Sweetness in the ancient Hebrew diet was provided mainly by fruit. Figs, dates, grapes,
and pomegranates were the most important fruits eaten in the Middle East during Bible
times. Dates and figs were prized foods, eaten fresh or dried and pressed into cakes.
Grapes were also dried, as well as eaten fresh in season--but their principal use
was for wine-making.
Raisins and fig-cakes are mentioned in 1 Samuel 25: 18, 2 Samuel 16: 1-2 ("summer
fruits" are figs), and 1 Chronicles 12:40. In the New Testament, Jesus uses the ripening
fig tree as a metaphor (Matthew 24: 32), and also curses one (Matthew 21: 19). Figs
get additional mention in Revelation 6: 13.
The Sycamore trees noted in Amos 7: 14, and the one Zaccheus climbed to get a better
view of Jesus, were fig trees. Other species of figs grown were the Egyptian fig,
and the Egyptian Mulberry fruit.
There are fewer specific Biblical references to dates, but the date-palm tree is mentioned
several times (eg: Leviticus 23: 40; Judges 4: 5; Psalms 92: 12; Song of Solomon
7: 7; Jeremiah 10: 5), and of course the crowds waved their palm-branches to Jesus
upon His triumphant entry into Jerusalem (Matthew 21: 8; John 12: 13).
The Hebrews were fond enough of the date palm to use it as a namesake for places (Ezekiel
47: 19; 48: 28; 1 Kings 9: 18) and daughters (Genesis 38: 6; 2 Samuel 13; 2 Samuel
14: 27). "Tamar" means "date palm."
Pomegranates are round fruit resembling a rosy-red, tough-skinned orange. They were
used as food and their seeds yielded a red, bitter juice employed both as a beverage
and a medicine. Pomegranates were portrayed as symbolic decoration on priestly robes
(Exodus 28: 33-34) and on the porch of Solomon's temple (1 Kings 7: 20). They grew
abundantly near Cana in Galilee and Jesus would doubtless have eaten them often.
Wine was an important commodity in hot, dry, Palestine, and , as noted above, grapes
were used there primarily for wine-making. There are so many references to wine,
vines, vineyards, and vintages in the Bible that it is beyond the scope of our brief
discussion here to attempt listing them all. Wine first appears in Genesis 9: 21 when
Noah gets drunk, and it receives its final mention in Revelation when the "vintage
of the earth" is gathered by an angel and cast into the "great winepress"--the wrath
Wine is described in Holy Scripture as both that which "maketh glad the heart (Psalms
104: 15), and as a "mocker (Proverbs 20: 1). Jesus's first miracle was making wine
from water at the wedding in Cana (john 2: 19). He referred to Himself metaphorically
as the "new wine" (Matthew 9: 17), and as the "true wine" (John 15: 1).
Wine became the mystical symbol of Christ's blood at the Last Supper, and He also
implies that wine would be drunk in Heaven (Matthew 26: 27-29). Vineyards are mentioned
in several of Jesus's parables (Matthew 20:1; 21: 33; Mark 12: 1; Luke 20: 19).
St. Paul also mentions wine: "be not drunken with wine" (Ephesians 5: 18); "take a
little wine for thy stomach's sake" (1 Timothy 5: 23). Wine vinegar, dilutes with
water, was widely drunk as a beverage in ancient Palestine (Numbers 6: 3; Ruth 2:
14). Possibly the offer of a vinegar in a sponge to Jesus as He hung on the Cross was simply
an act of kindness utilizing a common beverage, although the prophetic context of
Psalm 69: 21 indicates otherwise.