Food in the Bible

I was thinking about the food that we see described in the Bible. We all have some stereotypical impressions of it, but what was it all really like? For instance:

- The fish that Peter & co. were netting. The Sea of Galilee is a freshwater lake, right? What kind of fish would they be pulling in? And then, how would they prepare it? Dried? Smoked? Salted? Eaten fresh? Cooked whole, filleted, grilled, boiled in stew?

- The bread. The Last Supper was a Passover Seder, so I’ve heard most people say that it would have been unleavened bread. But is that similar to modern matzoh (essentially, a dry cracker)? Or would it have been more like pita or other flatbreads?

- Other bread. When Jesus fed the multitudes, what kind of bread would he have used then (i.e., on a not-necessarily-Kosher occasion)? Again, a pita-like substance? Or a more subsantial, leavened loaf? Just wheat, or other grains, too? How coarse?

- The wine. What kind of wine was this? I’ve heard it said that the wine of this era had about half the alcohol (say, 5-6%) of wine today (discounting those big Calif. reds, which can top 15% easy…), making it more like drinking beer. Is this true? What kind of grapes would they have used? Where did the wine come from—locally grown and made, or shipped from Italy and Greece? If the latter, was it more like retsina (since such wine was often shipped in amphorae coated with pine resin)? I’ve also heard of wine then being mixed heavily with vinegar (even the Colonials in the US had vinegar-based drinks: they were called “shrubs.” Blech.). True? Would they have mixed the wine with anything at the table (water, honey, spices, etc.?).

Any other major Biblical food groups I’m missing?

ETA: The oil, used for anointing, lamps, etc. (Was it ever mentioned as something they ate…?) What was the source? I assume olive oil, but I could be wrong.

On the wine, they also tended to water it down, I believe. I know for sure they did it for kids so that the alcohol content was negligible.

Since you seem to be referring to the NT foods I would add swine. Being able to have a ham at Easter was adding another major food group IMHO. :wink:

When teenage Jesus turned the water into wine at the wedding the host was accused of saving the good stuff for last. Good stuff = stronger in many peoples book. :smiley:

Why do you assume (actually you state that you know for sure) that the watered wine down for kids? We in modern society see it as something to keep kids away from, but back then was that a issue at all?

The Bible states many times about people getting drunk, If anything I would WAG that the wine and other drinks back then would be 1: more variable and 2: generally stronger (and no government regulations stating what levels of alcohol can be in certain drinks.

IAMNABiblical scholar, but various sources from Ancient Greece and Romans and other societies of that time all say that people drunk alcohol because water made you sick (= it wasn’t safe to drink, but nobody back then knew what to do about bacteria and sewage). Drinking strong alcohol all day was also bad, so the usual practice was to dilute the wine with water: enough alcohol for disinfection, not enough to get drunk every day, which would interfere with the smooth functioning of a society. The Greeks even had different kinds of drinking pitchers: one where the wine was stored, the opening small and sealed until served; one for mixing the wine (usual ratio was 1:5), and one for serving at the table. The storage flask was narrow-bottomed and with no handles, the serving and mixing pitcher had good handles and wider openings.

I assume wine would have been produced from locally grown grapes. There are a number of vineyards in the Galilee and Golan today, anyway. I don’t see that there would be a need to import it. The weather in Israel is very similar to that of Northern California, where I grew up, and is a major wine producing region of the world. (Okay, it is hotter in the summer and colder in the winter, but it’s pretty close.)

Back then, wine was watered down for everyone. Drinking unwatered wine was seen as sort of being a lush.

I’ve heard this but some things don’t make sense. Making wine needs fairly clean water or the contaminants will overpopulate the yeast and spoil the whole batch. It is also fairly labor intensive, if they had clean water to put into the wine making they would have clean water to drink and wine would not be needed to purify water. Also how effective is wine at water purification? At high alcohol contents the wine will kill off the ‘bugs’ but at lower levels?

1:5 would seem to be ineffective as a method to purify contaminated water, though I don’t know.

The storage flask was narrow-bottomed and with no handles, the serving and mixing pitcher had good handles and wider openings.

Well that applies today as well, if someone just drinks wine they could been seen as being sort of a lush, but if they mix drinking wine + non-alcohol drinks (though they would be drinking them separately, only mixing in the stomach), would not.

