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surveyors in the bibleExamples of Land Surveyors in The Bible by William D. Hatfield

The Bible has always been a reliable source for the history of the Jewish people. This historic account encompasses many esoteric and otherworldly encounters, but what is often overlooked is the overwhelming accounts of the day to day life, as well as, the professions of the common people. Seeing as how I work in the land surveying profession I decided to do some research into examples of the land surveying profession in the Bible.
Land surveying is one of the world's oldest professions, from the ancient Sumerians and Egyptians and many other cultures utilizing land surveying and surveying principles in their monolithic and massive building projects. Such projects could not be undertaken without the skill and precision required with the use of a skilled land surveyor. We all know that maps have existed since the earliest times, but someone had to make those maps and do the field work associated with them. The Bible not only describes acts of land surveying, but also the description of landmarks, laws concerning surveying and boundary markers, surveying technology, measurement units, and even a surveying request for services! It's pretty amazing, but not really surprising. In this article I have mentioned some of the examples and will include a short commentary before the examples. This is not to be confused with simple measurements such as Noah building the Ark, which could be construed as a form of space measurement, but that would fall more under the category of engineering of which there are also many many examples. So for a completely accurate view, I have chosen only those passages which could only be considered as land surveying and directly relating to land surveying.
Section 1: Examples of Laws Concerning Property Boundary and Boundary Markers
Laws concerning many things were very strict in what is referred to as the Old Testament. Here are several examples of law and social conduct applied to the property boundaries and landmarks and boundary markers associated thereof. Why was it so important to not remove the boundary markers? First of all, we can see from the Law of Moses that to entrench on another's rights is wrong and against the word of God. Secondly, as evident in the passage from Job, we can see that dire consequences can arise from remove property markers. Aside from perturbing and defrauding neighbors of their property, the maps and local areas would not match up in the legal descriptions set forth in records. In Job we can see that by removing the landmarks it caused flocks to be stolen from their rightful owners. This can lead to property disputes and in the Job passage even livestock that lives on the property could be in dispute. This sort of unethical moving of boundaries will then lead to other problems both legally and morally.
Proverbs 22:28
Remove not the ancient landmark, Which thy fathers have set.
Deuteronomy 19:14
Thou shalt not remove thy neighbor's landmark, which they of old time have set, in thine inheritance which thou shalt inherit, in the land that Jehovah thy God giveth thee to possess it.
Deuteronomy 27:17
Cursed be he that removeth his neighbor's landmark. And all the people shall say, Amen.
Job 24:2
Some remove the landmarks; They seize and devour flocks.
Section 2: Descriptions of Surveying Equipment and Technology
While the Zechariah passages are often attributed to allegory regarding the building of God's church, we can also see that the metaphor is based on actual profession and the technology associated with it. In the next passage we see that he is measuring for the building of temple. Using the standard of a measurement for a "reed" we can surmise that no such temple had been built according to such a massive scale, and while this again passes into allegorical or metaphor for God's church, we again see the use of socially accepted measuring devices. In this case the reed and the measuring line. This shows a high degree of skill and precision for the ancient surveyor to consistently utilize the same standard equipment over a substantial period of time.
Zechariah 2:1-2
I lifted up mine eyes again, and looked, and behold a man with a measuring line in his hand. Then said I, Whither goest thou? And he said unto me, to measure Jerusalem, to see what is the breadth thereof, and what is the length thereof.
Ezekiel 42:16-19
He measured on the east side with the measuring reed five hundred reeds, with the measuring reed round about. He measured on the north side five hundred reeds with the measuring reed round about.
He measured on the south side five hundred reeds with the measuring reed. He turned about to the west side, and measured five hundred reeds with the measuring reed.
Section 3: Examples of Surveying Measurement Units
1 long reed (Biblical) = 10.5 foot. As in Section 2, we see that the measuring unit of a "reed" is used again and again. Not only in surveying and engineering, but also in many construction and building projects. This shows that the professions associated with surveying, architecture, engineering, and construction used the same measurement standards between all industries. Since these industries were and still are integral parts of one another, we can then tell that this is nothing new and is just a continuation of technology, standards, measurements, and principles set forth by the ancients.
