By Charles W. Moore
1998 Charles W. Moore
Unlike peoples farther to the east, the monotheistic ancient Hebrews did not deify
food or reverence it as, for example, the Orientals did rice. Nevertheless, food
has a great deal of significance in the Bible, ritualistically, symbolically, and
From Genesis to Revelation, food plays a vital role in the Biblical account. The forbidden
fruit is elemental the Fall of mankind from grace, and Jesus ate broiled fish when
He appeared to His disciples after the Resurrection--evidence that He had indeed
risen bodily from the dead.
The Old Testament implies that God originally intended man to be vegetarian. In Genesis
1: 29, God tells Adam:
"Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed which is upon the face of the earth
and every tree in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be
God also grants Adam dominion over fish, birds, cattle, and every creeping thing,
but makes no suggestion that the man should eat them. The indication that under ideal
circumstances dietary needs would be met without blood and death, even in the animal
kingdom, appears again in Isaiah 11: 6-7:
"And the wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together;
and a little child shall lead them.
And the cow and the bear shall feed;
their young ones shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox."
First mention of eating flesh foods comes after the flood, in Genesis 9: 3, when God
blesses Noah and his sons and decrees (more as a concession than a command):
"Every moving thing that liveth shall be food for you; as the green herb I have given
Even with that Divine imprimatur for meat-eating, people in Bible times were mainly
vegetarian by necessity--if not conviction. Royalty and the very wealthy could feast
on meat to their hearts' content, and so they did, but for the common people, vegetable foods made up the bulk of day to day diets.
Nomadic Hebrew patriarchs were herdsmen who kept such domesticated species as cattle,
goats, sheep, donkeys, camels, and horses, but these animals were considered too
valuable to be used as regular table fare. Meat eating was a luxury reserved for
special feasts and entertaining.
Cattle, both bulls and cows (1 Sam 6: 7) were used as draft animals. Cows, goats,
camels, and possibly horses provided milk. Sheep's wool was spun into fabric. Donkeys,
camels and oxen were employed as beasts of burden. A man's material wealth was calculated in terms of how many cattle (the word is used generically in the Bible in reference
to all livestock) he owned. "Cattle" in this context is the origin of the English
word "chattel" --meaning possessions.
There was no ethical proscription against meat eating, although the Biblical implication
is that it was more permitted and recommended:
"When the Lord thy God shall enlarge thy border, as he hath
promised thee, and thou shalt say 'I will eat flesh,' because thy
soul longeth to eat flesh; thou mayest eat flesh, whatsoever thy
soul lusteth after." (Deuteronomy 12: 20)
There is little doubt, however, that meat held highest status in terms of gustatory
satisfaction, as Proverbs 15:17 illustrates:
"Better a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and
GRAINS AND BREAD
Everyday staple foods in the time of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were grains (wheat
and barley) and legumes--particularly lentils--supplemented by a variety of vegetables
and fruits. This diet would have been nutritious and balanced, providing proper proportions of carbohydrate and protein, as well as healthily low in fat.
Wild cereal grasses such as einkorn, emmer wheat, and barley are thought to have been
gathered by nomads in Northern Palestine as early as 9000 years ago. Wild einkorn
wheat, which still grows in the Middle East and Asia Minor is very high in protein
compared to modern hard red winter wheat (22.83% vs. 14.5% respectively).1
In Abraham's day, cultivation of wheat, barley, lentils, peas, and chickpeas had been
established for about 5,000 years. Grain was eaten in several ways--the simplest
being to grab some heads of grain in a field--anybody's field, since such was not
considered stealing if it was done by hand.
"When thou comest into the standing corn of thy neighbour,
then thou mayest pluck the ears with thine hand; but thou
shalt not move a sickle into thy neighbour's standing corn,"
(Deuteronomy 23: 25)
This practice was still common in Jesus's time, and His disciples were known to eat
grain in this manner:
"At that time Jesus went on the Sabbath day through the corn; and
his disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn,
and to eat." (Matthew 12: 1)
Raw grain was hard to digest, so under normal circumstances grain was cut (by its
owner) when ripe and threshed by trampling it with large animals or beating it with
sticks. The food kernels could then be stored until they were needed. Grain would
not be ground until just before it was required for baking--a practice nutritionally superior
to modern bulk milling. Whole wheat kernels keep very well, but once they have been
cracked, ground, or milled, oxygen and light cause the unprotected oils in the kernel contents to quickly become rancid.
In Bible times, grinding was done by hand using a special bowl (or "mull") and millstone.
Every family had their own grinding apparatus, and its vital importance was recognized
in the law--which made it illegal to take a millstone as collateral against a loan.
"No man shall take the nether or upper millstone to pledge: for
he taketh a man's life to pledge." (Deuteronomy 24: 6)
Grinding grain and making bread was considered to be woman's work, and was done early
in the morning before the general household arose. The good wife, according to Proverbs:
"...riseth also while it is yet night,
and giveth food to her household
Various means of cooking were employed. The crudest method was to mix flour with oil
and/or water to make batter; form a cake or flat, round loaf; and place it directly
in the fire's hot ashes.
"For I have eaten ashes like bread,
and have mingled my drink like weeping.