It’s one thing to know the spring up the hill has nice clean water when yo need to make something, it’s another to always have a pitcher of that water from halfway up the mountain around whenever you get thirsty.

Wine was very effective at filtering dirty water. You sprinkle it on the dirt below the vines. You can even pee on the vine roots. When you crush the grapes, if your container is relatively clean - voila! - good wine.

I think you mean beer, where you add water to make it?

Oil is mentioned in the Bible as a cooking ingredient - see the story of Elisha and the widow, who used the last of her oil and flour to make bread for the prophet.

You are confused. Water is not added to wine in the winemaking process. Crush grapes into juice, let ferment. As others have said, you are likely thinking of beer, which requires you to soak barley in water.

OK, then was beer available to these societies, if so wouldn’t they would need clean water to start, if so it would seem like they were able to purify water.

What was the method used in beer making , and for that matter cleaning the fermentor that could not be used to purify water for drinking?

I suspect that then, as now, the water was boiled for a good long hour. It does make me wonder why they didn’t just boil their drinking water.

The old method of beer making by the Sumerians starts like the Egyptians method for winemaking, by accidental spoilage of things in hot climate. Press grapes for juice + let the juice stand around for some time = fermentation makes wine.
Mix flour with water to make bread dough (the baking process makes it safe to eat) + let stand around too long = fermentation makes basic beer.

Today, the beer brewing process is with malt and hops and roasting the mash and so on, because it’s been developed over centuries with what grows in Europe. For the Sumerians and Babylonians, the bread-variation recipe worked well enoug.

First, you need to know that boiling does make the water safe. If you don’t know about germs, that’s completly non-sequitur.

Secondly, it requires a lot of energy to boil water = lots of time to collect firewood in a desert/ semi-desert climate.

Third, that boiled water will get polluted quickly again, making all for nought.

Ask people who travel today in countries with bad water supply how much of a bother it is to boil water and keep it sterile, how much they pay for gasoline or gaz, and how often they simly drop a chemical purifying tablet in their water bottle instead.

First, although the beer-makers might have known “boil first” there’s no guarantee in the days before they knew about microbes, that they would associate boiled water with healthy.

Secondly - while not mentioned much today, the world before oil and coal was in a perpetual energy crisis. We toss around so much in burnables, and discard stuff that took huge amounts of energy to make and was shipped halfway around the world. In the “good old days” everything was retreived with manual labour, save a few draft animals or if you were lucky enough to live where it could arrive by boat.

Wood had to be chopped by hand, with an axe or saw made and sharpened by hand. too great a population density, and the trees disappear, making the energy crisis worse. Charcoal making was a manual process; every bit of fuel was precious. It was not a matter of “I think I’ll have a drink - boil the kettle”. A clean water source a mile away meant an hour round trip carrying the result all the way home, so unless you knew for sure it would make a difference, why make the trip? You didn’t waste the wood or charcoal to heat up water that you were just going to drink anyway.

I wonder if this is part of where tea gets its magical properties - it seemed to help keep people healthy when really what was happening was they were boiling their drinking water.

Tradition says the fish Jesus used was tilapia, aka “St. Peter’s fish” which is abundant in the Sea of Galilee. I have no idea how they may have cooked it though.

The Bible covers a huge period of time and a relatively wide range of cultures. A bunch of semitic nomads wandering around the Sinai Peninsula in 16th century BC would have had quite different dietary habits than Palestinian Jews living in a bustling urban environment at the height of Roman power in the first century. I imagine archeologists and historians have mounds of information on what diet was like for people in Jesus’s time and place.

I’ve always wondered about the “cakes” that get mentioned so often during the early kingdom of Israel days.

Nitpick: According to John 2, this happened around the beginning of Jesus’s ministry, after he already had disciples (when he would have been around 30, or at least I believe that’s the common understanding). The closest thing we have to a Biblical account of “teenage Jesus” is an incident recorded in Luke 2:41-52 when he was twelve.

Yes, beer was available. By that time, beer had been around for millennia already.

They didn’t sanitize the fermenter as we would today, because they didn’t understand the concept of yeast, and if the wild yeast couldn’t get into the wort, it wouldn’t ferment.