Sunday, July 28, 2019

Psalm 80.1-2, 18-19: Ancient Vines, Ancient Cultures

Psalm 80 (verse 8) speaks of a vine, and Isaiah 5:1-7 uses the image of a vineyard. The Psalm calls upon the shepherd of Israel to remember the vine that was brought out of Egypt. One wonders about the mixed metaphor of God as shepherd and the nation as vine/vineyard, but the juxtaposition made me wonder, could the undifferentiated "vine" in Psalm 80 be a grape vine, which could be brought out of Egypt and beget a vineyard in Israel? Were there grapevines in Egypt?

Spoiler alert: yes. And no.

The cultivation of vines was certainly known in Egypt by the time of an ancient Egyptian official named Nakht. The walls of his tomb in Thebes is covered with paintings, including the one below that shows people tending grapes on the vine, stomping the grapes, performing the ancient equivalent of "bottling" the wine.
Tomb of Nakht. Wall painting. Thebes, Egypt. 
In an interesting twist, though, it may be that the (grape)vine that was brought out of Egypt came from Palestine in the first place. In time, there was a thriving wine business in Egypt, but archaeological finds have led to some questions about the origin of the industry. Clay jars found in the tomb of an early Egyptian king (possibly known as Scorpion I) were analyzed to determine the origin of the clay. The jars matched no identifiable Egyptian clay. It did, however, match clays associated with the southern coastal plain and lowlands of Israel. There is evidence that this region did practice grapevine transplanting.

So the psalmist sang of the vine that God brought out of Egypt and planted in Israel. Getting to the land of promise seems really to be a homecoming.

You can read more about wine, wine jars, and the possibility of an Israel-ancient Egypt wine connection here.

For thoughts on clouds in Luke 12:49-56 and Hebrews 11:29-12:2, click here.
For thoughts on the vineyard of Isaiah 5:1-7, see Art&Faith Matters on Facebook.

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