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FOOD. Nutritive material taken into a living organism to sustain life, to promote growth and the repair of the tissues, and to give energy for the vital processes. The Bible says little about food for animals. Bible animals for the most part are herbivorous, though carnivorous ones are mentioned. Some omnivorous animals, like pigs, are mentioned, but almost always in a contemptuous way (Matt.7.6). Pigs were forbidden as food (Isa.65.4).

The animals most frequently mentioned in the Bible are the domestic herbivorous animals, and these are divided sharply into two classes: the clean and the unclean (see Lev.11.1-Lev.11.47). The clean animals were to be used for food and for sacrifice and the four-footed ones were distinguished by their hoofs and by whether they chewed the cud. The camel chews the cud but does not have a split hoof and so was considered unclean, though its milk was and is used by desert-dwellers. Pigs have a split hoof but do not chew the cud and so were ceremonially unclean. They were perhaps prohibited as food because of the mischievous trichina spiralis, a worm that has long infested pigs, and from half-roasted pork can enter the human body and create great harm. Of the seafood that was reckoned unclean the principal ones were oysters and shrimps. One can easily realize how dangerous they would be in a land where climate was hot and there was no refrigeration. In other words, most of the distinctions between “clean” and “unclean” foods were clearly based on sanitary reasons.

In Palestine and Syria, fresh fruit can be obtained throughout the year. Oranges last in the spring until the very short season of apricots arrives. After the apricots come the plums, figs, pomegranates, etc., which last until the grapes appear; and they in turn remain until the oranges and lemons are again in season.

The preparation of food differs from Western custom. Generally meat is eaten not in steaks and roasts, but cut up and served with rice and often imbedded in “coosa” (a kind of squash) or wrapped in cabbage or grape leaves. The bread is not as white and fine as is ours but is far more healthful. A common laborer often takes as his lunch two hollow loaves of bread, one filled with cheese and the other with olives. There were several sorts of sweets, of which dried figs boiled in grape molasses (Gen.43.11) was one of the best known. Near the sea, fish were very commonly eaten. Various kinds of fruit and vegetables were used: beans, lentils, millet, melons, onions, gourds; also spices: cummin, mint, mustard, and salt; and honey.

Food is a figure of spiritual sustenance. Peter tells his readers to “crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” Peter was writing to young Christians (1Pet.2.2), but Paul clearly distinguishes between Scripture that can be likened to “milk for babes” and that which can be compared with “strong meat,” or solid food (1Cor.3.1-1Cor.3.2).——ABF



Food supplies.

Scarcity was a warning or a punishment from God sent upon His unfaithful people (Lam 4:9, 11; Amos 4:6). According to Sirach the necessities of life include salt, wheat flour, milk, honey, the blood of the grape and oil (Ecclus 39:26). The land produced a variety of food stuffs.

Food of animals.

Food for humans

Plant foods.

b. Nuts. Jacob sent to Pharaoh a present of produce of the land which included pistachio nuts (בָּטְנִ֖ים, LXX τερέμινθος) and almonds (שָׁקֵד, H9196, LXX κάρυον) along with balm, honey, gum and myrrh (Gen 43:11).

The olive (זַ֫יִת, H2339, LXX ἐλαία, G1777) was perhaps eaten both green and ripe as today, though this is not specifically stated. Olives were beaten into oil (Exod 27:20).

Animal products.

Eggs (בֵּיצָה, H1070, LXX ῳόν, Deut 22:6; Isa 10:14) were used.


Use of pepper is not mentioned in Scripture, but the condiments mint, anise, and cummin (Matt 23:23), coriander seeds (Exod 16:31; Num 11:7) and mustard (Matt 13:31; 17:20; Luke 13:19; 17:6) made food more palatable.

Food availability.

One is not to suppose that all this abundance was available at all times and places. Patriarchal fare was doubtless scant. For guests there was bread freshly baked, curds, milk, and the slaughtered young calf (Gen 18:6, 8). Jacob, on the other hand, dined on bread and pottage of lentils, and for this Esau sold his birthright (25:34); and at other times there might be other pottage to make a meal (2 Kings 4:38). Roasted grain and wine (Ruth 2:14) or bread and wine (Gen 14:18) might make up the meal of the ordinary man. Victory in battle occasioned feasting from the supplies of the vanquished.

