Friday, September 16, 2016

Why Were 19th Century Photographers so Interested in Peasants' Plowing?

"Native ploughing with his wife and donkey, Palestine" (original caption)
(Credit: Keystone-Mast Collection, California Museum of
Photography at UCR ARTSblock, University of California, Riverside)

"Thou shall not plow with an ox and an ass together."
לא תַחֲרֹשׁ בְּשׁוֹר וּבַחֲמֹר יַחְדָּו
Deuteronomy 20 (Library of Congress, circa 1890)
For Jews in synagogue tomorrow, the answer is found in the Torah portion.

Virtually every vintage collection that we've analyzed contains a picture of an Arab farmer in Palestine plowing with a rudimentary plow pulled by an ox and an ass.


"Thou shall not muzzle an ox in its threshing"
לֹא תַחְסֹם שׁוֹר בְּדִישׁוֹ
Deuteronomy 25 (circa 1900)

We suggest that the photographers, many of whom were well-versed in the Old Testament, focused on agricultural prohibitions found in the Bible.  The photographs, slides, and postcards were usually sold to a Bible-reading public.

"Plowing with an ox and an ass" (April, 1929, Torrance
Collection, University of Dundee)

The photographers illustrated the prohibition "Thou shall not plow with an ox and an ass together" (Deuteronomy 20) and provided pictures of the prohibition "Thou shall not muzzle an ox in its threshing"(Deuteronomy 25).
The photograph above in the UCR collection went one step further, showing an Arab farmer using his ass and wife to pull the plow.

Plowing with a cow and and an ass (circa
1900) See also here (Library of Congress)

Peasant plowing (circa 1900)
(New York Public Library)


"Plowing with an ox and ass" -- the original caption.  (Credit: RCB Library, 1897)

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