Scholar: Israelites beer drinkers, too

October 13, 2010

WASHINGTON, D.C.

Ancient Israelites drank not only wine but also beer, according to a biblical scholar at Xavier University in Louisiana.

“Ancient Israelites, with the possible exception of a few teetotaling Nazirites and their moms, proudly drank beer — and lots of it,” said Michael Homan, in his article for the September/October issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

While English translations of the Bible do not mention beer, the original Hebrew does, he said.

Homan, an archaeologist, said the Hebrew word “shekhar” has been mistranslated as “liquor,” “strong drink” and “fermented drink,” but it translates as “beer” based on linguistic and archaeological research.

Confusion over whether the ancient Israelites drank beer also stems from the difficulty of identifying and finding archaeological remains of beer production in Israelite artifacts.

The tools used for brewing beer, such as mortars and winnowing baskets, were also used to make bread because the two processes were similar. Homan said the ancient Israelites made beer by baking a cake of malted barley or wheat, placing it in water and adding yeast.

Additionally, the Israelites’ taste for beer has been ignored because academic scholars over the past 100 years have inferred that beer drinking is “uncouth” behavior, he said.

“This has led many Bible scholars actively to distance biblical heroes from a beer-drinking world, much like some Christians prefer to believe that Jesus drank unfermented grape juice despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary,” Homan said.

He said the Bible does call for moderation but beer was a staple in the Israelites’ diet.

Homan called beer a type a “super-food” because it augmented the amount of calories in harvested grains, provided necessary vitamins and killed bacteria found in tainted water.

“Men, women and even children of all social classes drank it,” he said. “Its consumption in ancient Israel was encouraged, sanctioned and intimately linked with their religion.”

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