(Psalms 102: 9)
As if this were not enough to deter the fastidious eater, fires in those days were
not always kindled with wood. "Droppings" from cattle, sheep, and other animals were
widely used as fuel. This posed a problem foe Ezekiel when he was commanded by God
to lay on his side for three hundred ninety days (representing years of punishment for
Israel) and subsist on cakes made from wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, and
spelt--all ground into flour. These cakes were to be cooked in a fire as outlined
"And thou shalt eat it as barley ashes, and thou shalt bake it in their sight with
dung that cometh out of man." (Ezekiel 4: 12)
Ezekiel, not surprisingly, objected:
"Ah, Lord God, behold my soul hath not been polluted; for from
my youth even up until now have I not eaten of that which dieth
of itself, or is torn in pieces; neither came there abominable flesh
into my mouth." (Ezekiel 4: 14)
The Lord relented (sort of):
"Lo, I have given thee cow's dung for man's dung, and thou shalt
prepare thy bread therewith." (Ezekiel 4: 15)
Cooking bread directly in the fire was still practiced in Jesus's time:
"As soon as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there,
and fish laid thereon, and bread. (John 21: 9)
A more satisfactory, better tasting, and in the case of dung fires--more sanitary
cooking method was to place the bread dough on hot stones by the fire rather than
actually in it:
The Hebrews ate bread both leavened (homity) and unleavened (matzoh). Although the
Egyptians probably had cooking yeast by about 1,500 BC, bread in Abraham's day would
have been leavened, if at all, by sourdough starter kept from a previous batch. Leaven
was not permitted in meal ,offerings to the Lord. (Leviticus 2: 11)
Grain was not always ground into flour. It was also eaten "parched." a process accomplished
by toasting ripe ears of grain over a fire for a short time (Leviticus 2: 14), or
in iron cooking pans. Toasted grain is used today in macrobiotic cooking, prepared much the same way. Parched grain is mentioned in the story of Ruth, when she and
Boaz do lunch:
"And Boaz said unto her, at mealtime come thou hither, and eat
of the bread, and dip thy morsel in the vinegar. And she sat beside
the reapers: and he reached her parched corn, and she did eat,
and was sufficed, and left." (Ruth 2: 14)
It is also mentioned in the chronicles of David:
"And Jesse said unto David his son, Take now for thy brethren an
ephah of this parched corn, and these ten loaves, and run to the
camp of thy brethren." (1 Samuel 17: 17)
"Then Abigail made haste, and took two hundred loaves, and two
bottles of wine, and five sheep ready dressed, and five measures of
parched corn, and an hundred chusters of raisins, and two hundred
cakes of figs, and laid them on asses." (1 Samuel 25: 18)
In all of these references bread is mentioned, so it appears that grain was eaten
in both forms. Another way of preparing wheat was as parboiled and cracked grain
or "bulgur." Cracked grain is mentioned in Proverbs 27: 22 and Leviticus 2: 14. When
Absalom was on the run from David during his abortive rebellion, he hid in a dry well under
a pile of bulgur:
"And the woman took and spread the covering over the well's mouth and spread bruised
grain theron, and the nothing was known." (2 Samuel 17: 19)
When the Lord promised the land of Canaan to the Hebrews returning out of Egypt, one
of the main attractions was its agricultural potential:
"a land of wheat and barley..." (Deuteronomy 8: 8)
The Canaanites were skillful farmers, and the Israelites quickly adopted their methods.
The children of Israel came to highly regard the art of cultivation, and Isaiah 28:
26 refers to the Lord God Himself as the founder and teacher of farming methods.
Both wheat and barley were grown, but while wheat was preferred because of its superior
flavour and ability to rise when leavened, barley was more often sown since it was
easier to grow in Palestine's poor soil and dry climate. Therefore, barley was traditionally more plentiful and cheaper tan wheat, and it became the grain of the poorer
classes, while wealthier folk ate wheat. The price disparity of the two grains is
noted in the Bible:
"Thus saith the Lord; Tomorrow about this time shall a measure
of fine flour be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the
gate of Samaria." (2 Kings 7: 1)
"A measure of wheat for a shilling and three measures of barley
for a shilling." (Revelation 6: 6)
It was from a boy's five barley loaves that Jesus fed the five thousand. (John 6:
The Levitical code decreed that corners of a field must not be harvested, nor should
any dropped or forgotten sheaves of grain be retrieved, but rather left for the poor
and for travelers:
"And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not make clean riddance of
the corners of thy field when thou reapest,
neither shalt thou gather any gleaning of thy harvest: thou
shalt leave then unto the poor, and to the stranger: I AM the
Lord your God." (Leviticus 23: 22, cf: 19: 9)
"When thou cuttest down thine harvest in thy field, and hast
forgotten a sheaf in the field, thou shalt not go again to fetch it:
it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow:
that the Lord thy God may bless the in all the work of thine hands."
(Deuteronomy 24: 19)
Taking advantage of this early welfare program (or "income tax") was called "gleaning,"
and it provided a background setting for the beautiful story of Naomi, Ruth, and
Boaz in the Book of Ruth. Just one of many Bible accounts where food, or the difficulty of obtaining it, plays a pivotal role in the saga of the Jewish people.
Ancient Palestine was often in the grip of famine, due to its thin, unproductive soil
and undependable rainfall. Crops were also semi-regularly damaged by hordes of locusts
and frequent wars. Neighbouring Egypt, on the other hand, had the Nile and used extensive crop irrigation. Consequently, grain production was much more reliable there.
Jacob's son Joseph, whose jealous brothers sold him into Egyptian slavery (Genesis
37), gained Pharaoh's favour by accurately interpreting the sovereign's dream as
a prediction of famine (Genesis 41). This same famine was felt in Palestine, and
brought Joseph's brothers to Egypt (where ample preparation for lean times was made in heed
of Joseph's dream interpretation) on a grain-buying expedition that resulted in a
Jesus often used grain and bread metaphorically in parables. His analogy of wheat
and "tares" in Matthew 13 was based on the existence of a weed--Labium temulentum--that
looked identical to wheat in the early stages of growth, but was subject to horrible-tasting and somewhat poisonous fungus infestations. These weeds, called tares in the
Bible, could only be distinguished from wheat after they had ripened and turned yellow.
Hence the Lord's advice that if an enemy sowed tares in your wheatfield (corresponding to a fifth-column of unbelievers infiltrating the Church), it was best to leave
them alone until the harvest when they could be easily culled out and cast into the
fire. (Matthew 13: 25-52)
Jesus included bread in his exemplar of proper prayer:
"Give us this day our daily bread" (Luke 11: 3)
It is also interesting to note that Jesus's birthplace, Bethlehem, means "House of
Bread." Jesus called Himself "the living bread" -- the true manna, in discourse with
the crowd on the day He fed the five thousand:
"Moses gave you not that bread from heaven: but my Father
giveth you the true bread from heaven.
