Easton's Bible Dictionary
Originally the Creator granted the use of the vegetable
world for food to man ( Genesis 1:29 ), with the exception mentioned ( Genesis
2:17 ). The use of animal food was probably not unknown to the antediluvians.
There is, however, a distinct law on the subject given to Noah after the Deluge
( Genesis 9:2-5 ). Various articles of food used in the patriarchal age are mentioned
in Genesis 18:6-8 ; 25:34 ; 27:3 , 27:4 ; 43:11 . Regarding the food of the Israelites
in Egypt, see Exodus 16:3 ; Numbers 11:5 . In the wilderness their ordinary food
was miraculously supplied in the manna. They had also quails ( Exodus 16:11 -
13 ; Numbers 11:31 ).
In the law of Moses there are special regulations as to the animals to be used
for food ( Leviticus 11 ; Deuteronomy 14:3 - 21 ). The Jews were also forbidden
to use as food anything that had been consecrated to idols ( Exodus 34:15 ), or
animals that had died of disease or had been torn by wild beasts ( Exodus 22:31
; Leviticus 22:8 ). (See also for other restrictions Exodus 23:19 ; 29:13 - 22
; Leviticus 3:4 - 9 ; 9:18 , 9:19 ; 22:8 ; Deuteronomy 14:21 .) But beyond these
restrictions they had a large grant from God ( Deuteronomy 14:26 ; 32:13 , 32:14
Food was prepared for use in various ways. The cereals were sometimes eaten without
any preparation ( Leviticus 23:14 ; Deuteronomy 23:25 ; 2 Kings 4:42 ). Vegetables
were cooked by boiling ( Genesis 25:30 , 34 ; 2 Kings 4:38 , 39 ), and thus also
other articles of food were prepared for use ( Genesis 27:4 ; Proverbs 23:3 ;
Ezekiel 24:10 ; Luke 24:42 ; John 21:9 ). Food was also prepared by roasting (
Exodus 12:8 ; Leviticus 2:14 ). (See COOK)
Hitchcock's Dictionary of Bible Names
Smith's Bible Dictionary
The diet of eastern nations has been in all ages light
and simple. Vegetable food was more used than animal. The Hebrews used a great
variety of articles, ( John 21:5 ) to give a relish to bread. Milk and its preparations
hold a conspicuous place in eastern diet, as affording substantial nourishment;
generally int he form of the modern leben , i.e. sour milk. Authorized Version
"butter;" ( Genesis 18:8 ; Judges 5:25 ; 2 Samuel 17:29 ) Fruit was another source
of subsistence: figs stood first in point of importance; they were generally dried
and pressed into cakes. Grapes were generally eaten in a dried state as raisins.
Of vegetables we have most frequent notice of lentils, beans, leeks, onions and
garlic, which were and still are of a superior quality in Egypt. ( Numbers 11:5
) Honey is extensively used, as is also olive oil. The Orientals have been at
all times sparing in the use of animal food; not only does the extensive head
of the climate render it both unwholesome to eat much meat and expensive from
the necessity of immediately consuming a whole animal, but beyond this the ritual
regulations of the Mosaic law in ancient, as of the Koran in modern, times have
tended to the same result. The prohibition expressed against consuming the blood
of any animal, ( Genesis 9:4 ) was more fully developed in the Levitical law,
and enforced by the penalty of death. ( Leviticus 3:17 ; 7:26 ; 19:26 ; 12:16
) Certain portions of the fat of sacrifices were also forbidden, ( Leviticus 3:9
, 3:10 ) as being set apart for the altar, ( Leviticus 3:16 ; 7:25 ) In addition
to the above, Christians were forbidden to eat the flesh of animals portions of
which had been offered to idols. All beasts and birds classed as unclean, ( Leviticus
11:1 ) ff.; Deuteronomy 14:4 ff., were also prohibited. Under these restrictions
the Hebrews were permitted the free use of animal food: generally speaking they
only availed themselves of it in the exercise of hospitality or at festivals of
a religious, public or private character. It was only in royal households that
there was a daily consumption of meat. The animals killed for meat were --calves,
lambs, oxen not above three years of age, harts, roebucks and fallow deer; birds
of various kinds; fish, with the exception of such as were without scales and
fins. Locusts, of which certain species only were esteemed clean, were occasionally
eaten, ( Matthew 3:4 ) but were regarded as poor fare.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
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 Genesis 2:16 ; 3:2
, 6). It would seem, indeed, from a comparison of Genesis 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).
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 (Leviticus
23:14 ; 2 Kings 4:42), remove the husks by rubbing in the hands (Deuteronomy 23:25
; Matthew 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 Ruth (Ruth 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 Leviticus 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 (Judges 7:13; John 6:9,13). Less frequently
millet (Ezekiel 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 Daniel 1:12 (zero'im) denotes edible
"herbs" in general (Revised Version margin, compare Isaiah 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 (Genesis
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 (Ezekiel 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
(Numbers 11:5). All these things we find later were grown in Israel. In addition,
at least four varieties of the bean, the chickpea, various species of chickory
and endive, the bitter herbs of the Passover ritual (Exodus 12:8), mustard (Matthew
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 Israel 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 Leviticus 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 (Judges 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 Israel, 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 Exodus 27:20).
