Meals, Meal-time

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.

The Book of Judges gives a fair picture of the early formative period of the Hebrew people and their ways of living. It is a picture of semi-savagery--of the life and customs of free desert tribes. In 1 Samuel we note a distinct step forward, but the domestic and cultural life is still low and crude. When they are settled in Palestine and come in contact with the most cultured people of the day, the case is different. Most that raised these Semitic invaders above the dull, crude existence of fellahin, in point of civilization, was due to the people for whom the land was named (Macalister, Hist of Civilization in Pal). From that time on various foreign influences played their several parts in modification of Hebrew life and customs. A sharp contrast illustrative of the primitive beginnings and the growth of luxury in Israel in the preparation and use of foods may be seen by a comparison of 2Sa 17:28 f with 1Ki 4:22 f.

I. Methods of Preparing Food.

1. Cereals:


See LEAVEN.

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.)

See BREAD; FOOD.

2. Vegetables:

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 Ge 25:29,34), and sometimes ground and made into bread (Eze 4:9; compare Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palastina-Vereins, IX, 4). The wandering Israelites in the wilderness looked back wistfully on the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic of Egypt (Nu 11:5), and later we find all of these used for food in Palestine How many other things were prepared and used for food by them may be gathered from the Mishna, our richest source of knowledge on the subject.

3. Meat:

The flesh of animals--permission to eat which it would seem was first given to Noah after the deluge (Ge 1:29 f; 9:3 f)--was likewise prepared and used in various ways:

(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" (1Ki 19:6 the Revised Version margin; compare Ho 7:8, "a cake not turned"), and sometimes underneath with a covering of ashes. The fish that the disciples found prepared for them by the Sea of Galilee (Joh 21:9) was, in exception to this rule, cooked on the live coals themselves. A more advanced mode of roasting was by means of a spit of green wood or iron (for baking in ovens, see FOOD).


(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)."

4. Oil:

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.

(b) Oil was used in cooking vegetables as we use bacon and other animal fats, and in cooking fish and eggs, as sJso in the finer sorts of baking. See BREAD; FOOD; OIL.

(c) They even mixed oil with the flour, shaped it into cakes and then baked it (Le 2:4). The "little oil" of the poor widow of Zerephath was clearly not intended for the lamps, but to bake her pitiful "handful of meal" (1Ki 17:12).

(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 Ex 29:2, etc.

(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 (Eze 16:13,19). The taste of the manna is said in Ex 16:31 to be like that of "wafers made with honey," and in Nu 11:8 to be like "the taste of cakes baked with oil" (Revised Version margin).

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 New Testament in Joh 21:12,15), but this was not a true meal. It was rather ariston proinon (Robinson, BRP, II, 18), though some think it the ariston, of the New Testament (Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, II, 205, note 3; compare Plummer, International Critical Commentary, on Lu 11:37). To "eat a meal," i.e. a full meal, in the morning was a matter for grave reproach (Ec 10:16), as early drinking was unusual and a sign of degradation (of Ac 2:15).

(2) The first meal (of "meal-time," literally, "the time of eating," Ru 2:14; Ge 43:16), according to general usage, was taken at or about noon when the climate and immemorial custom demanded a rest from labor. Peter’s intended meal at Joppa, interrupted by the messengers of Cornelius, was at "the sixth hour," i.e. 12 M. It corresponded somewhat to our modern "luncheon," but the hour varied according to rank and occupation (Shabbath 10a). The Bedawi take it about 9 or 10 o’clock (Burckhardt, Notes, I, 69). It is described somewhat fully by Lane in Modern Egyptians. To abstain from this meal was accounted "fasting" (Jud 20:26; 1Sa 14:24). Drummond (Tropical Africa) says his Negro bearers began the day’s work without food.



See BANQUET.

III. Customs at Meals.


LITERATURE.

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