For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven,
and giveth life to the world.
Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread.
And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh
to me will never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall
never thirst." (John 6: 32-35)
"I am that bread of life.
Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead.
This is the bread that cometh down from heaven, that a man
may eat thereof, and not die.
I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man
eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will
give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.
(John 6: 48-51)
The reference is continued at the Last Supper, and ever since in the Holy Eucharist:
"And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it and gave it to
them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in
remembrance of me." (Luke 22: 19)
Bread is also significant in the prophesy of Judas's betrayal. Psalm 41: 8 says:
"Yea mine own familiar friend whom I trusted
Who did eat of my bread
Hath lifted up his heel against me."
"I know whom I have chosen: but that the scripture may be
fulfilled, He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me." (John
Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to the small amount of leaven that leavens the
"The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took,
and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened."
(Matthew 13: 33)
St. Paul used the same analogy in his letter to the Church at Corinth:
"Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?
Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new
lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is
sacrificed for us:
Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither
with the leaven of malice and wickedness: but with the
unleavened bread of sincerity and truth."
(1 Corinthians 5: 6-8)
As St Paul implies, there is bad as well as good leaven. Jesus warned:
"Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy."
(Luke 12: 1)
Jesus compared the kingdom of God to growing grain:
"For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade
then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear."
(Mark 4: 28)
He also likened His death and resurrection to planting a grain seed that grows into
a beautiful plant:
"Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into
the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth
forth much fruit." (John 12: 24)
While wheat and barley were the principal grains cultivated in Palestine, they were
not the only ones. As noted in the story of Ezekiel, millet and spelt were also grown
(Ezekiel 4:9). This is the only reference to millet in the Bible, but the ancient
Greek historian Herodotus (c. 484- c.424 BC) wrote of millet that grew six feet high
in the hanging gardens of Babylon. Some scholars believe the "millet" referred to
in Ezekiel was actually sorghum--a millet-like grain that is still a staple food
in parts of Africa.
Spelt is mentioned in Exodus 9: 32 as being a later crop (along with wheat) which
escaped a ruinous hailstorm in Egypt that had destroyed earlier-maturing barley and
flax. In Isaiah 28: 25 it is noted that spelt was sown at the border of fields, outside
the barley and wheat. The Hebrew word "kussemet," used in these two references, plus
one in Ezekiel, was translated as "rye" in the King James Authorized Version of the
Bible, but it is now known that rye was not grown in Palestine in Bible times. "Kussemet" is not thought to have referred to emmer wheat, which would be consistent with the
Exodus account which had it ripening at the same time as other wheat. 2
Spelt had been "re-discovered" by the modern macrobiotic and natural foods movements.
It is similar to wheat in appearance an taste, but has larger kernels or "berries."
Spelt is better tolerated by allergic individuals than is wheat, and it contains
more protein, fat, fibre, as well as monopolysaccharide carbohydrates which are thought
to stimulate the body's immune system.
Rice is not mentioned in the Bible, but it was imported to Palestine in Jesus's time.
First Century Jewish farmers grew enough rice that it became an export crop. Our
word "rice" derives from the Aramaic (the language of Jesus) word "ourouzza"--probably
dating from the Babylonian captivity. The Hebrew people may have been introduced to
rice in Babylon.
Lentils were the most popular legume in Bible times, no doubt due to their happy ability
to thrive in dry, poor quality soil. Lentils grew wild in Moab and Edom (east of
the Dead Sea in present day Jordan), but by Abraham's time they were also extensively cultivated. Palestinian lentils were red. Bedouin nomads in the Middle East and North
Africa still eat red lentil soup--Jacob's "pottage" in the story of Jacob and Esau.
There are some interesting semantic parallels. "Edom" means "red," and probably the
land south of Moab got its name from the red legumes that grow there. Esau's other
name was Edom (Genesis 25: 25-30), although it is unclear whether he received it
at birth because of his red hair--o as a derisive nickname after he sold his birthright for
a meal of red lentil soup.
In the Genesis account, Esau the mighty hunter arrives home empty-handed one day with
a bad case of the hungries, to find his younger brother Jacob stirring the celebrated
soup pot. Clearly a man of the moment and not given to deferred gratification, Esau short-sightedly agrees to sell Jacob his rights as elder sibling in return for a
bowl of lentils and some bread (Genesis 25: 29-34)--the latter being an important
side-dish to any semi-liquid meal in those days, due to a lack of spoons, forks,
Act two of this transaction takes place several years later, when Isaac, the brothers'
father, having become old and blind, decided the time has arrived to bestow his blessing
on his eldest son. Isaac had always favoured Esau the hunter, at least partly due to a weakness for stewed venison. Still in possession of a healthy appetite despite
his infirmity, Isaac summons Esau and bids him to go kill some game and then prepare
a savory meal for his father before receiving his blessing.
Isaac's wife Rebekah, who favours Jacob, overhears this exchange and immediately recognizes
a golden opportunity for the younger (fraternal) twin to complete his coup and usurp
his brother's remaining status as the elder. Rebekah instructs Jacob to go quickly and kill a couple of goats so that she can prepare a facsimile of the flavourful
game dish Isaac relishes. Jacob sensibly voices misgivings about her scheme to pass
him off as Esau, but Rebekah assures him that she will take the heat herself if the
plot backfires. Jacob finally agrees to go along with the plan.
While the meat is cooking, Rebekah dresses Jacob in Esau's best clothes, and fastens
hides from the recently dispatched goats around his arms and neck, covering his smooth
skin where Esau is hairy. When he is disguised to her satisfaction, she hands him
the meat and some bread, and hustles him off to his father's tent.