Food of special periods.

Adam in Eden was granted permission to eat of every green plant and of the fruit of all trees except of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 1:29; 2:16, 17). At the time of the Flood Noah took into the ark food of all that is eaten for himself and for the animals (6:21). At the end of the Flood he was informed that flesh was permitted (9:3). Many scholars conclude from the silence of Scripture and from this data that early man until the time of the Flood was vegetarian.

The food of John the Baptist was locust (akris) and wild honey. Akris are insects and the effort to identify them with the carob pod has nothing to commend itself (Matt 3:4). Jesus and His disciples bought food from time to time as they journeyed (John 4:8; 13:29).

Food preparation.

Food prices.

One knows little of the exact prices of food in ancient times. One se’ah of fine flour and two of barley sold for a shekel (2 Kings 7:1, 16). In times of want an ass’s head brought eighty shekels of silver (6:25). Josephus (Antiq. IX. iv. 4) assumes that it was used for a condiment (cf. 2 Kings 18:27). Two sparrows sold for a penny (“assarion,” Matt 10:29). In the Apocalypse a quart of wheat is worth a denarius and three quarts of barley are worth a denarius (Rev 6:6). Later prices may be seen in M. Menahoth 13:8.

Eating habits


The guests at Esther’s banquet reclined on couches (Esth 7:8). Reclining on the left elbow was a normal posture in NT times (John 13:23). It is likely that the guests dipped food from the common dish. The Pharisees were strict in demanding the prior washing of hands (Mark 7:3). A blessing said over food was also an established custom in the 1st cent.

Time of eating.

The OT has no reference to a meal earlier than noon; however, too much should not be made of the silence. The disciples of Jesus ate an early morning meal on the seashore after a night of toil (John 21:12). The main meals were at noon and in the evening. Peter could argue that the apostles were not drunken at nine o’clock. The custom of two meals prob. goes back to Scripture: “At even ye shall eat flesh and in the morning ye shall be filled with bread” (Exod 16:12). The ravens brought Elijah food in the morning and evening (1 Kings 17:6).

Prohibited foods.

In Eden every herb and tree yielding seed was for food (Gen 1:29) and only the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was forbidden (2:16, 17; 3:1ff.). Prohibitions of eating of the sinew of the hip (not otherwise attested in the OT) is traced to Jacob’s wrestling with the angel (Gen 32:32). Josephus thought this to be the broad sinew [sciatic nerve] (Jos. Antiq., I. xx. 2). In Rabbinic legislation a punishment of forty stripes is meted out to the transgressor (M. Hullin 7:1, 3).

Under the law, food regulations dealt with meat and not with vegetable products. There is no basis either in Scripture or in Rabbinic lit. for Justin Martyr’s accusation in Dialogue 20 that certain vegetables are prohibited. Recabites and Nazirites abstained from the produce of the vine (Num 6:2; Judg 13:14; Jer 35:1ff.), and Josephus, Life 2, speaks of a certain Bannus who was a vegetarian, but these are exceptional cases. The argument that early man was vegetarian is based on the prior silence of Scripture connected with the specific permission to eat meat given to Noah (Gen 9:3).

Deuteronomy prohibits the taking of the mother bird and eggs and young ones at the same time. The mother bird is to have her freedom (Deut 22:6, 7).

Clean and unclean foods.

Of fish, those which have fins and scales are edible (Lev 11:9-12). Of birds, a list of twenty are specified which are to be rejected (11:13-19). Of insects, the ones which have legs and leap may be eaten. The locust and grasshopper are specifically mentioned as being edible; while other flying, swarming, and crawling things are rejected (11:20-23). Distinctions in food broke down in times of want (Ezek 4:13).

