Threshing Floors in Ancient Israel: Their Ritual and Symbolic Significance
By Jaime L. Waters
(Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015), xiv + 207 pp., $44 (paperback), $99 (hardcover)
Reviewed by John D. Currid
This monograph is part of the Emerging Scholars series from Fortress Press designed to highlight innovative and creative projects from new scholars in Biblical studies, theology and Church history. This volume by Jaime L. Waters fits well into the series; it is based on Water’s Ph.D. dissertation from Johns Hopkins University. Fortress Press should be commended for publishing these works and thus encouraging young scholars in their studies and writing. Waters is currently an assistant professor of Catholic Studies at DePaul University in Chicago.
The topic of her book, threshing floors in ancient Israel, sounds perhaps trivial and trite to the common reader. However, we need to be reminded that Israel was primarily a pastoral and agrarian society throughout its history. Often the books of the Bible deal with royalty and elite figures, such as the Books of Samuel that center on Saul, Samuel and David. Much of the everyday, common workings of society are given little attention. This is where fields, such as archaeology, can help fill in the gaps—by providing insights into everyday life. Threshing floors were installations commonly used in ancient Israelite agriculture and therefore need to be studied and understood.
The author’s basic theme is to demonstrate that while threshing floors are agricultural spaces where crops are threshed and winnowed, they are also sites for important cultic activities, such as rituals and processions. In the Hebrew Bible, threshing floors were considered sacred spaces connected to Yahweh. He appeared at threshing floors, which were under his control, and he provided the grain threshed and winnowed there.
In five chapters, Waters attempts to demonstrate the common and sacred uses of threshing floors. Chapter 1 provides a brief overview of the nature of threshing floors in archaeology and in textual materials. This is a good introductory chapter, although it is somewhat surprising how thin the archaeological evidence is for threshing floors in ancient Israel. Chapter 2 demonstrates from the Biblical text that Yahweh has control over whether threshing floors are successes or failures: It is Yahweh who blesses or curses them. Chapter 3 deals with legal texts that include material on threshing floors, such as the important pericope of Ruth 3 involving divine invocations that occur on a threshing floor when a legal request is made. Chapter 4 discusses threshing floors used as sacred spaces, especially for cultic activity. Finally, chapter 5 targets the implications of Yahweh’s temple in Jerusalem having been built on a threshing floor (2 Chronicles 3:1).
Waters is successful in her presentation and argument. This book is wellwritten, straightforward and easy to read. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about Israelite agricultural practices and the use of space. While some may find it too commonplace or unexciting, it was a delight to me. Then again, my dissertation was on the topic of grain storage practices in Iron Age Palestine!