We may easily sympathize with Jacob;s reluctance to participate in this unlikely exercise.
Isaac is no dunce, and indeed he is immediately suspicious about the short time it
has taken to fulfill his request. He reasons that Esau must have stumbled on a deer in the back yard to have it dressed and cooked this fast. In point of fact, the
"deer" really has come from the back yard, but not quite as Isaac imagines.
Answering his father's query, Jacob, in too deep to back out now, shamelessly allows
that "The Lord thy God helped me to find it." Isaac also thinks the voice he hears
talking sounds an awful lot like Jacob;s, but after feeling the goat-skin on his
son;s neck and arms, he reluctantly buys the scam and gives the blessing.
Esau is understandably upset upon learning that he has been cheated out of his blessing.
Jacob is obliged to leave town on short notice in the interest of his continued good
health. He has many adventures as a sojourner, is eventually re-named Israel by God, and goes on to sire a great nation.
Lentils are mentioned several times in the chronicles of David, and also in Ezekiel's
bread recipe. Chickpeas (Garbanzo beans) were also grown in Palestine in Bible times
as they still are today, and beans--probably fava beans--are mentioned a few times
including, again, in the recipe for Ezekiel's bread. Peas were also cultivated in the
middle east from about 7,000 BC on.
Vegetables were a secondary but important part of Bible diets. The "bitter herbs"
of the Passover meal were probably lettuce, chicory, cress, sorrel, or dandelion
leaves. 3 Wild versions of these plants would all have had a bitter taste. God gives
"every green herb for food" in Genesis 1: 30, and vegetable gardens are mentioned in Deuteronomy
The high value placed on having a vegetable garden in Biblical Palestine is illustrated
in the story of King Ahab (1 Kings 21. Ahab dearly wanted a vegetable garden, and
particularly coveted his neighbour, Naboth's vineyard, which happened to adjoin the
Ahab approached Naboth, offering him another, better vineyard, or alternatively cold
cash, for his land. However, Levitical law explicitly stated that ancestral property
must not be sold (Leviticus 25: 23), so Naboth refused the king's offer.
Ahab must have had a powerful hankering for veggies, because the Bible says he got
very depressed over Naboth's rebuff, went to bed, and wouldn't eat. His wife, Jezebel,
who was a native of Phoenicia, had difficulty grasping the concept that a sovereign
monarch could be subject to any inconvenient law. She conspired to frame Naboth on
false charges of blasphemy and treason, and had him stoned to death. This accomplished,
she told Ahab to take possession of the vineyard and get on with planting his vegetable garden.
Jezebel's perfidy did not escape the Lord's notice, and the prophet Elijah was dispatched
to read the riot act to Ahab and Jezebel. Elijah prophesied that dogs would lick
up Ahab's blood as they had that of Naboth, and that the mutts would actually eat
Jezebel. Both prophesies were soon fulfilled. You can read about it in 1 Kings 22: 37
and 2 Kings 35: 37. The Bible doesn't tell us whether Ahab ever did get to plant
vegetables in Naboth's vineyard, but we can safely assume that any "herbs" he may
have grown there would have been truly "bitter."
Cucumbers are mentioned several times in the Bible. Two varieties are thought to
have been grown in ancient Palestine: cucumis sativas, which was whitish and smooth-skinned;
and the Arabic faqqus--a long slender cucumber. Melons, including muskmelons, and watermelon were also found in Levantine vegetable gardens, as were the ever-popular
onions, garlic, and leeks (Numbers 11: 5)
Cabbage was not eaten in Old Testament times, but had been introduced by Greeks before
the time of the Roman Occupation. Purslane grew wild in Israel, and was also eaten
as a vegetable. Radishes, beets, and turnips are not mentioned in the Bible either,
but were common table vegetables in ancient Egypt and probably Palestine as well, Radish
leaves were thought to be poisonous, but beet and turnip green were eaten cooked.4
DANIEL'S "MACROBIOTIC EXPERIMENT"
Macrobiotic theorists George Ohsawa and Michio Kushi credit the prophet Daniel with
conducting the world's first "macrobiotic experiment" at the court of Nebuchadnezzar
II in Babylon during the Hebrew's captivity (c. early 6th Century BC).
Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians in 597, and Nebuchadnezzar decreed that the cream
of Judean royal and noble youth be brought to his palace to be educated in Chaldean
culture and language. The king shrewdly planned to co-opt the best minds among the
conquered Jews, not unlike the way America and Russia spirited away German Jewish rocket-scientists
before, during, and after World War II to engineer their nuclear weapons and space
Among the chosen Hebrew elite was Daniel When the young Jews arrived at Nebuchadnezzar's
court, they were assigned "a daily portion of the rich food, and the wine which he
drank." This sumptuous fare no doubt was less than kosher in terms of ritual cleanliness. Daniel, not wanting to defile himself, balked at eating this food and drink.
The Biblical account of what happened (Daniel Chapter 1) relates that Ashpenaz, Nebuchadnezzar's
chief eunuch and administrator of the "foreign student" program, befriends Daniel
and sympathizes with his conscientious objection to rich food, but, being a prototypical bureaucrat, he is worried about repercussions that may befall him if
this "youth without blemish" physically wastes away on a simple vegetarian diet.
We can assume that he resorted to time-honoured bureaucratic tactics and busied himself
Daniel is determined, and recognizing that he is getting the run-around from Ashpenaz,
he approaches Melyar--the steward appointed directly over Daniel and three of his
friends. Melyar proves more pliable than his superior, and Daniel convinces him to
allow the four young Jews to eat a diet of simple foods for a ten day period as a test.
They agree to have their physical appearance and condition compared to a "control
group" that has the king's diet after the ten have elapsed, and if they fail to measure
up--they will tender no further protest regarding rations.
The Bible does not provide clear details about the specific foods Daniel objected
to. Nebuchadnezzar's table would likely have included meat and other rich delicacies.
