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Wine and Strong Drink

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

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Winefat, Winepress, Wine-Vat
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WINE AND STRONG DRINK . Taken together in this order, the two terms ‘wine’ and ‘strong drink’ are continually used by OT writers as an exhaustive classification of the fermented beverages then in use ( Lev 10:9 , 1 Samuel 1:15 , Proverbs 20:1 , and oft.). The all but universal usage in OT in NT ‘strong drink’ is mentioned only Luke 1:15 is to restrict ‘wine’ ( yayin ) to the beverage prepared from the juice of the grape, and to denote by ‘strong drink’ ( shçkâr ) every other sort of intoxicating liquor.

1. Before proceeding to describe the methods by which wine in particular was made in the period covered by the canonical writings, it will be advisable to examine briefly the more frequently used terms for wine and strong drink. This examination may begin with the term shçkâr , which in virtue of its root-meaning always denotes ‘intoxicating drink.’ In a former study of this subject (‘Wine and Strong Drink’ in EBi [Note: Encyclopædia Biblica.] lv. col. 5309 f.), the present writer has given reasons for believing that among the early Semites a name similar to shçkâr and the Babylonian shikaru was first given to the fermented juice of the date, and that from signifying date-wine the name passed to all other fermented liquors. At a later period, when the ancestors of the Hebrews became acquainted with the vine and its culture, the Indo-Germanic term represented by the Greek oinos (with the digamma, woinos ) and the Latin vinum was borrowed, under the form yáyin , to denote the fermented juice of the grape. The older term shçkâr then became restricted, as we have seen, to intoxicants other than grape wine.

Another important term, of uncertain etymology, ‘on which,’ in Driver’s words, ‘much has been written not always wisely,’ is t á¿‘ rôsh , in our EV [Note: English Version.] sometimes rendered ‘wine’, sometimes ‘new wine,’ but in Amer. RV [Note: Revised Version.] consistently ‘new wine.’ Strictly speaking, t á¿‘ rôsh is the freshly expressed grape juice, before and during fermentation, technically known as ‘must’ (from Lat. mustum ). In this sense it is frequently named as a valued product of the soil with ‘fresh oil’ ( Deuteronomy 7:13; Deuteronomy 11:14 etc.), that is, the raw, unclarified oil as it flows from the oil-press, to which it exactly corresponds. In some OT passages, however, and notably Hosea 4:11 , where tîrôsh is named with yayin and whoredom, as taking away the understanding (RV [Note: Revised Version.] ), it evidently denotes the product of fermentation. Hence it may be said that tîrôsh is applied not only to the ‘must’ in the wine-fat (see § 3), but to ‘new wine’ before it has fully matured and become yayin , or, as Driver suggests in his careful study of the OT occurrences ( Joel and Amos , 79 f.), ‘to a light kind of wine such as we know, from the classical writers, that the ancients were in the habit of making by checking the fermentation of the grape juice before it had run its full course’ (see also the discussion in EBi [Note: Encyclopædia Biblica.] iv. 5307 f.).

Of the rarer words for ‘wine’ mention may be made of chemer ( Deuteronomy 32:14 , and, in a cognate form, Ezra 6:9 , Daniel 5:1 ff.), which denotes wine as the result of fermentation, from a root signifying ‘to ferment,’ and ‘âsîs , a poetical synonym of tîrôsh , and like it used both of the fresh juice and of the fermented liquor (see Joel 1:5 , Isaiah 49:26 ); in Amos 9:13 it is rendered ‘sweet wine,’ which suggests the gleukos (EV [Note: English Version.] ‘new wine’) of Acts 2:18 . Reference may also be made to the poetical expression ‘the blood of the grape’ ( Genesis 49:11 , Deuteronomy 32:14 ) and to the later ‘fruit of the vine’ ( Matthew 26:29 and ||) of the Gospels and the Mishna.

