In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Food and Food Production

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Food Production
  • Oil
  • Wine and Beer
  • Cereals
  • Anthropology of Food and Social Exchange

Biblical Studies Food and Food Production
Peter Altmann
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 January 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0022


Food and food production form the settings for a plethora of Old and New Testament texts as well as the metaphorical material used by texts for a variety of purposes. The basic “Mediterranean diet” of olive oil, grains, and grapes and their production are the everyday staples, often supplemented by festive meals. Meals display important theological, anthropological, and political events, highlighting both the materiality of the biblical discourses and the use of material images for broader arguments. Uses of food in the Hebrew Bible are deeply influenced by the political and religious traditions of the ancient Near East, such as Assyria, Egypt, Babylon, and Ugarit. New Testament texts interact with both the Greco-Roman and earlier Israelite traditions.

General Overviews

Claassens 2006 and Jenks 1992 give short overviews of the directions of scholarship in biblical studies on food. In general the discussion of food and meals in the past decades has moved from simply addressing questions of what people ate to also including the anthropological dynamics surrounding eating and the metaphorical/symbolic meanings of food. For the “hard facts” on food and archaeology, see MacDonald 2008. Brothwell and Brothwell 1998 is from the perspective of a generalist. Dalman 1964 provides extensive detail from personal observation. Dalby 2003 is a good starting point, especially for further bibliography, while the strength of Wilkins, et al. 1995 is that it combines perspectives from a variety of experts in each subfield. Kaufman 2006 provides essay-length treatments, thus a bit more depth than the encyclopedia works.

  • Brothwell, Don R., and Patricia Brothwell. Food in Antiquity: A Survey of the Diet of Early Peoples. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998.

    Reprint with afterword of an older (1969) edition, but still useful survey of food production and consumption practices throughout the ancient world. Most helpful for comparisons with other ancient cultures.

  • Claassens, L. Juliana M. “Food.” In New Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible. Vol. 2. Edited by Katharine D. Sakenfeld, 472–476. Nashville: Abingdon, 2006.

    Provides concise overview of diet and dietary concerns, role of food in the cult, use of food imagery, table fellowship, and gender questions with regard to food.

  • Dalby, Andrew. Food in the Ancient World, from A to Z. London: Routledge, 2003.

    Encyclopedia entries with good introductory bibliographies.

  • Dalman, Gustaf Hermann. Arbeit und Sitte in Palästina. Deutsches evangelisches Institut für Altertumswissenschaft des Heiligen Landes zu Jerusalem, Schriften 3/1–2. Hildesheim, Germany: Georg Olms, 1964.

    Foundational multivolume study. Based on years of observation of rural communities in the Levant in the early 20th century. Helpful for entire biblical (and Mishnaic) period. Originally published 1928–1942 (Gütersloh, Germany: Bertelsmann).

  • Jenks, Alan W. “Eating and Drinking in the Old Testament.” Anchor Bible Dictionary. Vol. 2. Edited by David Noel Freedman, 250–254. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

    From a generation of scholarship previous to that of Claassens 2006, and therefore especially helpful in illustrating the direction scholarship has taken.

  • Kaufman, Cathy K. Cooking in Ancient Civilizations. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2006.

    Offers colorful portraits across various ancient Near Eastern (and other) cultures to help imagine the situation.

  • MacDonald, Nathan. What Did the Israelites Eat? Diet in Biblical Times. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008.

    Draws together data from diverse ancient textual sources, recent archaeological excavations, and comparative anthropological studies to construct a composite understanding of diet. More focused on Old Testament/Hebrew Bible period, but also very useful for New Testament.

  • Wilkins, John, F. D. Harvey, and Michael J. Dobson, eds. Food in Antiquity. Exeter, UK: University of Exeter Press, 1995.

    Made up of short articles from experts from different fields. Focused mostly on the Greco-Roman world.

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