In the King James Version of the Bible, the king's food is referred to as "meat,'
but in 17th Century English, the word "meat" was a generic term for food. The Revised Standard
Version simply says "rich foods," but the American Standard Version of 1901 calls
these foods "dainties." The later term has interesting connotations.
Babylonian dainties, according to Harper's Bible Dictionary, "may have been delicate
meats, rich cakes, or confections made by Hebrew women captives." Four hundred years
before Daniel's time, Samuel the prophet had predicted with reference to "a king
who will reign over you," that: "He will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks, and
bakers (1 Samuel 8: 11, 13). Dainties are also referred to in Psalm 141: 3-4:
"Set a guard over my mouth O Lord,
keep a watch over the door of my lips:
Incline not my heart to any evil,
to busy myself with wicked deeds.
In company with men who work iniquity
And let me not eat of their dainties!"
And in Proverbs 23: 1-3:
When thou sittest to eat with a ruler,
consider diligently what is before thee:
And put a knife to thy throat if thou be
a man given to appetite.
Be not desirous of his dainties for they are deceitful
We can be reasonably safe in assuming that Daniel, "endowed with knowledge" and "understanding
learning" was familiar with these Scriptures, and that they served to harden his
Other possible objections Daniel may have had were that the food may have been offered
to idols ( a common practice that was still creating ethical dilemmas for Christians
in the 1st Century), or been from animals not scrupulously bled after slaughter as
decreed in Leviticus.
As for the "pulse" or vegetables that Daniel asked for, pulse (from the Latin "puls")
specifically refers to legumes such as lentils and beans, but in this instance may
simply have been a generic term for vegetable foods of any sort. Babylon, situated
on the fertile alluvial plain beside the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, was as agriculturally
bountiful as Palestine was barren. The Babylonians used sophisticated irrigation
systems to water their rich soil, and a variety of grains, legumes, and vegetables
would have been grown by them. Lettuce was grown in the famous hanging gardens of Babylon
as early as the 7th Century BC.
While Daniel's primary motivation for refusing Nebuchadnezzar's food was to remain
ritualistically clean and undefiled, he seems to have been confident about the nutritional
adequacy of his proposed vegetarian diet, and this certitude was verified by the
results of his test.
Daniel 1: 15 states that "at the end of the ten days it was seen that [Daniel and
his three friends] were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths
who ate the king's rich food." Thus he won his suit, and was permitted to continue
eating a vegetarian diet.
MEAT AND DAIRY
As noted previously, the ancient Hebrews were vegetarians mainly out of necessity
and not by choice. One reason for this was logistic. There is an awful lot of meat
in a cow, and since there was no practical way to preserve it, beef was usually reserved
for holiday feasts or receptions when enough people would be present to polish off
a whole carcass.
Size may also have had something to do with the Hebrew partiality for veal-- the "fatted
calf" mentioned on several occasions (eg: Genesis 18: 7; 1 Samuel 28: 24; Amos 6:
4; Luke 15: 25-32). A calf represented a smaller, more manageable amount of meat
to consume without waste. Goats were also sometimes eaten, as noted in the story of Jacob
and Esau, and lamb was a fairly common meal since it was the preferred sacrificial
Temple priests received the right thigh, a choice cut, from each sacrifice. This portion
could be eaten by the priests themselves, and shared with their families provided
it was consumed within two days (Leviticus 7: 28-29). Unfortunately, the priests
ate so much red meat that their health apparently suffered--a common circumstance in
our modern Western meat-eating culture-- but rare in those days. A special temple
doctor was assigned to treat these diet-induced ailments.4
Sheep and calves were usually slaughtered for the table only when the household was
entertaining guests. The broad-tailed sheep, a popular species in Biblical Palestine,
was highly valued for the fat content of its massive tail. The Hebrews thought well
enough of sheep to name their daughters after them; Rachael means "a ewe." Lamb was
of course part of the Passover meal, and would have been included in Jesus's Last
While meat was eaten sparingly in ancient Palestine, at least by regular folk, dairy
products were widely consumed. Camels (Genesis 32: 15), sheep (Deuteronomy 32: 14;
1 Corinthians 9: 7), and goats (Proverbs 27: 27) were all milked. Goats were reared
principally for their milk, which was preferred to that of any other animal. Cows were
milked on a limited basis, but goats and sheep were the most important dairy livestock.
The Hebrews made butter from milk (Proverbs 30: 33), and something called leben--a
sort of runny yogurt--prepared in leather bags from the milk of goats or camels.
Curds and cheese were also popular dairy foods. Many modern scholars believe that
"curds" is a more accurate translation than "butter," even when the latter has been traditionally
cited in English language versions of the Bible. Cheese is mentioned at least three
times in the Bible (2 Samuel 17: 29; 1 Samuel 17: 18; and Job 10:10).
As in most traditional cultures to this day, the Hebrews didn't customarily drink
milk as a liquid after infancy (cf: 1 Corinthians 3: 2; Hebrews 5: 12-13; 1 Peter
Consumption of fowl was permitted under the Levitical code, except for birds of prey
and carrion eaters (Leviticus 11: 13-19). Old Testament Hebrews ate quail (Exodus
16: 12-13; Numbers 11: 31-32), and partridge (1 Samuel 26: 20).
They also kept domesticated fowl (1 Kings 4:23), perhaps ducks or peacocks, but probably
not chickens. Fowling is mentioned in Psalms 91:3, 124: 7, Proverbs 6: 5, Jeremiah
5: 26, and Hosea 9: 8. Chickens were introduced to Palestine by the Romans c. 60
B.C. A rooster played a central role in the poignant story of Peter's multiple denials
of Jesus. (Matthew 26: 74-75).
Jesus used the mother hen as a metaphor to illustrate His protective feelings toward
Jerusalem (Matthew 23: 27). Another of the Lord's parables tells us incidentally
that sparrows were sold for food (with discounts for quantity purchases) in Matthew
10: 29 and Luke 12: 6.
