Isaiah’s Song of the Vineyard is one of the most vivid and precise poetic passages in the Bible. In seven verses (Isaiah 5:1–7; see the sidebar to this article), the prophet presents a sustained metaphor for God’s care for his people, by portraying the deity as a meticulous, attentive vintner and his people as disappointing, fetid fruit. The detailed imagery of Isaiah’s song both fuels the power of the prophecy and offers a historically reliable glimpse of a vital agricultural practice in eighth-century B.C.E. Jerusalem.
Isaiah’s song is also the most detailed description of vineyard maintenance in the Bible. We can test its accuracy by comparing it to the archaeological evidence. Whereas classical antiquity produced treatises on viticultural practice,1 no such works exist from ancient Israel during the Iron Age (1200–586 B.C.E.). Instead, we cull our knowledge of Israelite viticulture from biblical descriptions and archaeological remains. Understanding how the ancient Israelites provided for their needs allows us to appreciate the complexities of ancient life and gives us insights into the biblical text.