Next in rank to the olive, according to Jotham's order, though first as an article
of food, is the fig (in the Old Testament te'enah, in the New Testament suke),
whose "sweetness" is praised in the parable (Judges 9:11). It is the principal
shade and fruit tree of Israel, growing in all parts, in many spontaneously, and
is the emblem of peace and prosperity (Deuteronomy 8:8 ; Judges 9:10 ; 1 Kings
4:25 ; Micah 4:4 ; Zechariah 3:10; 1 Macc 14:12). The best fig and olive orchards
are carefully plowed, first in the spring when the buds are swelling, sometimes
again when the second crop is sprouting, and again after the first rains in the
autumn. The "first-ripe fig" (bikkurah, Isaiah 28:4 ; Jeremiah 24:2), i.e. the
early fig which grows on last year's wood, was and is esteemed as a great delicacy,
and is often eaten while it is young and green. The late fig (te'enim) is the
kind dried in the sun and put up in quantities for use out of season. Among the
Greeks and the Romans, as well as among the Hebrews, dried figs were most extensively
used. When pressed in a mold they formed the "cakes of figs" (debhelah) mentioned
in the Old Testament (1 Samuel 25:18 ; 1 Chronicles 12:40), doubtless about such
as are found today in Syria and Smyrna, put up for home use and for shipment.
It was such a fig-cake that was presented as a poultice (the King James Version
"plaster") for Hezekiah's boil (Isaiah 38:21; compare 2 Kings 20:7). As the fruit-buds
of the fig appear before the leaves, a tree full of leaves and without fruit would
be counted "barren" (Mark 11:12 f; compare Isaiah 28:4 ; Jeremiah 24:2 ; Hosea
9:10 ; Nahum 3:12 ; Matthew 21:19 ; Luke 13:7).
Grapes ('anabhim), often called "the fruit of the vine" (Matthew 26:29), have
always been a much-prized article of food in the Orient. They are closely associated
in the Bible with the fig (compare "every man under his vine and under his fig-tree,"
1 Kings 4:25). Like the olive, the fig, and the date-palm, grapes are indigenous
to Syria, the soil and climate being most favorable to their growth and perfection.
Southern Israel especially yields a rich abundance of choice grapes, somewhat
as in patriarchal times (Genesis 49:11 , 12). J. T. Haddad, a native Syrian, for
many years in the employment of the Turkish government, tells of a variety in
the famous valley of Eshcol near Hebron, a bunch from which has been known to
weigh twenty-eight pounds (compare Numbers 13:23). Of the grapevine there is nothing
wasted; the young leaves are used as a green vegetable, and the old are fed to
sheep and goats. The branches cut off in pruning, as well as the dead trunk, are
used to make charcoal, or for firewood. The failure of such a fruit was naturally
regarded as a judgment from Yahweh (Psalm 105:33 ; Jeremiah 5:17 ; Hosea 2:12
; Joel 1:7). Grapes, like figs, were both enjoyed in their natural state, and
by exposure to the sun dried into raisins (tsimmuqim), the "dried grapes" of Numbers
6:3. In this form they were especially well suited to the use of travelers and
soldiers (1 Samuel 25:18 ; 1 Chronicles 12:40). The meaning of the word rendered
"raisin-cake," the American Standard Revised Version "a cake of raisins" (2 Samuel
6:19 and elsewhere), is uncertain. In Bible times the bulk of the grape product
of the land went to the making of wine (which see). Some doubt if the Hebrews
knew grape-syrup, but the fact that the Aramaic dibs, corresponding to Hebrew
debhash, is used to denote both the natural and artificial honey (grape-syrup),
seems to indicate that they knew the latter (compare Genesis 43:11 ; Ezekiel 27:17;
and see HONEY).
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 (Luke 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 (Ezra 4:14), and a "covenant of salt" was held
inviolable (Numbers 18:19 ; 2 Chronicles 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 Leviticus
11:2 , 3 ; Deuteronomy 14:4-20, domestic animals and game (see Driver on Deuteronomy
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 (Genesis 18:7 ; 2 Samuel 12:4), and the
sacrificial meal at the local sanctuary.
The goat ('ez, etc.), especially the "kid of the goats" (Leviticus 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 Proverbs 27:27). For this reason they are still among the most valued
possessions of rich and poor (compare Genesis 30:33 ; 32:14 with 1 Samuel 25:2).
A kid, as less valuable than a lamb, was naturally the readier victim when meat
was required (compare Luke 15:29).
