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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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FOOD . This article will deal only with food-stuffs, in other words, with the principal articles of food among the Hebrews in Bible times, the preparation and serving of these being reserved for the complementary article Meals.

1. The food of a typical Hebrew household in historical times was almost exclusively vegetarian. For all but the very rich the use of meat was confined to some special occasion, a family festival, the visit of an honoured guest, a sacrificial meal at the local sanctuary, and the like. According to the author of the Priests’ Code, indeed, the food of men and beasts alike was exclusively herbaceous in the period before the Deluge ( Genesis 1:29 f.), permission to eat the flesh of animals, under stipulation as to drawing off the blood, having been first accorded to Noah ( Genesis 9:3 ff.). In Isaiah’s vision of the future, when ‘the lion shall eat straw like the ox’ ( Genesis 11:7 ), a return is contemplated to the idyllic conditions of the first age of all.

The growth of luxury under the monarchy (cf. Amos 6:4 f. and similar passages) is well illustrated by a comparison of 2 Samuel 17:28 f. with 1 Kings 4:22 f. In the former there is brought for the entertainment of David and his followers ‘wheat and barley and meal and parched corn and beans and lentils and parched pulse [see p. 266, § 3 ] and honey and butter and sheep and cheese of kine’; while, according to the latter passage, Solomon’s daily provision was ‘thirty measures of fine flour and three-score measures of meal; ten fat oxen and twenty oxen out of the pastures, and an hundred sheep, besides harts and gazelles and roebucks and fatted fowl.’

2. The first place in the list of Hebrew food-stuffs must be given to the various cereals included under the general name of ‘corn’ in Amer. RV [Note: Revised Version.] always ‘grain’ the two most important of which were wheat and barley. Millet ( Ezekiel 4:9 ) and spelt (see Fitches, Rie) are only casually mentioned. The most primitive method of using corn was to pluck the ‘fresh ears’ ( Leviticus 23:14 RV [Note: Revised Version.] , 2 Kings 4:42 ) and remove the husk by rubbing in the hands ( Deuteronomy 23:25 , Matthew 12:1 etc.). When bruised in a mortar these ears yielded the ‘bruised corn of the fresh ear’ of Leviticus 2:14-16 RV [Note: Revised Version.] . A favourite practice in all periods down to the present day has been to roast the ears on an iron plate or otherwise. The result is the parched corn so frequently mentioned in OT. Parched corn and bread with a light sour wine furnished the midday meal of Boaz’s reapers ( Ruth 2:14 ). The chief use, however, to which wheat and barley were put was to supply the household with bread (wh. see). Wheaten and barley ‘ meal ’ (RV [Note: Revised Version.] ) were prepared in early times by means of the primitive rubbing-stones, which the excavations show to have long survived the introduction of the quern or hand-mill (for references to illustrations of both, see Mill). The ‘ fine flour ’ of our EV [Note: English Version.] was obtained from the coarser variety by bolting the latter with a fine sieve. Barley bread ( Judges 7:13 , John 6:9; John 6:13 ) was the usual bread, indeed the principal food, of the poorer classes. (For details of bread-making, see Bread.) The obscure word rendered ‘dough’ in Numbers 15:20 , Nehemiah 10:37 , Ezekiel 44:30 denoted either coarse meal (so RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ) or a sort of porridge made from wheat and barley meal, like the polenta of the Romans.

3. Next in importance to wheat and barley as food-stuffs may be ranked the seeds of various members of the pulse family ( LeguminosÅ“ ), although only two leguminous plants ( lentils and beans ) are mentioned by name in OT. The pulse of Daniel 1:12; Daniel 1:16 denotes edible herbs generally (so RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ); the ‘parched (pulse)’ of 2 Samuel 17:28 , on the other hand, is due to a mistaken rendering of the word for ‘parched corn,’ here repeated by a copyist’s slip. Of red lentils Jacob made his fateful pottage ( Genesis 25:29 ff.), probably a stew in which the lentils were flavoured with onions and other ingredients, as is done at the present day in Syria. Lentils and beans were occasionally ground to make bread ( Ezekiel 4:9 ).

