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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature

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The productions of a country, at an early period of the world, necessarily determined its food. Palestine abounded with grain and various kinds of vegetables, as well as with animals of different species. Such, accordingly, in general, was the sustenance which its inhabitants took.

The use of fire, and the state of the arts of life in a country, must also have important influence on its cookery; in other words, will go far to determine the state in which the natural productions of the earth will be eaten. If the grain is to become bread, a long and by no means easy process has to be gone through. Skill in preparing food is therefore held in high repute.

Bread formed 'the staff of life' to the ancient Hebrews even more than to ourselves; but the modes of preparing it have been noticed under other heads [BREAD; MILL].

On a remarkable occasion a calf, tender and good, is taken, slain, dressed (roasted, most probably,;;;; boiling was not known till long afterwards), and set before the guests, while the entertainer (Abraham) respectfully stood at their side, doubtless to render any desirable service. The sauce or accompaniments on this occasion were butter and milk. From , it may be inferred that the bread was unleavened.

The cases, however, to which reference has been made were of a special nature; and from them, as well as from what is recorded touching Isaac and Esau and Jacob, it appears that flesh meat was reserved as food for guests, or as a dainty for the sick; lentils, pulse, onions, grain, honey, and milk being the ordinary fare.

The agreeable, and perhaps in part the salubrious qualities of salt, were very early known and recognized: in , it is expressly enjoined, 'Every oblation of thy meat-offering shalt thou season with salt; with all thine offerings shalt thou offer salt.'

Locusts were a permitted () and a very common food. At the present day they are gathered by the Bedouins at the beginning of April, and being roasted on plates of iron, or dried in the sun, are kept in large bags, and, when needed, eaten strewed with salt by handfuls.

Of four-footed animals and birds, the favorite food were sheep, goats, oxen, and doves. There are few traces of the eating of fish, at least in Palestine (; ). In the last passage a distinction is made between certain fish which might be eaten, and others which were forbidden. 'These shall ye eat of all that are in the waters: whatsoever hath fins and scales in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, them shall ye eat; and all that have not fins and scales, they shall be an abomination unto you.'

The distinction of clean and unclean animals, and of animals which might and those which might not be eaten, is found to have existed to a great extent in ancient Egypt. Among fish the oxyrinchus, the phagrus, and the lepidotus, were sacred, and might not even be touched. The inhabitants of Oxyrinchus objected to eat any fish caught by a hook, lest it should have been defiled by the blood of one they held so sacred. The phagrus was the eel; and the reason of its sanctity, like that of the oxyrinchus, was probably owing to its unwholesome qualities; the most effectual method of forbidding its use being to assign it a place among the sacred animals of the country.

Neither the hippopotamus nor the crocodile appears to have been eaten by the ancient Egyptians. Some of the Egyptians considered the crocodile sacred, while others made war upon it (Herod, ii. 69). In some places it was treated with the most marked respect, fed, attended, adorned, and after death embalmed. But the people of Apollinopolis, Tentyris, Heracleopolis, and other places, held the animal in abhorrence.

Cats as well as dogs were held in high esteem by the ancient Egyptians. The former especially were objects of superstitious regard. When a cat died in a house a natural death, a general mourning throughout the family ensued; and to kill one of these revered animals was a capital offence.

Though it appears that swine frequently formed part of the stock of an Egyptian farm-yard, yet was the animal unclean and an abomination in the estimation of the Egyptians.

The Mosaic laws which regulated the use of animal food may be found in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14. The grounds of many of these regulations may be ascertained with a greater or less degree of probability, provided the student is well acquainted with the mind and spirit of Hebrew antiquity. Considerations drawn from idolatrous usages, regard to health, the furtherance of agriculture, and established customs and tastes, had in each case an influence in the promulgation of these laws.

In the earliest times water was the common drink. That wine of an intoxicating tendency was drunk at a very early period appears from what happened to Noah (), who seems to have made as well as drunk wine. Bread and wine are spoken of in , as offered for refreshment to Abraham by Melchizedek, king of Salem. Water was sometimes put to the wine; at others a strong drink was made by mixing with the wine aromatic herbs (; ), or a decoction derived from them: myrrh was used for this purpose. Date-wine was in use, and probably the Egyptian or malt-wine. 'The common people' () drank an acrid sort of wine, which is rendered vinegar in our English Version (; ). The Orientals frequently used wine in excess, so as to occasion intoxication, whence are drawn many striking figures in Holy Writ (;;;;;;; ). That indulgence in wine was practiced in very ancient days is manifest from there being in the court of Pharaoh, at the time of Joseph, state-officers, who had charge of the wine and served the monarch with it when he drank (;; comp.;; ).

For drinking-vessels there were used the cup, and the bowl (;;;; ). The cup was generally of brass covered with tin, in form resembling a lily, sometimes circular. It is still used by travelers, and may be seen in both shapes in the ruins of Persepolis (). The bowl () assumed a variety of shapes, and bears many names. Some of these 'chargers' appear, from the presents made by the princes of Israel (Numbers 7), to have been of large size and great splendor; some were silver, some gold ().


Fig. 183—Egyptian Table with dishes

In eastern climes the chief meal, or what we term dinner, is, in consequence of the heat of the middle period of the day, deferred till towards evening, a slight repast being taken before noon. But from; , it appears to have been the custom to dine at noon in the days of the patriarchs. The same seems to have been the case in Palestine at a later period (; comp.; ). Convivialities, however, were postponed till evening, and sometimes protracted to the following morning (;; ). The meal was preceded by washing of hands (; ), which the mode of eating rendered necessary; and by an invocation of the divine blessing (;; ).

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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Food'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​kbe/​f/food.html.
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