Peter in his vision rejected the command to eat animals not conforming to these categories (Acts 10:12-15). Jesus is said to have done away with distinctions concerning foods (Mark 7:19). These were regulations of the first testament that have lost their significance (Heb 9:10) and cannot confirm the faith (13:9). The effort to try to connect these regulations of the law with modern laws of hygiene is arbitrary and breaks down when applied in details. It has no more to commend it than the earlier allegorical exegesis of the same laws.

The rabbinic prohibition of eating milk and meat at the same time is based on an exegesis of Exodus 23:19; 34:26; Deuteronomy 14:21 ASV: “Thou shalt not boil a kid in its mother’s milk” (cf. M. Hullin 8:4). Ugaritic discoveries have, from a reconstructed text (Gorddon, 52:14), called attention to a similar practice on the part of the Canaanites to that forbidden in Scripture.

Food offered to idols.

A special problem with food faced the early Christian when he asked whether or not he could eat food previously offered to idols. The apostolic letter enjoined abstinence “from what has been sacrificed to idols” (Acts 15:29 RSV). When questioned about that offered to idols, Paul answered that food does not commend one to God. The kingdom of God is not meat and drink. One may eat what he is disposed to—whatever is sold in the market (1 Cor 10:25)—without asking questions for conscience’s sake; but if the eating causes a brother to stumble then the Christian abstains for the sake of his brother’s conscience (Rom 14:13ff.; 1 Cor 8:1-13).

Sharing food.

Sharing one’s food with the hungry was demanded by John the Baptist as a sign of repentance (Luke 3:11). In the OT Job claims this trait among his virtues (Job 31:17). Those who are hungry are to be fed (Matt 25:35, 36). The duty extends to the hungry enemy (Prov 25:21; Rom 12:20). Faith that refuses to feed the brother or sister that is hungry is dead faith (Jas 2:15-17).

Life and food.

Metaphorical use

The basis for a metaphorical use of food is laid in the prophets when Isaiah rebukes those who spend their substance for that which does not satisfy (Isa 55:1ff.). Food is a frequent metaphor in the NT. Jesus’ comparison of Himself to the bread of life (John 6) is the chief fig. use of food in Scripture. As Israel ate manna in the wilderness, so Christ gives of Himself to the believer that he may eat of His flesh and drink His blood and have life in himself. The one eating this food shall never want.

In answer to the question of whether anyone had given Him anything to eat, Jesus answered “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34). This, of course, did not imply that He could dispense with earthly food. Continuing the metaphor, the new believer is to desire the pure milk of the Word (1 Pet 2:2). Elementary teaching is milk for babes while advanced matters are solid food for the mature (1 Cor 3:2; Heb 5:14).

The preservative power of salt illustrates the powers of the disciple in the world (Matt 5:13; Mark 9:50). Its seasoning power is a figure of the proper choice of speech (Col 4:6).

The one who overcomes will “eat of the tree of life” (Rev 2:7). See Cooking.


J. Behm, Brōma, TWNT (1933), I, 640-643; J. B. Pritchard, ANET (1950), 19, 20; H. N. and A. L. Moldenke, Plants of the Bible (1952); A. C. Bouquet, Everyday Life in NT Times (1954), 69-79; M. S. and J. L. Miller, Encyclopedia of Bible Life (1955), 199ff.

SAVORY MEAT, FOOD (רֵיחַ, H8194, מַטְעַמִּ֛ים, ὀσμή, G4011, taste, flavor). The classic use of “savory” is illustrated in the story of Rebekah when she is instructing Jacob prior to bestowal of the birthright to kill a brace of choice goats from the flock “that I [Rebekah] may prepare from them savory food for your father [Isaac], such as he loves” (Gen 27:9). It was obviously an esp. tasty dish, cooked with different kinds of vegetables. Elaboration of the term passed on to the kindred sense of smell (Gen 8:21) and to the fig. usage of reputation (Exod 5:21).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)



1. Primitive Habits

2. Cereals

3. Leguminous Plants

4. Food of Trees



In a previous article (see Bread) it has been shown that in the Bible "bread" usually stands for food in general and how this came to be so. In a complementary article on MEALS the methods of preparing and serving food will be dealt with. This article is devoted specifically to the foodstuffs of the Orient, more especially to articles of food in use among the Hebrews in Bible times. These are divisible into two main classes.