The Hebrews foraged for birds' eggs, and an interesting "environmental protection
law" is mentioned in Deuteronomy 22: 67:
"If a bird's nest chance to be before thee in the way in any
tree, or on the ground, whether they be young ones, or
eggs, and the dam sitting upon the young, or upon the eggs,
thou shalt not take the dam with the young.
"But thou shalt in any wise let the dam go, and take the
young to thee; that it may be well with thee, and that
thou mayest prolong thy days."
The penalty for breaking this law was forty lashes. Gathering eggs is noted in Isaiah
10: 14, and Jesus mentions eggs, perhaps in this instance chicken's eggs, in Luke
Under Jewish dietary laws, fish are permitted as food provided they have fins and
scales. The children of Israel fondly remembered the fish they ate in Egypt (Numbers
11: 5) as they wandered hungrily in the desert after the Exodus. Fish were abundant
in Egypt, and were also easy to catch when the frequently flooding Nile waters receded,
leaving them stranded in shallow pools.
The Hebrews were not seafaring people by tradition, but they imported fish, probably
sun-dried, salted, or pickled, from the Phoenicians in Tyre (Nehemiah 13: 6). Isaiah
(19: 8), and Habbakkuk (1: 15-17) make reference to various types of fishing gear.
Jesus's first disciples were fishermen whom He promised He would make "fishers of
men." Fish appear many times in the Gospel narratives, eg: Jesus's feeding of the
5,000 (Matthew 14: 19); the feeding of the multitude (Matthew 14: 36); and the fish
with the coin in its mouth (Matthew 17: 27). Twice Jesus leads the disciples to, or miraculously
causes, great catches of fish (Luke 5: 6; John 21: 6-8). Jesus ate fish at least
once after His Resurrection (Luke 24: 42-43), and perhaps again (John 21: 9-13).
The Greek word for fish (pronounced in English: "ichthus") in a fish logo or graphic,
was a popular symbol used by the early Church. The five Greek letters of the word
from an acrostic for the five Greek words meaning "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior."
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.
It would be difficult to over-state the agricultural significance of the olive tree
in the lands bordering the Mediterranean. In Judges 9:8, Jotham relates a legend
in which the trees decide to elect a king. The olive tree is given first refusal
of the sylvan crown. However, the haughty olive replies:
"Should I leave my fatness, wherewith by me they
honour God and man, and go to wave to and fro over
Aware of its high status among men, declines the arboreal monarchy.
An olive branch delivered by a dove to Noah in the Ark (Genesis 8: 11) was the first
sign of the earth re-born after the flood. It is also one of the most powerful symbols
in Christianity, signifying Christ's death and Resurrection.
The Holy Spirit descending as a dove at the Baptism of Jesus is mentioned in all four
Gospels, and while there is no reference to an olive branch in these accounts, most
artistic interpretations of the event show the divine dove carrying on in its beak.
Olive (and grape) cultivation was already well-established in the land of Canaan by
the time of the Hebrew patriarchs (Deuteronomy 6: 10-11). Anointing of men or objects
with olive oil was instituted by God as a symbol of consecration and sanctification
(Exodus 30: 22-33; 29: 29). Anointing of priests is still practiced in the Roman Catholic
and Orthodox Churches.
The kings of Israel were anointed with olive oil (1 Samuel 10:1, 16: 13; 2 Samuel
5: 3), as were the prophets (1 Kings 19: 16; 1 Chronicles 16: 22; Psalm 105: 15.
"The Christ" means "the anointed one." and the Messiah is foretold as such in Psalm
"Therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee
With the oil of gladness above thy fellows."
in Isaiah 61: 1:
"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the
Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto
the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the broken-
hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the
opening of the prison to them that are bound."
and in Daniel 9: 24:
"Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and
upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to
make an end to sin, and to make reconciliation for
iniquity, and to bring an everlasting righteousness,
and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint
the most Holy."
Jesus quoted the above passage from Isaiah in the synagogue at Nazareth when He publicly
announced His ministry (Luke 4: 18), and He is referred to as anointed in Acts 4:
27, 10: 38, and in Hebrews 1: 9.
We are told to anoint the sick "with oil in the name of the Lord" in conjunction with
prayer for healing (James 5: 14). The Sacrament of Unction in the Orthodox/Catholic
Churches is an application of this instruction.
Around the 4th Century, the Sacrament of Unction in Roman Catholicism was shifted
in focus from healing to "Extreme Unction" or a prayer for the dying. More recently,
the Vatican has moved to restore Unction to its former emphasis on healing, and anointing is once again used mainly as an aid and comfort to the sick, with Extreme Unction
taking second precedence.
St. Paul characterized the Church as a cultivated olive tree, and Gentile Christians
as branches of a wild tree that have been grafted on to replace the natural branches--the
Jews--which had been broken off because of their faithlessness. (Romans 11: 16-24)
As well as producing oil, olives were (and are) eaten fresh, pickled, or preserved.
Olive oil was THE cooking oil in Bible times. Only barbarians cooked their food in
butter. Olive oil was also burned in lamps (Matthew 25:34) and used to dress wounds
(Luke 10: 33-34).
The best oil was produced from olives by beating or stomping them (Micah 6: 15; Exodus
27: 20). Lamp oil and other low grades were rendered by crushing the whole olive,
including the pits, with huge stone rollers. One such operation was located on the
Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. Gethsemane means "Garden of the Olive Press"--appropriate
to the pressing agony Jesus experienced there the night before He was crucified.