The sheep of Israel, as of Egypt, are mainly of the fat-tailed species (Ovis aries),
the tail of which was forbidden as ordinary food and had to be offered with certain
other portions of the fat (Exodus 29:22 ; Leviticus 3:9). To kill a lamb in honor
of a gue st is one of the highest acts of Bedouin hospitality. As a rule only
the lambs are killed for meat, and they only in honor of some guest or festive
occasion (compare 1 Samuel 25:18 ; 1 Kings 1:19). Likewise the "calves of the
herd" supplied the daintiest food of the kind, though the flesh of the neat cattle,
male and female, was eaten. The "fatted calf" of Luke 15:23 will be recalled,
as also the "fatlings" and the "stalled" (stall-fed) ox of the Old Testament (Proverbs
15:17). Asharp contrast suggestive of the growth of luxury in Israel is seen by
a comparison of 2 Samuel 17:28 f with 1 Kings 4:22 f. The food furnished David
and his hardy followers at Mahanaim was "wheat, and barley, and meal, and parched
grain, and beans, and lentils, and parched pulse, and honey, and butter, and sheep,
and cheese of the herd," while the daily provision for Solomon's table was "thirty
measures of fine flour, and threescore measures of meal, ten fat oxen, and twenty
oxen out of the pastures, and a hundred sheep, besides harts, and gazelles, and
roebucks, and fatted fowl." Nehemiah's daily portion is given as "one ox and six
choice sheep" (Nehum 5:18).
Milk of large and small animals was a staple article of food (Deuteronomy 32:14
; Proverbs 27:27). It was usually kept in skins, as among the Syrian peasants
it is today (Judges 4:19). We find a generic term often used (chem'ah) which covers
also cream, clabber and cheese (Proverbs 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 1 Samuel 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 Israel was praised, most likely means debhash temarim, i.e. "date-juice."
It was much prized and relished (Psalm 19:10 ; Proverbs 16:24), and seems to have
been a favorite food for children (Isaiah 7:15). Of game seven species are mentioned
(Deuteronomy 14:5). The gazelle and the hart were the typical animals of the chase,
much prized for their flesh (Deuteronomy 12:15), and doubtless supplied the venison
of Esau's "savory meat" (Genesis 25:28; 27:4).
Of fish as food little is said in the Old Testament (see Numbers 11:5 ; Jeremiah
16:16 ; Ezekiel 47:10 ; Ecclesiastes 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"
(Numbers 11:5) had their successors in Canaan (Kennedy). Trade in cured fish was
carried on by Tyrian merchants with Jerusalem in Nehemiah's day (Nehemiah 13:16),
and there must have been a fish market at or near the fish gate (Nehemiah 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 2 Kings 7:1,16
we learn that one ce'ah of fine flour, and two of barley, sold for a shekel (compare
Matthew 10:29). For birds allowed as food see Deuteronomy 14:11 and articles on
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 ; Matthew 23:37 ; 26:34 , etc.). It is thought that the
fatted fowl of Solomon's table (1 Kings 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 Nehemiah 5:18) the partridge and the quail are
prominent, and the humble sparrow comes in for his share of mention (Matthew 10:29
; Luke 12:6). Then, as now, the eggs of domestic fowls and of all "clean" birds
were favorite articles of food (Deuteronomy 22:6 ; Isaiah 10:14 ; Luke 11:12).
Edible insects (Leviticus 11:22) 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 (Matthew 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
As to condiments (see separate articles on SALT; CORIANDER, etc.) it needs only
to be said here that the caperberry (Ecclesiastes 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 (Matthew 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.
The abhorrence of the Hebrews for all food prepared or handled by the heathen
(see ABOMINATION) is to be attributed primarily to the intimate association in
early times between flesh food and sacrifices to the gods. This finds conspicuous
illustration in the case of Daniel (Daniel 1:8), Judas Maccabeus (2 Macc 5:27),
Josephus (Vita, III), and their compatriots (see also Acts 15:20 , 29 ; 1 Corinthians
8:1-10 ; 10:19 , 28). As to sources of food supply and traffic in food stuffs,
for primitive usages see Genesis 18:7 ; 27:9 ; 1 Kings 21:2. As to articles and
customs of commerce adopted when men became dwellers in cities, see Jeremiah 37:21,
where bakers were numerous enough in Jerusalem to give their name to a street
or bazaar, where doubtless, as today, they baked and sold bread to the public
(compare Mishna,passim). Extensive trade in "victuals" in Nehemiah's day is attested
by Nehemiah 13:15, and by specific mention of the "fish gate" (Nehemiah 3:3) and
the "sheep gate" (Nehemiah 3:1), so named evidently because of their nearby markets.
In John's Gospel (John 4:8 ; 13:29) we have incidental evidence that the disciples
were accustomed to buy food as they journeyed through the land. In Jerusalem,
cheese was clearly to be bought in the cheesemakers' valley (Tyropoeon), oil of
the oil merchants (Matthew 25:9), and so on; and Corinth, we may be sure, was
not the only city of Paul's day that had a provision market ("shambles," 1 Corinthians
10:25 the Revised Version (British and American)).
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
bible commentary, bible history, bible reference, bible study, define, food