I. Vegetable Foods.

1. Primitive Habits:

Orientals in general are vegetarians, rather than flesh eaters. There is some reason to believe that primitive man was a vegetarian (see Ge 2:16; 3:2,6). It would seem, indeed, from a comparison of Ge 1:29 f with 9:3 f that Divine permission to eat the flesh of animals was first given to Noah after the Deluge, and then only on condition of drawing off the blood in a prescribed way (compare the kosher (kasher) meat of the Jews of today).

2. Cereals:

The chief place among the foodstuffs of Orientals must be accorded to the cereals, included in the American Standard Revised Version under the generic term "grain," in the King James Version and the English Revised Version "corn." The two most important of these in the nearer East are wheat (chiTTah) and barley (se`orim). The most primitive way of using the wheat as food was to pluck the (Le 23:14; 2Ki 4:42), remove the husks by rubbing in the hands (De 23:25; Mt 12:1), and eat the grains raw. A common practice in all lands and periods, observed by the fellaheen of Syria today, has been to parch or roast the ears and eat the grain not ground. This is the parched corn (the American Standard Revised Version "’grain") so often mentioned in the Old Testament, which with bread and vinegar (sour wine) constituted the meal of the reapers to which Boaz invited Ru (Ru 2:14).

Later it became customary to grind the wheat into flour (kemach), and, by bolting it with a fine sieve, to obtain the "fine flour" (coleth) of our English Versions of the Bible, which, of course, was then made into "bread" (which see), either without leaven (matstsah) or with (lechem chamets Le 7:13).

Meal, both of wheat and of barley, was prepared in very early times by means of the primitive rubbing-stones, which excavations at Lachish, Gezer and elsewhere show survived the introduction of the hand-mill (see Mill; Compare PEFS, 1902, 326). Barley (se`orim) has always furnished the principal food of the poorer classes, and, like wheat, has been made into bread (Jud 7:13; Joh 6:9,13). Less frequently millet (Eze 4:9) and spelt (kuccemeth; see Fitches) were so used. (For details of baking, bread-making, etc., see Bread. III, 1,2,3.)

3. Leguminous Plants:

Vegetable foods of the pulse family (leguminosae) are represented in the Old Testament chiefly by lentils and beans. The pulse of Da 1:12 (zero`im) denotes edible "herbs" in general (Revised Version margin, compare Isa 61:11, "things that are sown"). The lentils (`adhashim) were and are considered very toothsome and nutritious. It was of "red lentils" that Jacob brewed his fateful pottage (Ge 25:29,34), a stew, probably, in which the lentils were flavored with onions and other ingredients, as we find it done in Syria today. Lentils, beans, cereals, etc., were sometimes ground and mixed and made into bread (Eze 4:9). I found them at Gaza roasted also, and eaten with oil and salt, like parched corn.

The children of Israel, when in the wilderness, are said to have looked back wistfully on the "cucumbers .... melons .... leeks .... onions, and the garlic" of Egypt (Nu 11:5). All these things we find later were grown in Palestine. In addition, at least four varieties of the bean, the chickpea, various species of chickory and endive, the bitter herbs of the Passover ritual (Ex 12:8), mustard (Mt 13:31) and many other things available for food, are mentioned in the Mishna, our richest source of information on this subject. Cucumbers (qishshu’im) were then, as now, much used. The oriental variety is much less fibrous and more succulent. and digestible than ours, and supplies the thirsty traveler often with a fine substitute for water where water is scarce or bad. The poor in such cities as Cairo, Beirut and Damascus live largely on bread and cucumbers or melons. The cucumbers are eaten raw, with or without salt, between meals, but also often stuffed and cooked and eaten at meal time. Onions (betsalim), garlic (shummim) and leeks (chatsir) are still much used in Palestine as in Egypt. They are usually eaten raw with bread, though also used for flavoring in cooking, and, like cucumbers, pickled and eaten as a relish with meat (ZDPV, IX, 14). Men in utter extremity sometimes "plucked saltwort" (malluah) and ate the leaves, either raw or boiled, and made "the roots of the broom" their food (Job 30:4).

