair dealing protective regulations were made. It is said: "The bits of wool that come off when the fuller is at work belong to him, but what comes off when the carder combs belongs to the owner. The threads that the clothmaker sets to commence the web, and which the fuller draws out, belong to the fuller, the rest to the owner. If the tailor has a needleful of thread, or a piece of stuff three fingers square left over, these belong to the owner. The plane shavings belong to the carpenter, the splinters to the owner."

Reasoning on the same lines, the principle was laid down that no man should make his son a donkey driver, a camel driver, barber, boatman, shepherd, for all these are thievish callings. Elsewhere we read, "Donkey drivers are for the most part godless, camel drivers are mostly honest, boatmen mostly pious, the best of physicians is ripe for hell, and the best of butchers a companion of Amalek" (J. Kidd. iv. II). The following trades were forbidden to the High Priest: weaver, fuller, perfumer, barber, tanner, doctor, and bathman.

In Gospel days certain occupations were carried on at particular places in Palestine. Some of those in Galilee are particularly interesting. Magdala was in these times a great centre of trade. One quarter of the town was even named from the work done, Migdal Zabb 'ayya, or Magdala of the dyers. Down to our own time the same occupation was carried on at the same place, and the workmen might be seen with their arms dyed an indigo or dark colour up to the elbows. Very likely Christ had right before Him in the crowd one of those dyers, when He spoke of inability to make one hair white or black. In the same town there were eighty factories for the making of fine linen, while part of the population was also engaged in capturing pigeons in the Valley of Pigeons just above the town. Those pigeons were sent to Jerusalem, and were sold in booths on the Mount of Olives (Mid. Echa 75 d; B. Cholin 53 a), that they might be used as sacrifices in the temple. This relationship of Magdala to the Mount of Olives raises the question as to whether Mary of Magdala and Mary of Bethany were not the same person. Nowhere do they ever appear together, and to this day the Latin and the Greek churches express conflicting opinions.

Right on the top of the hill above Magdala ropemaking was carried on at Beth Arbel, while earthenware jars were made at Sechania (Sukhnin), and Beth Chananya (Kefr Anan). At the south end of the lake the town of Tarichaea was engaged in curing or mummifying (tarichos) fish, and consequently also in fishing. "The salt" that lost its savour was nothing more nor less than the "salted" (a Mishnah word used for such fish) produced here. Tiberias had a strong party of fishermen among its inhabitants, and later in history they gave a good deal of trouble (Jos. Vita 12). We know that fishing was extensively carried on at the north end of the lake, and that the best fishing ground for all sorts of nets were there.

As in modern times, special streets or quarters in the towns were devoted to particular trades. Even in Old Testament times we have an indication of this in Jerusalem. The Valley of Craftsmen is mentioned in 1 Chron. 4:14; and the great valley dividing the eastern and the western ridges of the city is named that of the "cheesemakers"--Tyropoean. Competition was discouraged, and to prevent it two butchers would agree not to kill on the same day (Bab. Bath. 9 a). Each baker adopted a particular shape for his bread, so that his workmanship might be known.

It seems that the members of each trade had to indicate their occupation by some outward sign (B. Shab. 41 a). The tailor carried a needle in front of his dress, and the scribe his pen behind his ear. This seems also to have been a Roman regulation, and it has been taken up and depicted by Shakespeare: "You ought not walk . . . without the sign of your profession. Where is thy leather apron and thy rule?" (Julius Caesar, i. I).

Arising out of a father teaching his son his own trade, it would seem that some occupations tended to become hereditary, and to create guilds. Such associations of the potters and the weavers appear in 1 Chron. 4:21. Two families in Jerusalem preserved for themselves for a long time the right to make incense and shewbread. The various guilds or associations professed to be combinations for mutual helpfulness, and they agreed to recoup the owner of say a boat or an ass for any loss sustained (Bab. Qam. 116 b).

Then we must remember that in the days of Christ and the apostles there was building in progress everywhere. The Herods were reconstructing many of the old cities and giving them names in honour of the Caesars. The work on the temple at Jerusalem was practically continuous, and sometimes as many as 18,000 workmen were employed. The question has been raised as to how it was possible for the people to take up stones for the purpose of stoning the Lord Jesus in the temple area with its paved courts, and absence of everything extraneous to its particular purposes. But we have the answer here. These courts were generally a great hive of busy labourers, and there were great heaps of stone and all sorts of building material at hand till the year 62 A.D., when the work was concluded.

The Sea of Galilee was another centre of industry in Gospel days. It was in the process of becoming all that Josephus sets forth, when there were 230 boats at Tarichaea alone, and it has been calculated there must have been no less than 6000 on the lake. That meant work, and it may have been in that connection that Christ went down to Capernaum, when it was difficult longer to reside in Nazareth. Around the lake there would be opportunities to work by way of boat building and boat repairing. The words in Luke 4:31 are significant, He "taught them on the Sabbath days." Were the other six days spent at manual labour, as a worker among workmen? Be that as it may, He lived as a citizen of Capernaum, occupying the upper room in the house of Peter's wife's mother, and paying His way, otherwise He could not there have been asked to pay the tax (Matt. 17:24-27).

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