Next to its fish, the Hebrews in the wilderness looked back wistfully on the ‘cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlick’ of Egypt (Numbers 11:5 ), all of them subsequently cultivated by them in Palestine. It is to the agricultural treatises of the Mishna, however, that the student must turn for fuller information regarding the rich supplies available either for a’ dinner of herbs’ ( Proverbs 15:17 ) alone, or for supplementing a meat diet. At least four varieties of bean, for example, are named, also the chickpea (which the Vulgate substitutes for the ‘parched pulse’ above referred to), various species of chicory and endive the bitter herbs of the Passover ritual ( Exodus 12:8 ) mustard ( Matthew 13:31 ), radish, and many others.

4. Passing now to the ‘food-trees’ ( Leviticus 19:23 ), we may follow the example of Jotham in his parable ( Judges 9:8 ff.), and begin with the olive , although, as it happens, the ‘olive berry’ ( James 3:12 AV [Note: Authorized Version.] ) is never expressly mentioned in Scripture as an article of diet. Apart, however, from their extensive use in furnishing oil (wh. see), itself an invaluable aid in the preparation of food, olives were not only eaten in the fresh state, but were at all times preserved for later use by being soaked in brine. Such pickled olives were, and still are, used as a relish with bread by rich and poor alike.

Next to the olive in rank, Jotham’s parable places the fig-tree, whose ‘sweetness’ and ‘good fruit’ it extols (Judges 9:11 ). The great economic importance of the fig need not be emphasized. From Isaiah 28:4 , Jeremiah 24:2 it appears that the ‘first ripe fig,’ i.e. the early fig which appears on last year’s wood, was regarded as a special delicacy. The bulk of the year’s fruit was dried for use out of the season, as was the case also among the Greeks and Romans, by whom dried figs were the most extensively used of all fruits. When pressed in a mould they formed ‘ cakes of figs ’ ( 1 Samuel 25:18 , 1 Chronicles 12:40 ). A fig-cake, it will be remembered, was prescribed by Isaiah as a poultice (EV [Note: English Version.] ‘plaister’) for Hezekiah’s boil ( Isaiah 38:21 = 2 Kings 20:7 RV [Note: Revised Version.] ).

With the fig Hebrew writers constantly associate the grape , the ‘fruit of the vine’ ( Matthew 26:29 and parallels). Like the former, grapes were not only enjoyed in their natural state, but were also, by exposure to the sun after being gathered, dried into raisins , the ‘dried grapes’ of Numbers 6:3 . In this form they were better suited for the use of travellers and soldiers ( 1 Samuel 25:18 , 1 Chronicles 12:40 ). What precisely is meant by the word rendered ‘ raisin-cake ,’ ‘cake of raisins,’ by RV [Note: Revised Version.] ( 2 Samuel 6:19 , Isaiah 16:7 , Hosea 3:1; AV [Note: Authorized Version.] wrongly ‘flagon of wine’) is still uncertain. By far the greater part of the produce of the vineyards was used for the manufacture of wine (wh. see). For another economic product of the grape, see Honey.

Dates are only once mentioned in AV [Note: Authorized Version.] , and that without any justification, as the marginal alternative of ‘honey,’ 2 Chronicles 31:5; yet Joel includes ‘the palm tree’ in his list of fruit-trees ( 2 Chronicles 1:12 ), and from the Mishna we learn that dates, like the fruits already discussed, were not only eaten as they came from the palm, but were dried in clusters and also pressed into cakes for convenience of transport.

For other less important fruits, such as the pomegranate, the much discussed tappûach the ‘apple’ of AV [Note: Authorized Version.] , according to others the quince (see Apple), the fruit of the sycomore or fig-mulberry, associated with Amos the prophet, and the husks ( Luke 15:16 ), or rather pods of the carob tree, reference must be made to the separate articles. To these there fall to be added here almonds and nuts of more than one variety.