2. The Promised Land was pre-eminently a ‘land of wine … and vineyards’ ( 2 Kings 18:32 ), as is attested by the widely scattered remains of the ancient presses. A normal winepress consisted of three parts, two rock-hewn troughs at different levels with a connecting channel between them. The upper trough or press-vat ( gath the ‘ winefat ’ of Isaiah 63:2 , elsewhere generally ‘winepress’) had a larger superficial area, but was much shallower than the lower trough or wine-vat ( yeqeb , Isaiah 5:2 , cf. RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ). The relative sizes may be seen from a typical press described by Robinson, of which the upper trough measured 8 feet square and was 15 inches deep, while the lower was 4 feet square and 3 feet deep. The distinction between the two is entirely obscured in EV [Note: English Version.] , and is not always preserved in the original.

The grapes were brought from the adjoining vineyard in baskets, and were either spread out for a few days, with a view to increase the amount of sugar and diminish the amount of water in the grapes, or were at once thrown into the press-vat. There they were thoroughly trodden with the bare feet, the juice flowing through the conducting channel into the lower wine-vat. The next process consisted in piling the husks and stalks into a heap in the middle of the vat, and subjecting the mass to mechanical pressure by means of a wooden press-beam, one end of which was fixed into a socket in the wall of the vat or of the adjacent rock, while the other end was weighted with stones.

While the above may be considered the normal construction of a Hebrew winepress, it is evident, both from the extant specimens and from the detailed references to wine-making in the Mishna, that the number of troughs or vats might be as high as four (see the press described and illustrated in PEFSt [Note: Quarterly Statement of the same.] , 1899, 41 ff.), or as low as one. The object of a third vat was to allow the ‘must’ to settle and clarify in the second before running it off into the third. Where only one vat is found, it may have served either as a press-vat, in which case the ‘must’ was at once transferred to earthen jars (see next section), or as a wine-vat to receive the ‘must,’ the grapes having been pressed in a large wooden trough, such as the Egyptians used (Wilkinson, Anc. Egyp . i. 385 with illust.). This arrangement would obviously be required where a suitable rock surface was not available. In such a case, indeed, a rock-hewn trough of any sort was dispensed with, a vat for the wooden press being supplied by a large stone hollowed out for the purpose, an excellent specimen of which was found at Tell es-Safi, and is figured in Bliss and Macalister’s Excavations , etc., p. 24 (see, for further details, the index of that work, under ‘Vats’).

3. Returning to the normal press-system, we find that the ‘must’ was usually left in the wine-vat to undergo the first or ‘tumultuous’ fermentation , after which it was drawn off ( Haggai 2:16 , lit. ‘baled out’), or, where the vat had a spout, simply run off, into large jars or into wine-skins ( Matthew 9:17 and ||) for the ‘after-fermentation.’ The modern Syrian wines are said to complete their first fermentation in from four to seven days, and to be ready for use at the end of two to four months. In the Mishna it is ordained that ‘ new wine ’ cannot be presented at the sanctuary for the drink-offering until it has stood for at least forty days in the fermenting jars.

When the fermentation had run its full course, the wine was racked off into smaller jars and skins, the latter for obvious reasons being preferred by travellers (Joshua 9:4; Joshua 9:13 ). At the same time, the liquor was strained ( Matthew 23:24; cf. Isaiah 25:6 ‘wines on the lees well refined,’ i.e. strained) through a metal or eathenware strainer, or through a linen cloth. In the further course of maturing, in order to prevent the wine from thickening on the lees ( Zephaniah 1:12 RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ), it was from time to time decanted from one vessel to another. The even tenor of Moabite history is compared to wine to which this process has not been applied ( Jeremiah 48:11 f.). When sufficiently refined, the wine was poured into jars lined with pitch, which were carefully closed and sealed and stored in the wine cellars ( 1 Chronicles 27:27 ). The Lebanon ( Hosea 14:7 ) and Helbon ( Ezekiel 27:18 ), to the N.W. of Damascus, were two localities specially celebrated for their wines.