Despite Israel's prominence as a citrus exporter today, oranges, lemons, tangerines,
mandarins and grapefruit were unknown in Biblical Palestine. The "fruit of goodly
trees" mentioned in Leviticus 23: 40 refers to the citron, which the Hebrews called
The citron (citrus medeia ) is probably the common ancestor of all citrus fruit, and
is thought to have originated in India. It is an oval, yellow fruit averaging four
to eight inches long in size (although it may grow to as much as 20 pounds under
favourable circumstances). The citron is less juicy and fleshy that, say, oranges or lemons--and
the pith layer under its outer skin may be an inch or more thick, leaving room for
The Jews incorporated citrons ceremonially into the Festival of the Booths (Leviticus
23: 40; Nehemiah 8: 14-15) as well as other harvest festivals. When the Jews were
dispersed after Jerusalem's destruction in AD 70, they took citron trees with them
to Europe and elsewhere to ensure a supply of fruit for their religious festivals. Thus
Judaism played a major role in popularizing citrus fruit agriculture throughout the
Apples did not grow in the Middle East in ancient times (nor do they successfully
today). The fruit Eve ate in the Garden of Eden has been popularly mythologized as
an apple, but we may safely assume that it was not. The apple does appear, often
metaphorically, in European language translations of the Bible, but probably the golden and
refreshing fruit referred to was the apricot. eg: Song of Solomon 2: 3-5, 7: 8; Psalms
17: 8; Lamentations 2: 28; Zechariah 2: 8; Joel 1: 12).
Other fruits known to have grown in Palestine in New Testament times are jujube (Christ's
Thorn); pears; peaches; quince; and cherries. The dish into which Jesus "dipped the
sop" (bread was still used in lieu of cutlery in 1st Century Palestine) at the Last Supper probably contained a fruit and nut compote called haraset (John 13: 26;
Matthew 26: 23)--which symbolized for the Passover meal the mortar that Hebrew slaves
used making bricks in Egypt.
HONEY AND OTHER SWEETENERS
The "honey" mentioned many times throughout the Bible can refer to bee's honey--wild
or cultured--or to a sweet syrup made from dates or grapes. Jews who took a vow to
abstain from bee's honey were still permitted date "honey."
Honey first appears in Genesis 43: 11 and last in Revelation 10: 9. In Exodus 3: 8,
the land of Canaan promised to the Hebrews is called "a land flowing with milk and
honey." The notorious difficulty of collecting wild honey for the table without getting
stung may be inferred from Deuteronomy 1: 44 in which the pursuing Amorites are compared
to bees: "and chased you as bees do."
A similar reference appears in Psalms 118: 12: "They compassed me about like bees."
Still, the Hebrews revered bees, and another popular "food-name" for daughters was
Deborah-- the bee."
God showed Jacob where to "suck honey out of the rock," as noted in Deuteronomy 32:
13. "Honey from the rock" also appears in Psalms 81: 16. King Saul's son Jonathan's
"eyes were enlightened" when he ate wild honey (1 Samuel 14: 27).
Samson found a swarm of bees inside the carcass of a dead lion (Judges 14: 8). He
took some of their honey home to his father and mother, "but he told them not that
he had taken the honey out of the body of the lion" (Judges 14: 9). He later used
this incident to confound his friends with a riddle"
"Out of the eater came forth food,
And out of the strong came forth sweetness."
(Judges 14: 14)
The manner in which his erstwhile companions entices Samson's wife to cajole the answer
out of him and blab it to them caused a great deal of trouble, which you can read
about in Judges 14: 15-20.
Jereboam's wife took "A cruse [jar] of honey," as part of her provisions on a journey
to Shiloh to see Ahijah the prophet (1 Kings 14: 3). Job speaks of "flowing streams
of honey and butter." In Psalms 19: 10, the ordinances of God are spoken of as "sweeter than honey and the droppings of the honeycomb, and Psalms 119: 103 states that
they are "sweeter than honey to thy mouth." In 2 Chronicles 31: 5, the Hebrews include
honey in their tithes.
However, not all references to honey in the Bible are positive. A cautionary exhortation
in Proverbs 5: 3-4 says that:
"The lips of a strange woman drop honey,"
"in the end she is as bitter as wormwood."
Proverbs 27: 7 says:
"The full soul loatheth a honeycomb;
but to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet."
A variety of opinions about honey are expressed in the Book of Proverbs. Proverbs
24: 13 gives it a glowing recommendation:
"My son, eat thou honey, for it is good:
and the droppings of the honeycomb,
which are sweet to thy taste."
Proverbs 16: 24 says that the honeycomb is:
"Sweet to the soul, and health to the bones."
However, in Proverbs 25 there are two warnings more consistent with what we understand
about the hazards of eating simple sugars today:
"Hast thou found honey? Eat so much as is
sufficient for thee.
Lest thou be filled therewith, and vomit it."
(Proverbs 25: 16)
"It is not good to eat much honey."
(Proverbs 25: 27)
Honey was specifically excluded from any meal-offering to the Lord (Leviticus 2: 11)
The time-honoured association of honey with romantic love is evident in Song of Solomon
"Thy lips my bride, drop as the honeycomb:
Honey and milk are under thy tongue."
Isaiah prophesies of the Messiah:
"Butter and honey shall he eat."
(Isaiah 7: 15)
When John the Baptist lived in the wilderness of Judea: "his food was wild honey."
(Matthew 3: 4).
Some believe that the "locusts" John ate with his wild honey were actually the sweet
pods of the carob tree, which are also called locust--and in m modern times--St.
John's Bread. These sticky, sweet pods were used widely as animal feed, and probably
were the "husks" fed to swine tended by the Prodigal Son (Matthew 15: 16).
However, inn the dietary laws of Leviticus 11, four kinds of locusts and grasshoppers
are considered as "clean" for eating, and insect locusts would have been perfectly
"kosher" for John to eat. In Bible times, locusts were sold as food by Judean shopkeepers, and some modern Middle Eastern and North African Jews still eat them. Daniel
Cutler includes a recipe for locust soup in his "The Bible Cookbook."5 Locusts are
also eaten today by Bedouin nomads.
By the time of the prophet Ezekiel, agriculture was well established in Palestine,
especially in the highlands, and honey was an important commodity (Ezekiel 27: 17).