4. Food of Trees:

In Le 19:23 f it is implied that, when Israel came into the land to possess it, they should "plant all manner of trees for food." They doubtless found such trees in the goodly land in abundance, but in the natural course of things needed to plant more. Many olive trees remain fruitful to extreme old age, as for example those shown the tourist in the garden of Gethsemane, but many more require replanting. Then the olive after planting requires ten or fifteen years to fruit, and trees of a quicker growth, like the fig, are planted beside them and depended on for fruit in the meantime. It is significant that Jotham in his parable makes the olive the first choice of the trees to be their king (Jud 9:9), and the olive tree to respond, "Should I leave my fatness, which God and man honor in me, and go to wave to and fro over the trees?" (American Revised Version margin). The berries of the olive (zayith) were doubtless eaten, then as now, though nowhere in Scripture is it expressly so stated. The chief use of the berries, now as ever, is in furnishing "oil" (which see), but they are eaten in the fresh state, as also after being soaked in brine, by rich and poor alike, and are shipped in great quantities. Olive trees are still more or less abundant in Palestine, especially around Bethlehem and Hebron, on the borders of the rich plains of Esdraelon, Phoenicia, Sharon and Philistia, in the vale of Shechem, the plain of Moreh, and in the trans-Jordanic regions of Gilead and Bashan. They are esteemed as among the best possessions of the towns, and the culture of them is being revived around Jerusalem, in the Jordan valley and elsewhere throughout the land. They are beautiful to behold in all stages of their growth, but especially in spring. Then they bear an amazing wealth of blossoms, which in the breeze fall in showers like snowflakes, a fact that gives point to Job’s words, "He shall cast off his flower as the olive-tree" (Job 15:33). The mode of gathering the fruit is still about what it was in ancient times (compare Ex 27:20).

Less prominent was the fruit of the mulberry figtree (or sycomore) (shiqmah), of the date-palm (tamar), the dates of which, according to the Mishna, were both eaten as they came from the tree, and dried in clusters and pressed into cakes for transport; the pomegranate (tappuach), the "apple" of the King James Version (see Apple), or quinch, according to others; the husks (Lu 15:16), i.e. the pods of the carob tree keration), are treated elsewhere. Certain nuts were favorite articles of food--pistachio nuts (boTnim), almonds (sheqedhim) and walnuts (’eghoz); and certain spices and vegetables were much used for seasoning: cummin (kammon), anise, dill (the King James Version) qetsach), mint (heduosmon) and mustard (sinapi), which see. Salt (melach), of course, played an important part, then as now, in the cooking and in the life of the Orientals. To "eat the salt" of a person was synonymous with eating his bread (Ezr 4:14), and a "covenant of salt" was held inviolable (Nu 18:19; 2Ch 13:5).

II. Animal Food.

Anciently, even more than now in the East, flesh food was much less used than among western peoples. In the first place, in Israel and among other Semitic peoples, it was confined by law to the use of such animals and birds as were regarded as "clean" (see Clean; Uncleanness), or speaking according to the categories of Le 11:2,3; De 14:4-20, domestic animals and game (see Driver on De 14:4-20). Then the poverty of the peasantry from time immemorial has tended to limit the use of meat to special occasions, such as family festivals (chaggim), the entertainment of an honored guest (Ge 18:7; 2Sa 12:4), and the sacrificial meal at the local sanctuary.

The goat (`ez, etc.), especially the "kid of the goats" (Le 4:23,18 the King James Version), was more prized for food by the ancient Hebrews than by modern Orientals, by whom goats are kept chiefly for their milk--most of which they supply (compare Pr 27:27). For this reason they are still among the most valued possessions of rich and poor (compare Ge 30:33; 32:14 with 1Sa 25:2). A kid, as less valuable than a lamb, was naturally the readier victim when meat was required (compare Lu 15:29).

