The food of the Eastern peoples generally may be classified into four groups: grains, vegetables, fruits, and animal foods. Wheat, barley, millet, spelt, lentils, beans, cucumbers, onions, leeks, garlic, saltwort, pods of the carob tree referred to as “husks,” and wild gourds were all eaten. The corn referred to in the Bible (kjv) was wheat. The grain was often picked in the field, rubbed in the hands to separate it from the chaff, and eaten raw (
No meal was considered complete without bread. Edersheim points out that the blessing was spoken over the bread and was presumed to cover all of the food that followed. Bread was both leavened and unleavened. Sometimes honey and oil were mixed into the dough as it was being made in the kneading troughs or wooden bowls. In times of poverty bread was made from beans, millet, and spelt (
Spices, used freely as flavors, consisted of cummin or dill, mustard or mint. Salt also became an important item in the diet of these people.
Fruits grew in great abundance in Palestine and consisted of grapes, figs, olives, mulberries, pomegranates, oranges, lemons, melons, dates, almonds, and walnuts. Grapes were eaten as fresh food and dried as raisins. They were the chief source of the wines, which were used both sweet and fermented. Olives were eaten as food as well as used to make olive oil. There were two kinds of figs, early (
The bulk of the meat came from sheep, lambs, kids, and fatted calves. Pork was eaten, but not by the Hebrews. Some game such as the hart, gazelle, goat, antelope, and deer, as well as doves, turtledoves, and quails, formed part of the meat diet. Some eggs were used for food (
Knives, forks, and spoons were not used in eating. The hands were usually washed and a prayer was offered before the meal. Meat was cooked and placed with its gravy in a large dish on the table. The contents were taken either with the fingers or placed on bread and carried to the mouth. The Egyptians sat at a small round table for their meals. The early Hebrews sat, knelt, or squatted as they ate, but later they evidently reclined at meals. The custom of reclining, probably derived from the Persians, became the NT practice. Women were sometimes included and sometimes excluded at mealtime. Three generally lay on one couch, thus the head of one was on the bosom of another (
Food was cooked in a variety of ways over a fire made from charcoal (
MEALS. Time of eating, foods served, manner of eating, and treatment of guests are all important aspects of mealtime in the ancient Near E.
There are a number of words in the Bible to express the idea of meals and of eating:
3. עֵ֣ת אֹ֗כֶל (lit., time of eating), “mealtime” (
4. אֲרֻחָה, H786, (“meal,” “allowance of food,” from word meaning wander, journey), “dinner” (
8. See also expressions such as “sit at table” (“at meat,” KJV).
Time of eating.
Only two meals a day were usually eaten (
Place of eating.
At family meals in the earliest times the Hebrews usually sat on the ground on mats to eat. Men and women ate together (
Abraham served his guests outdoors (
The harvester’s fare consisted of bread dipped in vinegar and parched grain (
The wayfarer’s meals.
Guests at meals
Duties of host.
Serving of food.
The king’s table.
Ancient Oriental rulers gave banquets that are still unmatched for opulence. A tiny lapis-lazuli cylinder seal carved before 3000 b.c. shows a banquet of Queen Shub-ad with guests seated on little stools, receiving from servants goblets of wine while other servants are fanning to keep them cool. Akhenaton of Egypt served in a spacious dining hall with garlands hanging from pillars while slaves cooled the air with fans. He had a summer dining room in a garden on a tiny island on an artificial lake. Egyptians did not eat at the same table with foreigners (
Taboos and restrictions.
The Mesopotamians emphasized that sacrifice was a meal provided for the god, and
The NT ritual of the Lord’s Supper is a ritual meal derived from the Jewish Passover and instituted by Jesus (
Symbolic use of meals in the Bible.
A. C. Bouquet, Everyday Life in NT Times (1953), 69-79; M. S. and J. L. Miller, Encyclopedia of Bible Life (1955), 299-319; E. W. Heaton, Everyday Life in OT Times (1956); L. Köhler, Hebrew Man (1956), 86, 87; R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel (1961), 10, 122, 468-517.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
melz: Bread materials, bread-making and baking in the Orient are dealt with under BREAD (which see). For food-stuffs in use among the Hebrews in Bible times more specifically see Food. This article aims to be complementary, dealing especially with the methods of preparing and serving food and times of meals among the ancient Hebrews.
I. Methods of Preparing Food.
Another simple way of preparing the grain was to soak it in water, or boil it slightly, and then, after drying and crushing it, to serve it as the dish called "groats" is served among western peoples.
The kneading of the dough preparatory to baking was done doubtless, as it is now in the East, by pressing it between the hands or by passing it from hand to hand; except that in Egypt, as the monuments show, it was put in "baskets" and trodden with the feet, as grapes in the wine press. (This is done in Paris bakeries to this day.)
Lentils, several kinds of beans, and a profusion of vegetables, wild and cultivated, were prepared and eaten in various ways. The lentils were sometimes roasted, as they are today, and eaten like "parched corn." They were sometimes stewed like beans, and flavored with onions and other ingredients, no doubt, as we find done in Syria today (compare
The flesh of animals--permission to eat which it would seem was first given to Noah after the deluge (
(a) Roasting was much in vogue, indeed was probably the oldest of all methods of preparing such food. At first raw meat was laid upon hot stones from which the embers had been removed, as in the case of the "cake baken on the hot stones" (
(c) The Hebrew housewives, we may be sure, were in such matters in no way behind their modern kinswomen of the desert, of whom Doughty tells: "The Arab housewives make savory messes of any grain, seething it and putting thereto only a little salt and samn (clarified butter)."
Olive oil was extensively and variously used by the ancient Hebrews, as by most eastern peoples then, as it is now.
(a) Oriental cooking diverges here more than at any other point from that of the northern and western peoples, oil serving many of the purposes of butter and lard among ourselves.
(c) They even mixed oil with the flour, shaped it into cakes and then baked it (
(d) Again the cake of unmixed flour might be baked till almost done, then smeared with oil, sprinkled with anise seed, and brought by further baking to a glossy brown. A species of thin flat cakes of this kind are "the wafers anointed with oil" of
(e) Oil and honey constituted, as now in the East, a mixture used as we use butter and honey, and are found also mixed in the making of sweet cakes (
II. Meals, Meal-Time, etc.
(1) It was customary among the ancient Hebrews, as among their contemporaries in the East in classical lands, to have but two meals a day. The "morning morsel" or "early snack," as it is called in the Talmud, taken with some relish like olives, oil or melted butter, might be used by peasants, fishermen, or even artisans, to "break their fast" (see the one reference to it in the
(2) The first meal (of "meal-time," literally, "the time of eating,"
III. Customs at Meals.
Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah; O. Holtzmann, Eine Untersuchung zum Leben Jesu, English translation, 206; B. Weiss, The Life of Christ, II, 125, note 2; Plummer, International Critical Commentary, "Luke," 159 f; Farrar, Life of Christ; Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible (five volumes), Hastings, Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels, the 1-volume Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible; Encyclopedia Biblica; Jewish Encyclopedia, etc.
George B. Eager