Ezekiel 42:16-19
He measured on the east side with the measuring reed five hundred reeds, with the measuring reed round about. He measured on the north side five hundred reeds with the measuring reed round about.
He measured on the south side five hundred reeds with the measuring reed. He turned about to the west side, and measured five hundred reeds with the measuring reed.
Section 4: Descriptions of Surveying Boundaries and Landmarks
There are many instances in the book of Numbers of a border description for the Jewish people. These stretch from the universally accepted coastline of the Mediterranean, known as The Great Sea is this passage (which coastlines along bodies of water are still universal in property and legal descriptions) to the borders of known maps of locations and nations. This is huge news in learning how ancient Israel and it's surveyors connected and cross referenced their maps and surveys with other known surveys and maps. What's more is that the description of known landmarks, both man made and natural, is a great modern day resource in retracing and recreating the ancient world.
Again we see the same type of mapping and boundary denotations outlined in the book of Ezekiel. The use of known legal terms (e.g. Great Sea) of known boundary markers and also the use of city names and references to known maps and surveys is given to add to the credibility and accuracy of new maps and boundaries.
Numbers 34:6-7
As for the western border, ye shall even have the great sea for a border; this shall be your west border. And this shall be your north border: from the great sea ye shall point out for you mount Hor:
Numbers 34:12
And the border shall go down to the Jordan, and the goings out thereof shall be at the Salt Sea. This shall be your land according to the borders thereof round about.
Ezekiel 47:15
And this shall be the border of the land toward the north side, from the great sea, the way of Hethlon, as men go to Zedad;
Section 5: A Royal Request for Surveying Services
The Jewish Historian Josephus relates that the surveying services provided by the Jews were of the highest quality with men who were experts in geometry. Even though many biblical instances are given in generalizations, we can be sure the borders were highly accurate and were mapped as such. Joshua was a military leader and King, the notations of the lands he conquered and how that land was divided was not only of importance to tribal and familial boundary denotations, it was of the utmost importance to the continued military conquest and defense of the promised lands. Note that Joshua not only ask for them to map and denote boundaries, but he also request for physical descriptions of the landmarks. Joshua also requested the surveyed land to be described and written down. In what would be the ancient Judaic version of a Legal Property Description. After everything was written down and described, the land was also divided. This Biblical version of an ancient subdivision is of great importance as it shows that a whole area was surveyed, legally described, entered into records and then subdivided and the property ownership was transferred accordingly.
Joshua 18:8
Then the men arose and went, and Joshua commanded those who went to describe the land, saying, "Go and walk through the land and describe it, and return to me; then I will cast lots for you here before the LORD in Shiloh."
Joshua 18:9
The men surveyed the land. They described it in a book. The land was divided into seven parts according to its cities. Then they returned to Joshua at the camp at Shiloh.
In Closing
We can ascertain from a study of Hebrew history and also Egyptian history that more than likely the ancient Hebrews learned surveying technology and principles from the Egyptians. Furthermore we can see that the basic surveying principles really have not changed that much since ancient times. Of course the technology and accuracy has increased exponentially, but the basic tenets of surveying: boundary law, demarcation, subdivision, legal descriptions, accurate measuring according to social standards of measurements, and universally accepted methods; have only changed according to the cultural standards of measurement and the social legal system.
The Bible continues to be a fascinating exploration of both human spirituality and human technological achievement. We can glean the divine influence in the efforts of these brave men and women of ancient Judea. Furthermore, we learn that land surveying and mapping played an essential role in the establishment of the Promised Land and the defense there of, as well as, the individual's right to own, buy, and sell property according to an agreeable and legally binding standard.
In researching this article I have been very pleased to learn that surveying was so important to the ancient Jewish people. I also have been enlightened and I hope that this article will also enlighten you as to the expertise and technological advancement of the ancient Hebrews. In modern times, we have a tendency to think that those who came before us were so inept and backwards, I hope this article has served to show that not only did the chosen people have an immense amount of knowledge, they also applied that knowledge in ways that we are still using to this very day.
Written by William D. Hatfield April 28,2009
Mr. Hatfield is the Marketing Director SurvTech Solutions Surveying and Mapping. Headquartered in Tampa, Florida,
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