Milk of large and small animals was a staple article of food (De 32:14; Pr 27:27). It was usually kept in skins, as among the Syrian peasants it is today (Jud 4:19). We find a generic term often used (chem’ah) which covers also cream, clabber and cheese (Pr 30:33). The proper designation of cheese is gebhinah (Job 10:10), but chalabh also is used both for ordinary milk and for a cheese made directly from sweet milk (compare 1Sa 17:18, charitse hechalabh, and our "cottage cheese").

See Milk.

Honey (debhash, nopheth ha-tsuphim), so often mentioned with milk, is ordinary bees’ honey (see Honey). The expression "honey" in the combination debhash wechalabh, for which Palestine was praised, most likely means debhash temarim, i.e. "date-juice." It was much prized and relished (Ps 19:10; Pr 16:24), and seems to have been a favorite food for children (Isa 7:15).

Of game seven species are mentioned (De 14:5). The gazelle and the hart were the typical animals of the chase, much prized for their flesh (De 12:15), and doubtless supplied the venison of Esau’s "savory meat" (Ge 25:28; 27:4).

Of fish as food little is said in the Old Testament (see Nu 11:5; Jer 16:16; Eze 47:10; Ec 9:12). No particular species is named, although thirty-six species are said to be found in the waters of the Jordan valley alone. But we may be sure that the fish which the Hebrews enjoyed in Egypt "for nought" (Nu 11:5) had their successors in Canaan (Kennedy). Trade in cured fish was carried on by Tyrian merchants with Jerusalem in Nehemiah’s day (Ne 13:16), and there must have been a fish market at or near the fish gate (Ne 3:3). The Sea of Galilee in later times was the center of a great fish industry, as is made clear by the Gospels and by Josephus In the market of Tiberias today fresh fish are sold in great quantities, and a thriving trade in salt fish is carried on. The "small fishes" of our Lord’s two great miracles of feeding were doubtless of this kind, as at all times they have been a favorite form of provision for a journey in hot countries.

As to the exact price of food in ancient times little is known. From 2Ki 7:1,16 we learn that one ce’ah of fine flour, and two of barley, sold for a shekel (compare Mt 10:29). For birds allowed as food see De 14:11 and articles on CLEAN; UNCLEANNESS.

Pigeons and turtle doves find a place in the ritual of various sacrifices, and so are to be reckoned as "clean" for ordinary uses as well. The species of domestic fowl found there today seem to have been introduced during the Persian period (compare 2 Esdras 1:30; Mt 23:37; 26:34, etc.). It is thought that the fatted fowl of Solomon’s table (1Ki 4:23) were geese (see Mish). Fatted goose is a favorite food with Jews today, as it was with the ancient Egyptians.

Of game birds used for food (see Ne 5:18) the partridge and the quail are prominent, and the humble sparrow comes in for his share of mention (Mt 10:29; Lu 12:6). Then, as now, the eggs of domestic fowls and of all "clean" birds were favorite articles of food (De 22:6; Isa 10:14; Lu 11:12).

Edible insects (Le 11:22 f) are usually classed with animal foods. In general they are of the locust family (see Locust). They formed part of the food of John the Baptist (Mt 3:4, etc.), were regarded by the Assyrians as delicacies, and are a favorite food of the Arabs today. They are prepared and served in various ways, the one most common being to remove the head, legs and wings, to drop it in meal, and then fry it in oil or butter. It then tastes a little like fried frogs’ legs. In the diet of the Baptist, locusts were associated with wild honey (see Honey).

As to condiments (see separate articles on SALT; CORIANDER, etc.) it needs only to be said here that the caperberry (Ec 12:5 margin) was eaten before meals as an appetizer and, strictly speaking, was not a condiment. Mustard was valued for the leaves, not for the seed (Mt 13:31). Pepper, though not mentioned in Scripture, is mentioned margin the Mishna as among the condiments. Before it came into use, spicy seeds like cummin, the coriander, etc., played a more important role than since.


Mishna B.M. i. 1,2 and passim; Josephus, Vita and BJ; Robinson’s Researches, II, 416, etc.; and Biblical Dictionaries, articles on "Food," etc.

George B. Eager