5. As compared with the wide range of foods supplied by the cereals, vegetables, and fruits above mentioned, the supply of flesh-food was confined to such animals and birds as were technically described as ‘clean.’ For this important term, and the principles underlying the distinction between clean and unclean, see Clean and Unclean. The clean animals admitted to the table according to the ‘official’ lists in Leviticus 11:23 , Deuteronomy 14:4-20 (conveniently arranged in parallel columns for purposes of comparison in Driver’s Deut. ad loc. ), may be ranged under the two categories, domestic animals , which alone were admitted as sacrifice to the ‘table of J″ [Note: Jahweh.] ’ ( Malachi 1:7; Malachi 1:12 ), and game . The former comprised the two classes of ‘the flock,’ i.e. sheep and goats, and ‘the herd.’

The flesh of the goat , and especially of the’ kid of the goats,’ was more relished by the Hebrews than by the present inhabitants of Palestine, by whom the goat is reared chiefly for its milk. A kid, as less valuable than a well-fleeced lamb, was the most frequent and readiest victim, especially among the poor, a fact which gives point to the complaint of the Elder Son in the parable ( Luke 15:29 ). The original significance of the thrice-repeated injunction against seething a kid in its mother’s milk ( Exodus 23:19 and parallels) is still uncertain.

Regarding the sheep as food, it may be noted that in the case of the fat-tailed breed the tail was forbidden as ordinary food by the Priests’ Code at least, and had to be offered with certain other portions of the fat (see § 10 p. 267) upon the altar ( Exodus 29:22 , Leviticus 3:9 , both RV [Note: Revised Version.] ). Of the neat cattle , the flesh of females as well as of males was eaten, the Hebrews not having that repugnance to cow’s flesh which distinguished the Egyptians of antiquity, as it does the Hindus of to-day. Calves, of course, supplied the daintiest food, and might be taken directly from the herd, as was done by Abraham ( Genesis 18:7 , cf. 1 Kings 4:23 ), or specially fattened for the table. The ‘fatted calf’ of Luke 15:23 will be at once recalled, also the ‘ fatlings ,’ and the ‘stalled,’ i.e. stall-fed, ox ( Proverbs 15:17 ) of OT. ‘One ox and six choice sheep’ were Nehemiah’s daily portion ( Nehemiah 5:18 ); Solomon’s has been already given (§ 1 ). From the females of the herd and of the flock ( Deuteronomy 32:14 ), especially from the she-goat ( Proverbs 27:27 ), probably also from the milch-camel ( Genesis 32:15 ), came the supply of milk and its preparations, butter and cheese , for which see Milk.

Of the seven species of game mentioned in Deuteronomy 14:5 , it is evident from Deuteronomy 12:15 that the gazelle and the hart were the typical animals of the chase hunted for the sake of their flesh. They are also named along with the roebuck in Solomon’s list, 1 Kings 4:23 . One or more of these, doubtless supplied the venison from which Esau was wont to make the ‘savoury meat’ which his father loved ( Genesis 25:28; Genesis 27:5 f.). Among the unclean animals which were taboo to the Hebrews the most interesting are the swine ( Leviticus 11:7 , Deuteronomy 14:8 : cf. Matthew 8:30 ff. and parallels), the camel, the hare, and the ass (but see 2 Kings 6:25 ).

6. In the Deuteronomic list above cited, the permitted and forbidden quadrupeds are followed by this provision regarding fish : ‘These ye shall eat of all that are in the waters, whatsoever hath fins and scales shall ye eat: and whatsoever hath not fins and scales ye shall not eat, it is unclean unto you’ ( Deuteronomy 14:9 f. RV [Note: Revised Version.]; cf. Leviticus 11:9-12 ). No particular species of fish is named in OT, either as food or otherwise, although no fewer than thirty-six species are said to be found in the Jordan system alone. Yet we may be sure that the fish which the Hebrews enjoyed in Egypt ‘for nought’ ( Numbers 11:5 RV [Note: Revised Version.] ) had their successors in Canaan. Indeed, it is usual to find in the words of Deuteronomy 33:19 , ‘they shall suck the abundance of the seas,’ a contemporary reference to the fisheries possessed by the tribes of Zebulun and Issachar. In the days of Nehemiah a considerable trade in cured fish was carried on by Tyrian, i.e. PhÅ“nician, merchants with Jerusalem ( Nehemiah 13:16 ). where a market must have been held at or near the Fish-gate ( Nehemiah 3:3 etc.). In still later times, as is so abundantly testified by the Gospels and Josephus, the Sea of Galilee was the centre of a great fishing industry. In addition to the demand for fresh fish, a thriving trade was done in the salting and curing of fish for sale throughout the country. The fishes of our Lord’s two miracles of feeding were almost certainly of this kind, fish cleaned, split open, salted, and finally dried in the sun, having been at all times a favourite form of provision for a journey.

