Food in Ancient Israel
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Concerning diet, the ancient person actually ate a fairly diverse group of foods. As follows is simply a smattering of information regarding the various times – a loosely organized list of features in the Israelite diet.

In summary, a complete meal can be represented by Genesis 18:6-8 (as well as Ruth 2:9-14); but of course, the staple of the ancient world is bread. These cereal grains always remained the largest source of carbohydrates.

Bread

Of these, wheat the most important, while barley came in a close second. Barley did not need quite as much time or care as wheat, and for that reason was the cheaper grain (cf. Ruth 1:22, 2 Kings 7:1-16), sometimes mixed with other grains to improve quality (Eze. 4:9).

Often, it was given to the animals, or the very poor would use it for their own bread. The millstones used to refine these grains were so important to daily life they were forbidden to be taken by creditors (Deut. 24:9).

Bread essentially can be made in two ways, on an open fire (Lev 7:9; Isa 44:19) or in an oven (Lev. 26:26). This bread was edible for up to four days, but was baked daily (Jer. 37:21). And bread sometimes mixed in other vegetables (Eze. 4:9). And, at the end of meals, the plate was wiped clean with bread, hence the metaphor in Kings (2 Kgs 21:13).

Meat & Fish

Hunted animals are delicacies (Gen. 27:3-4), of course, but domestic animals were kept nearby for special occasions (Gen. 18:7; 27:9; Judg 6:18-1, 1 Sam 28:24). Later on in Israel’s history even birds were eventually kept around (1 Kings 4:23). However, before birds were domesticated you could still get wild eggs from around (Deut 22:6; Isa 10:14).

There always are certain choice meats, or pieces of the animal (1 Sam 9:22-24), but it seems fish were prominently eaten as well (as attested by the ‘Fish Gate’ in Jerusalem — Zeph 1:10; Neh 3:3; 12:39; 2 Chr 33:14), though mostly smoked, salted, or dried before consumption.

Grasshoppers were even eaten, possibly as a delicacy (Lev. 11:20-23)

Fruits

No surprise, fruits were regularly eaten — and because of the sugar content of fruit, almost anything can be turned into alcoholic drinks. Grapes abounded (Numbers 13:23), and were eaten fresh or as raisins. Some fruit trees benefited Israelis more than just in their product; but, fun fact, fig trees were actually valued for their shade, not just their fruit (1 Kings 4:25). Beyond these three kinds of nuts are mentioned too in the OT (Harrison 333).

Drinks

Milk or yogurt-like drinks were usually used for quenching thirst (Judg 4:19; 5:25). And the milk was often fresh (Judg. 4:19, Gen. 18:8). However, fresh juices would only be available in season, and otherwise they would have to be turned into alcohol to be preserved.

Beer was known in other ancient cultures, and by process of elimination we can figure the term ‘sekar’ probably refers to beer in Israel. Otherewise, a honey-water drink (like meed) is referenced in (Prov 16:24; Ps 19:11),

News Reporter
From Madison, Wisconsin. B.A. Biblical Studies: Moody Bible Institute, Chicago. M.Div. Student at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto, Ontario.

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