"Manna" given by God to Moses's wandering band of Hebrews (Exodus 16: 14-36) during
their 40 years in the desert was said to taste like wafers made with honey. The exact
constitution of manna is unknown. One theory holds that manna was a sweet secretion
from insects feeding on tamarisk trees. The insects secrete excess carbohydrate in
the form of "honeydew manna," whose particles resemble hoarfrost (Exodus 16: 14).
This substance contains 3 basic sugars plus pectin. Jesus referred to the "bread
from heaven," but to HImself as the "true bread out of heaven."
Cane sugar was known in Biblical Palestine, but fortunately for the Hebrews' health,
it was an astronomically expensive import (Jeremiah 6: 20) from (most likely) India,
and therefore not a significant part of their diet.
Several kinds of nuts are mentioned in the Bible. Jacob used almond rods in his scheme
to breed spotted sheep and goats (Genesis 30: 37), and almond nuts are noted in Genesis
43: 11 and Numbers 14: 8. Almond blossoms are referred to in Exodus 25: 33 and Ecclesiastes 12: 5.
Pistachio nuts and walnuts appear in Song of Solomon 6: 11, and the nuts referred
to in Genesis 43: 11 might also have been pistachios. The King James Version mentions
chestnuts and hazel nuts in Genesis 30: 37, but this is an error since the former
only grow in North Temperate regions and while some varieties of hazel nuts are native
to parts of Asia and North Africa, they probably did not grow in Palestine.
SALT AND SEASONING
Salt was highly valued in the ancient world. Our word "salary" comes from the Roman
"salarium," or the portion of a soldier's pay that was taken in salt. Exodus 30:
35 refers to seasoning with salt:
"Can that which hath no savour be eaten without salt?" Job asks in Chapter 6: 6. Newborn
children were salted ceremonially (Ezekiel 16: 4). Meal-offerings to Yahweh were
to be salted (Leviticus 2: 13; Ezra 6: 9; Ezekiel 43: 24).
God made a covenant of salt with the Children of Israel (Numbers 18: 19), and St.
Paul tells us to let our speech be "always with grace, seasoned with salt" (Colossians
Jesus used salt as a symbol of the Church's purifying influence on the world: "Ye
are the salt of the earth..."--and continues with a warning:
"...but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith
shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing,
but to be cast out and trodden under foot of men."
(Matthew 5: 13; cf: Mark 9: 49-50; Luke 14: 34)
While salt was the most important seasoning in Bible times, as it is today, the Hebrews
also used many herbs and spices to flavour their food. In Matthew 23: 33, Jesus speaks
of the Pharisees tithing mint, anise (probably dill), and cumin. There is a reference to cumin in Isaiah 28: 27, and tithing of mint is also mentioned by Jesus in
Luke 11: 42. The Lucian reference also mentions rue (a herb) as part of the Pharisees'
tithes--but Jewish texts say that rue was not tithed, and again, dill is probably
a more accurate guess.
Cinnamon is mentioned in Proverbs 7: 17, and coriander in Exodus 16: 31. Bay Laurel
appears in Psalms 37: 35 in the King James Version, but later translations just say
"green tree." The "hyssop" used to smear the doorposts and lintel in Exodus 12: 21
was likely the herb marjoram, while the hyssop sponge soaked in vinegar and offered to
Jesus on the Cross was a cereal grain. Pine nuts were used in Middle Eastern cooking
(Isaiah 44: 14).
THE RELIGIOUS SIGNIFICANCE OF FOOD IN THE BIBLE
Ritual distinctions between "clean" and "unclean" foods were established in custom
and tradition among the Hebrews even before they were codified in the laws of Moses
and Aaron (Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 12: 15; 14: 3-21). This was probably due to
aesthetic distaste for the habits and odour of certain types of animals, as well as identification
of swine with heathen idol worship. There could also have been observed ill effects
on health traced to consumption of certain meats. For instance, eating swine flesh was a suspected cause of skin disease.
Formalizing these food distinction s or taboos in the Levitical code helped to brick
in the partition or wall between God's chosen people and the Gentiles. The early
Christian Church retained the Jewish dietary laws, but at the Apostolic conference
of AD 48 in Jerusalem it was decided that Gentile converts would be exempted, except:
...that ye abstain from things offered to idols, and
from blood, and from things strangled, and from
fornication; from which if ye keep yourselves it
shall be well with you."
(Acts 15: 29)
St. Paul, however, believed that Jesus had removed all absolute dietary restrictions
in terms of law--although discretion was not to be abandoned:
"All things are lawful; but not all things are
expedient. All things are lawful; but not all
(1 Corinthians 10: 23)
This view, the one ultimately adopted by the Church as a whole, is consistent with
Jesus's teaching in St. Mark 7: 15:
"...there is nothing from without the man that
going into him can defile him, but the things that
proceed out of a man are those that defile the man."
St Peter's vision on a rooftop in Joppa underscored the removal of Levitical dietary
laws through Jesus's completed work:
"...and he became hungry and desired to eat: but
while they made ready, he fell into a trance; and
he beholdeth the heaven opened and a certain
vessel descending, as it were a great sheet, let
down by four corners upon the earth: wherin were
all manner of fourfooted beasts and creeping things
of the earth and birds of the heaven. and there came
a voice to him, Rise, Peter, kill and eat, But Peter said,
Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that
is common and unclean. And a voice came unto him
again the second time, What God hath cleansed, make
not them common."
(Acts 11: 5-9)
Note the similarity here with the communication Ezekiel had with God over the dung
fire in Ezekiel 4: 12-15)
St Paul summed the matter up for Christians in 1 Corinthians 8: 8:
"But food will not commend us to God: neither if we
eat not, are we the worse; nor, if we eat, are we the
better. But take heed lest this liberty of yours become
a stumbling block for the weak. For if a man see thee
who hast knowledge sitting at meat in an idol's
temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be
emboldened to eat things offered to idols? For through
thy knowledge he that is weak perisheth, the brother
for whom Christ died."