7. Regarding the ‘clean’ birds , all of which were allowed as food ( Deuteronomy 14:11 ), no definite criterion is prescribed, but a list of prohibited species is given ( Leviticus 11:13-19 , Deuteronomy 14:11-18 ), mostly birds of prey, including the bat. In the ritual of various sacrifices, however, pigeons and turtle doves , and these only, find a place, and are therefore to be reckoned as ‘clean’ for ordinary purposes as well. The early domestication of these birds is shown by the reference to the ‘windows’ of the dovecots in Isaiah 60:8 , while the Mishna has much to say regarding various breeds of domestic pigeons, their ‘towers,’ feeding, etc. The ordinary domestic fowl of the present day seems to have been first introduced into Palestine from the East in the Persian period ( 2Es 1:30 , Matthew 23:37; Matthew 26:34 and parallels). The fatted fowl for Solomon’s table ( 1 Kings 4:23 ) are generally supposed to be geese , which with poultry and house-pigeons are frequently named in the Mishna. Roast goose was a favourite food of the Egyptians, and has, indeed, been called their national dish.

Among the edible game birds mention is made of the partridge and the quail (see these articles). Most or all of these were probably included in the ‘fowls’ (lit. birds) which appeared on Nehemiah’s table ( Nehemiah 5:18 ). The humble sparrow ( Matthew 10:29 , Luke 12:6 ) would have been beneath the dignity of a Persian governor. The eggs of all the clean birds were also important articles of food ( Deuteronomy 22:6 , Isaiah 10:14 , Luke 11:12; Job 6:6 is doubtful, see RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ). Ostrich eggs have recently been found in an early grave at Gezer ( PEFSt [Note: Quarterly Statement of the same.] 1907, 191).

8. Under the head of animal food must also be reckoned the various edible insects enumerated, Leviticus 11:22 f., apparently four species of the locust family (see Locust). Locusts were regarded as delicacies by the Assyrians, formed part of the food of John the Baptist ( Matthew 3:4 , Mark 1:6 ), and are still eaten by the Arabs. By the latter they are prepared in various ways, one of the commonest being to remove the head, legs, and wings, and to fry the body in samn or clarified butter. Locusts may also be preserved by salting. This is the place, further, to refer to the article Honey for information regarding that important article of diet.

9. Nothing has as yet been said on the subject of condiments. Salt , the chief of condiments, will be treated separately (see Salt). Of the others it has been said that, ‘before pepper was discovered or came into general use, seeds like cummin, the coriander, etc., naturally played a more important rôle.’ Of these the greyish-white seeds of the coriander are named in Exodus 16:31 , Numbers 11:7; these are still used in the East as a spice in bread-making and to flavour sweetmeats. Similarly the seeds of the black cummin ( Isaiah 28:25 RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ) are sprinkled on bread like caraway seeds among ourselves. For the other condiments, mint , anise, cummin , and rue , see the separate articles. To these may be added mustard , of which the leaves, not the seed, ( Matthew 13:31 ), were cut up and used as flavouring. Pepper is first mentioned in the Mishna. The caper-berry ( Ecclesiastes 12:5 RV [Note: Revised Version.] ) was eaten before meals as an appetizer, rather than used as a condiment.

