With the exception of
Originally shekhar seems to have been a general term for intoxicating drinks of all kinds, without reference to the material out of which they were made; and in that sense, it would include wine. Reminiscences of this older usage may be found in
When the Hebrews were living a nomadic life, before their settlement in Canaan, the grape-wine was practically unknown to them, and there would be no need of a special term to describe it. But when they settled down to an agricultural life, and came to cultivate the vine, it would become necessary to distinguish it from the older kinds of intoxicants; hence, the borrowed word yayin ("wine") was applied to the former, while the latter would be classed together under the old term shekhar, which would then come to mean all intoxicating beverages other than wine (
Probably the most common sort of shekhar used in Biblical times was palm or date-wine. This is not actually mentioned in the Bible, and we do not meet with its Hebrew name yen temarim ("wine of dates") until the Talmudic period. But it is frequently referred to in the Assyrian-Babylonian contract tablets (cuneiform), and from this and other evidence we infer that it was very well known among the ancient Semitic peoples. Moreover, it is known that the palm tree flourished abundantly in Biblical lands, and the presumption is therefore very strong that wine made of the juice of dates was a common beverage. It must not be supposed, however, that the term shekhar refers exclusively to date-wine. It rather designates all intoxicating liquors other than grape-wine, while in few cases it probably includes even wine.
There can be no doubt that shekhar was intoxicating. This is proved
(1) from the etymology of the word, it being derived from shakhar, "to be or become drunk" (
(2) from descriptions of its effects: e. g. Isaiah graphically describes the stupefying effect of shekhar on those who drink it excessively (
D. Miall Edwards