What I learned today…the ancient Israelites and beer

16 Nov

Here is a post by Allan Bevere in response to the Biblical Archaeology Review

Did the Ancient Israelites Drink Beer?

That’s what Michael Homan argues in the September/October issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. If this is so how come we don’t find beer mentioned in the Old Testament and why hasn’t this been a topic of any interest in biblical scholarship?

Homan cites three reasons for the lack of knowledge and interest in Hebrew beer brewers: 1) the Hebrew word shekhar (שכר) has been misunderstood, 2) there is a general scholarly “snobbery” concerning beer drinking as opposed to the consumption of wine, and 3) the difficulty in identifying the remains of tools and items in the production of beer.

Now for a little more detail on Homan’s three reasons:

1) Most English translations of the Old Testament render shekhar as “strong drink” or “liquor,” and other terminology that would lead one to believe that the word does not refer to beer. But in the Hebrew Bible the word appears twenty times in parallel with “wine” (e.g. wine and beer). In other ancient Near Eastern literature the terms for wine and beer are often used in tandem. Moreover, the Hebrew word shekhar is derived from the Akkadian word šikaru which refers to “barley beer.”

2) Ancient historians know that beer was a staple drink throughout the Ancient Near East. Why would the Israelites be an exception? We know that grain was grown widely throughout this part of the ancient world because it was easy to grow. Unlike grain, grapes cannot be grown just anywhere. Beer was used as wages and ancient physicians recommended a beer enema for such ailments as constipation. Hammurabi’s Law Code legislates the price and the alcoholic content of beer.

One of the reasons scholars have not embraced beer drinking Israelites is that alcoholic beverages were often mixed. The ancient folk sometimes sweetened their beer with figs or honey. They also added spices. Interestingly enough it has been the advent of modern microbreweries with all the different kinds of flavored and spiced beers that have helped to clear up the ambiguity in reference to ancient beers.

A second reason is that the word shekhar also was the term used to refer to intoxication. This was also true of the word for “beer” in the Akkadian, Aramaic, Ugaritic, and Arabic languages.

Combine the connection of shekhar to the state of inebriation with the vision of the guy with the dirty t-shirt sitting in front of the TV drinking a bottle of cheap swill, scholars have not sufficiently considered the important place of beer in Israelite society. There has been an unspoken assumption that beer drinking is uncivilized.

3) It is been difficult to find archaeological evidence for ancient beer making in Israel because much of the same equipment was also used to make bread. This would be understandable, says Homan, since in the ancient world beer and bread were closely connected. In addition, it is more difficult to find chemical traces of ancient beer in jars and other pottery because, unlike wine, ancient beer did not keep long and was brewed for immediate consumption. Beer drinking was also a community activity. One method of consumption was for several people to drink it from a large communal pot through straws.

Homan ends the article with Ecclesiastes 11:1-2:

Throw your bread upon the face of the water, because in many days you will acquire it. Give a serving to seven and also eight, because you do not know what evil will be upon the land.

Homan thinks these two verses are a reference to the cakes of bread used in the brewing of ancient beer. Thus the sage of Ecclesiastes is advising his hearers to make beer and drink it with friends because no one knows when future calamity is coming.


What I learned today…Nouwen on prayer

15 Nov

The world says, “If you are not making good use of your time, you are useless.” Jesus says: “Come spend useless time with me.” …

…Prayer is being unbusy with God instead of being busy with other things. Prayer is primarily to do nothing useful or productive in the presence of God. To not be useful is to remind myself that if anything important or fruitful happens through prayer, it is God who achieves the result. So when I go into the day, I go with the conviction that God is the one who brings forth fruit in my work, and I do not have to act as though I am in control of things. I have to work hard; I have to do my task; I have to offer my best. But I can let go of the illusion of control and be detached from the result. At the end of each day I can prayerfully say that if something good happened, God be praised.

• Spiritual Formation, p. 19f

Things I learned today…Alan Hirsch

14 Nov

Intro to the Forgotten Ways

Jesus is Lord

Disciple Making

Apostolic Environment

Organic Systems


What I learned today…

13 Nov

In October there was a Day Conference with Tim Keller in Johannesburg at Rosebank Union Church. All the audio is online.

* Session 1: The Priority of Churches
* Session 2: Urban Churches & Contextualization
* Session 3: Gospel and Culture
* Session 4: Q and A
* Session 5: Evening City Celebration

I have read 3 books by Tim Keller: The Reason for God; Generous Justice; Counterfeit Gods and they have all been amazing. To this day just about the only person I would every pay money to hear speak is Tim Keller. Always appreciate his thoughts. If you are involved in leading the church in an ever changing culture then check these out.

What I learned today…Mumford and Sons

31 Oct

Love that will not betray you, dismay or enslave you, it will set you free; be more like the man you were made to be.
There is a design, an alignment to cry, at my heart you see, the beauty of love as it was made to be. (“Sigh No More”)

What I learned today…Matthew 7:15

30 Oct

“Every `hypocrite’ is a `goat’ in sheep’s clothing; but a `false prophet’ is a `wolf’ in sheep’s clothing, not only not a sheep, but the worst enemy the sheep has”-Dale Bruner on Matthew 7:15

What I learned today…

27 Oct

“The greatest problem for God in his redemption intentions for the world is his own people.”-Chris Wright

Integrity – Confronting Idols | The Lausanne Global Conversation.