10. Reference has already been made to the restrictions laid upon the Hebrews in the matter of animal food by the all-important distinction between ‘clean’ and ‘unclean,’ as applied not only to quadrupeds, but to fish, birds, and winged creatures generally. All creatures technically ‘unclean’ were taboo, to use the modern term (see Abomination, Clean and Unclean). There were other food taboos, however, which require a brief mention here. The chief of these was the absolute prohibition of the blood even of ‘clean’ beasts and birds, which occupies a prominent place in all the stages of the Hebrew dietary legislation ( Deuteronomy 12:16; Deuteronomy 12:23; Deuteronomy 12:25; Deuteronomy 15:23; Leviticus 17:10 ff. [H [Note: Law of Holiness.] ], Leviticus 3:17; Leviticus 7:26 f. [P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] ], etc.). Its antiquity is attested by the incident recorded 1 Samuel 14:32 ff. According to P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] , indeed, it is coeval with the Divine permission to eat animal food ( Genesis 9:4 ). All sacrificial animals had therefore to be drained of their blood before any part could be offered to God or man, and so with all animals slaughtered for domestic use only ( Deuteronomy 12:15 f.), and with all game of beast and bird taken in the chase ( Leviticus 17:13 ).

Closely associated with the above (cf. Leviticus 3:17 ) is the taboo imposed upon certain specified portions of the intestinal fat of the three sacrificial species, the ox, the sheep, and the goat ( Leviticus 3:3 ff; Leviticus 7:22 ff. etc.), to which, as we have seen, the fat tail of the sheep was added. There was forbidden, further, the flesh of every animal that had died a natural death ( Deuteronomy 14:21 , Leviticus 17:15 ), or had been done to death by a beast of prey ( Exodus 22:31 , Leviticus 17:15 ); in short, all flesh was rigidly taboo except that of an animal which had been ritually slaughtered as above prescribed. For another curious taboo, see Genesis 32:32 . The Jews of the present day eat only such meat as has been certified by their own authorities as kosher, i.e. as having been killed in the manner prescribed by Rabbinic law.

The intimate association in early times between flesh-food and sacrifice explains the abhorrence of the Hebrew for all food prepared by the heathen, as illustrated by Daniel (Daniel 1:8 ), Judas Maccabæus ( 2Ma 5:27 ), Josephus ( Vita 3), and their associates (cf. also Acts 15:20; Acts 15:29 , 1 Corinthians 8:1-10; 1 Corinthians 10:19; 1 Corinthians 10:28 ).

11. A word finally as to the sources of the Hebrew food-supply. Under the simpler conditions of early times the exclusive source of supply was the householder’s own herd ( Genesis 18:7 ) or flock ( Genesis 27:9 ), his vineyard and oliveyard or his ‘garden of herbs’ ( 1 Kings 21:2 ). As the Hebrews became dwellers in cities their food-stuffs naturally became more and more articles of commerce. The bakers, for example, who gave their name to a street in Jerusalem ( Jeremiah 37:21 ), not only fired the dough prepared in private houses, as at the present day, but, doubtless, baked and sold bread to the public, as did their successors in the first and second centuries (see Mishna, passim ). An active trade in ‘ victuals ’ is attested for Nehemiah’s day ( Nehemiah 13:15 f.), when we hear of the ‘fish-gate’ ( Nehemiah 3:3 ) and the ‘sheep gate’ ( Nehemiah 3:1 ), so named, doubtless, from their respective markets. The disciples were accustomed to buy provisions as they journeyed through the land ( John 4:8; cf. John 13:29 ); and Corinth, we may be sure, was not the only city of the time that had a provision-market ( 1 Corinthians 10:25 , EV [Note: English Version.] shambles ). In Jerusalem, again, cheese was to be bought in the Cheese-makers’ Valley (TyropÅ“on), and oil at the oil-merchants ( Matthew 25:9 ), and so on. In the early morning especially, the streets near the city gates on the north and west, which led to the country, were doubtless then, as now, transformed into market-places, lined with men and women offering for sale the produce of their farms and gardens. Even the outer court of the Temple itself had in our Lord’s day become a ‘house of merchandise’ ( John 2:16 ).

A. R. S. Kennedy.

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Food'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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