It may be stated at this point that no trace can be found, among the hundreds of references to the preparation and use of wine in the Mishna, of any means employed to preserve wine in the unfermented state. It is even improbable that with the means at their disposal the Jews could have so preserved it had they wished (cf. Professor Macalister’s statement as to the ‘impossibility’ of unfermented wine at this period, in Hastings’ DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] ii. 34 b ).

4. Of all the fermented liquors, other than wine, with which the Hebrews are likely to have been familiar, the oldest historically was almost certainly that made from dates (cf. § 1). These, according to Pliny, were steeped in water before being sent to the press, where they were probably treated as the olives were treated in the oil-press (see Oil). Date wine was greatly prized by the Babylonians, and is said by Herodotus to have been the principal article of Assyrian commerce.

In the Mishna there is frequent mention also of cider or ‘apple’ wine, made from the quince or whatever other fruit the ‘apple’ of the Hebrews may signify. The only wine, other than ‘the fruit of the vine,’ mentioned by name in OT is the ‘sweet wine’ of pomegranates ( Song of Solomon 8:2 RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ). Like the dates, these fruits were first crushed in the oil-mill, after which the juice was allowed to ferment. In the Mishna, further, we find references to various fermented liquors imported from abroad, among them the beer for which Egypt was famed. A striking and unexpected witness to the extent to which the wines of the West were imported has recently been furnished by the handles of wine jars, especially of amphorÅ“ from Rhodes, which have been found in such numbers in the cities excavated in Southern Palestine (see Bliss and Macalister, op. cit . 131 ff., and more fully PEFSt [Note: Quarterly Statement of the same.] , 1901).

5. The Hebrew wines were light, and in early times were probably taken neat. At all events, the first clear reference to diluting with water is contained in 2Ma 15:39 : ‘It is hurtful to drink wine or water alone,’ but ‘wine mingled with water is pleasant,’ and in NT times this may be taken as the habitual practice. The wine of Sharon, it is said, was mixed with two parts of water, being a lighter wine than most. With other wines, according to the Talmud, the proportion was one part of wine to three parts of water.

The ‘mingling’ or mixing of strong drink denounced by Isaiah (Isaiah 5:22 ) has reference to the ancient practice of adding aromatic herbs and spices to the wine in order to add to its flavour and strength. Such was the ‘spiced wine’ of Song of Solomon 8:2 . Our Saviour on the cross, it will be remembered, was offered ‘wine mingled with myrrh’ ( Mark 15:23 , cf. Matthew 27:34 RV [Note: Revised Version.] ).

6. The use of wine was universal among all classes (see Meals, § 6 ), with the exception of those who had taken a vow of abstinence, such as the Nazirites and Rechabites. The priests also had to abstain, but only when on duty in the sanctuary ( Leviticus 10:9 ). A libation of wine formed the necessary accompaniment of the daily burnt-offering and of numerous other offerings (cf. Sir 50:15 RV [Note: Revised Version.] : ‘He stretched out his hand to the cup, and poured of the blood of the grape … at the foot of the altar’).

The attitude of the prophets and other teachers of Israel, including our Lord Himself, to the ordinary use of wine as a beverage is no doubt accurately reflected in the saying of Jesus ben-Sira: ‘wine drunk in measure and to satisfy is joy of heart and gladness of soul’ ( Sir 31:29 RV [Note: Revised Version.] ). At the same time, they were fully alive to the danger, and unsparingly denounced the sin, of excessive indulgence (see, e.g ., Isaiah 5:11 ff., Isaiah 5:22 ff., Isaiah 28:1-8 , Hosea 4:11 , Proverbs 20:1; Proverbs 23:29-32 etc.). In the altered social conditions of our own day, however, it must be admitted that the rule of conduct formulated by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 8:3-12 (cf. Romans 14:13-21 ) appeals to the individual conscience with greater urgency and insistence than ever before in the experience of Jew or Christian.

A. R. S. Kennedy.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Wine and Strong Drink'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdb/​w/wine-and-strong-drink.html. 1909.
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