Home Cooking: Old Testament Israelite Style -- By: Gary A. Byers

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 27:1 (Winter 2014)
Article: Home Cooking: Old Testament Israelite Style
Author: Gary A. Byers

Home Cooking: Old Testament Israelite Style

Gary A. Byers

As a guy who is terribly equipped to do much in the kitchen except start and stop the microwave oven, it’s almost hypocritical for me to discuss cooking in the ancient world. But my long- time research into how people lived in the biblical world and my years in the field excavating the cities where they lived gives me a reason to offer an opinion! So, here is a bit of insight about how ancient people lived—from both the Bible and archaeology.

What They Ate

The most famous phrase suggesting what the ancient Israelites ate in the Promised Land indicated it was a place “flowing with milk and honey,” first mentioned in Ex 3:8. It suggests the Holy Land as a place of flocks and herds as well as agricultural produce. The “honey” might represent bee honey or could well be one of the syrupy products made from the Promised Land’s summer fruits—date or fig “honey.”

The “milk” of the region suggests it was an appropriate place for flocks and herds which would thus provide the widely-used dairy products of that day. Such a phrase suggests what the rest of the Bible and excavations also indicate—these domesticated animals were much more valuable to the typical family on the hoof (alive) than on a plate (as dinner).

Sheep and goats no doubt greatly outnumbered cows for the Israelites living in the Promised Land. They are mentioned much more frequently in the Bible, and theirs are the most frequently found bones in excavations. Consequently, sheep and goat’s milk would have been much more common than cow’s milk in the region at that time.

Yet the shelf-life of unpasteurized milk was so minimal, it would not have been the desired end product to be consumed. Instead, the milk would be turned into a dairy product with a much longer shelf-life— fermented into yogurt or kefir, curdled into cheese, churned into butter, and even heated to create samnah (ghee).

But beyond this most famous phrase describing the Promised Land, God also describes it as a land of seven specific agricultural products (De 8:8). They are wheat, barley, figs, vines (grapes), oil (olives), pomegranates, and honey (maybe bee honey, very possibly dates).

Michael Luddeni

This eighth century BC (the Israelite period) cook pot as it was found (in situ) in a domestic context at Tall el-Hammam, Jordan.

Wheat and barley were the most widely used cereal grains in the P...

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