Tuesday, November 23, 2021

The shouting of the grape-treaders

In "Phonics with Jeremiah, and the grapes of wrath," I proposed an interpretation of Jeremiah's strange expression "a shout, as they that tread the grapes" (25:30). Given the many places in the Bible where treading or pressing grapes is used figuratively to refer to bloodshed, I suggested that this metaphor may have been become so embedded in the language that they that tread the grapes referred primarily to soldiers (figuratively treading the "grapes of wrath") and only secondarily to literal workers in a vineyard. I felt that this interpretation was supported by the context of Jeremiah 25, of which I quote some relevant passages below.

For thus saith the Lord God of Israel unto me: "Take the wine cup of this fury at my hand, and cause all the nations, to whom I send thee, to drink it. And they shall drink, and be moved, and be mad, because of the sword that I will send among them."

Then took I the cup at the Lord's hand, and made all the nations to drink, unto whom the Lord had sent me: . . . [a long list of nations follows]

Therefore thou shalt say unto them, "Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; Drink ye, and be drunken, and spue, and fall, and rise no more, because of the sword which I will send among you."

And it shall be, if they refuse to take the cup at thine hand to drink, then shalt thou say unto them, "Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Ye shall certainly drink."

For, lo, I begin to bring evil on the city which is called by my name, and should ye be utterly unpunished? Ye shall not be unpunished: for I will call for a sword upon all the inhabitants of the earth, saith the Lord of hosts.

Therefore prophesy thou against them all these words, and say unto them, "The Lord shall roar from on high, and utter his voice from his holy habitation; he shall mightily roar upon his habitation; he shall give a shout, as they that tread the grapes, against all the inhabitants of the earth. A noise shall come even to the ends of the earth; for the Lord hath a controversy with the nations, he will plead with all flesh; he will give them that are wicked to the sword, saith the Lord" (Jer. 25:15-17, 27-31).

Given the extended metaphor in which drinking from the "wine cup of fury" represents being punished by violence and slaughter, I thought a martial understanding of they that tread the grapes made sense, and that it was soldiers, not wine-makers, that were proverbially associated with shouting.

Having just listened to Jeremiah 48, though, I am forced to reconsider that reading and conclude that people in Jeremiah's time literally used to shout when they trod the grapes to make wine.

O vine of Sibmah, I will weep for thee with the weeping of Jazer: thy plants are gone over the sea, they reach even to the sea of Jazer: the spoiler is fallen upon thy summer fruits and upon thy vintage. And joy and gladness is taken from the plentiful field, and from the land of Moab, and I have caused wine to fail from the winepresses: none shall tread with shouting; their shouting shall be no shouting (Jer. 48:32-33).

This seems pretty clearly to be referring to viticulture, not war. The wine failing from the winepresses is paired with joy and gladness being taken from the plentiful field. Those who tread the grapes shout, and no shouting means there has been no grape harvest.

Searching the Bible for similar references, I found a few possibilities.

Psalm 78:65 reads, "Then the Lord awaked as one out of sleep, and like a mighty man that shouteth by reason of wine." I had always assumed this referred to a drunken man shouting, and that still seems the likeliest interpretation, but a "treading the grapes" reading is also possible. The next verse has the Lord smiting his enemies, which is often connected in the Bible with such imagery.

Here's a very clear reference in Isaiah.

Therefore I will bewail with the weeping of Jazer the vine of Sibmah: I will water thee with my tears, O Heshbon, and Elealeh: for the shouting for thy summer fruits and for thy harvest is fallen. And gladness is taken away, and joy out of the plentiful field; and in the vineyards there shall be no singing, neither shall there be shouting: the treaders shall tread out no wine in their presses; I have made their vintage shouting to cease (Isa. 16:9-10).

As in Jeremiah 48, the "vintage shouting" is here clearly connected with joy and plenty, not with war and bloodshed.

It seems inescapable that it really was the custom to shout while treading the grapes. My hunch is that it may have been a bit of sympathetic magic, to endue the wine with greater potency. I will be on the lookout for this now when I read other ancient authors.

3 comments:

Dr. Mabuse said...

It wouldn't surprise me to learn that in some cultures grape-treading is accompanied by shouting. In Scotland there is a tradition of "waulking songs" - songs sung as tartan wool is "waulked", or rhythmically beaten to soften it. An activity (particularly a group activity) involving repeated physical actions is helped by singing to keep everyone coordinated and also enthused. Now, waulking is a female activity, so the women sing together in time. But if grape-treading were a MALE activity in Biblical times, then shouting might be preferred. And soldiering might just be regarded as another thing men do together, so naturally they shout while doing it. Even today soldiers march along to shouted, rhythmic commands.

Mr. Andrew said...

Could "shouting" be singing/praising?

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Isaiah 16 does mention both "singing" and "shouting" in the vineyards.

Jeremiah 25, though, pairs it with "roaring," and says that the Lord will shout like grape-treaders "against all the inhabitants of the earth" before visiting destruction upon them. This would be a very strange simile if the "vineyard shouting" were simply joyful singing.

Never mind, Lord . . .

Please, God, save us from this terrible storm -- oh, never mind, it's just stopped! -- traditional prayer Good night, Westley. Good work...