The 10 Strangest Foods in the Bible

BAR 3 - BreadThere are hundreds of passages in the Bible that describe food, drink and dining. Many Biblical stories are set within the context of a meal. While most of these are about regular meals, others refer to more bizarre, extreme or supernatural cases of eating and drinking.

Here are 10 of the most notable examples (in no specific order):

• Gold Powder: When Moses sees the Israelites worshiping the golden calf he grinds the idol into a fine powder, mixes it with water and forces the people to drink. (Exodus 32:19–20)

• Scroll of Lamentations: God gives Ezekiel a two-sided scroll of Lamentations to eat. Ezekiel fills his stomach and finds the scroll to be “as sweet as honey.” (Ezekiel 2:8–3:3)

• Bread and Excrement: God tells Ezekiel to eat bread baked upon human excrement but Ezekiel gets away with bread baked upon animal excrement. Unlike the scroll, we aren’t told how it tastes. (Ezekiel 4:10-17)

• The Manna: The Israelites survive for forty years in the desert on daily provisions of manna (Exodus 16:35). The name manna reportedly comes from the question the Israelites asked, man hu⁾, “What is it?” (Exodus 16:15). Although some commentators prefer a naturalistic answer to this question, e.g., manna is the gum resin of desert shrubs, the Biblical text presents the manna as a miracle food. It falls six days a week but not on the Sabbath, disintegrates when it is stored and stops falling when the Israelites enter the land of Canaan. Manna is even called “the grain of heaven,” “the bread of heaven” or “the bread of angels” in a number of Hebrew Bible, New Testament and apocryphal texts (Psalms 78:24, 105:40; John 6:31; 2 Esdras 1:19).
 


 
The free eBook Life in the Ancient World guides you through craft centers in ancient Jerusalem, family structure across Israel and articles on ancient practices—from dining to makeup—across the Mediterranean world.
 

 
manna• Animal Fodder for a King: In accordance with Daniel’s prophecy, Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon lives in the wilderness for seven years eating grass like an ox (Dan 4:33). A similar story appears in 2 Esdras (9:23-27, 12:51) where Ezra sustains himself on a diet of flowers for seven days. Interestingly, a number of scholars suggest that the story of Nebuchadnezzar is actually based on Nabonidus, the king of Babylon who spent a decade of his life at an oasis in the Arabian wilderness.

• 40 Day Superfoods: An angel gives Elijah a cake and some water and it is enough to sustain him for a forty-day journey from Beersheba to Mount Horeb/Sinai, where he encounters God in a cave. (1 Kings 19:3–9)

• The Fantastic Fruits of Eden: There were two supernatural trees in the Garden of Eden, each with its own fruit. The tree of knowledge bestowed a divine knowledge of good and bad, making one like the gods. The tree of life granted immortality. (Genesis 3:22)

• Food from Nowhere: A number of Biblical figures are saved from thirst and starvation in the barrenness of the desert. For example, Hagar and Ishmael are shown a hidden well by God (Genesis 21:14–19), Moses finds water in a desert rock (Numbers 20:11), and Elijah is given bread and meat twice a day by ravens in the desert. (1 Kings 17:1–6)

• Human Flesh: Cannibalism on account of hunger is perhaps the most extreme punishment in the Hebrew Bible. It is at times described in vivid detail, e.g., in the threat of Deuteronomy 28 that fathers and mothers will eat their own children in secrecy so that they do not have to share the meat. (Deuteronomy 28:53–57)

• Free Refills: There are a number of stories about the miracles performed by the prophets Elijah and Elisha. According to the Book of Kings, a hungry woman’s jar of flour and jug of oil refilled themselves until a famine subsided (1 Kings 17:10-16), a poor woman’s single jug of oil was able to fill the many vessels of her neighbors (2 Kings 4:1–7), and a man’s twenty loaves of bread were miraculously able to feed one hundred hungry men with some left over (2 Kings 4:42–44). A similar story appears in John 6, where Jesus feeds five thousand men with five barley loaves and two small fish. Again, there is still food left over.
 


 
For more on food and dining in the Biblical world, see:

Fruit in the Bible

Making Sense of Kosher Laws

A Feast for the Senses … and the Soul

Was Jesus’ Last Supper a Seder?

Feeding the Pyramid Builders
 


 
David Moster is a Ph.D. candidate in Biblical Studies at NYU. He previously studied Jewish Philosophy, Hebrew Bible, Jewish Education, and Rabbinics at Yeshiva University. David has written a number of articles for the Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception and is currently writing about the Bible on his blog The Daily Chapter.
 

 

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18 Responses

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  1. Benny says

    Amazing what a YU education can do for some… “The tree of knowledge bestowed a divine knowledge of good and bad, making one like the gods.”

    I think you might have missed the point…

  2. Paul says

    Fortunately Benny, there are people who are not scholars and thus have no reputation to uphold and who can interpret the meaning of the tree of knowlege without fearing they could let everyone down by deviating ever so slightly from tradition. The story of Nebuchadnezer eating grass like cattle (Daniel 4:30) refers to the last king of the Babylonian empire, Nabonidus, who some scholars beleive was an archaeologist who, having possibly discovered an ancient tradition regarding the moon god Sin, embarked on a mission to restore the primacy of this ancient Arabian deity originally associated with nomadic cattle herders (there was always this connection between the moon and plant growth). As for the reference to 2 Esdras 9:26, this refers to the ingestion of certain plants immediately prior to receiving a vision (in this instance, that of a woman who is the personification of Zion):
    “So I went, as he directed me, into the field which is called Ardat; and there I sat among the flowers and ate of the plants of the field, and the nourshment they afforded satisfied me.”
    There is an interesting pdf that Yeshiva University students can download that connects these scriptural references to psychotropic plants:
    http://www.pej-unb.org/downloads/art_4ezra.pdf

  3. Geoffrey says

    The strangest food, in my humble opinion, would have to have been the pterodactyl or stegosaurus the Canaanites were forced to feast upon.

  4. alex says

    and the times of famine when people ate NOTHING? wonder how that tasted.

  5. Paul says

    “There is a place in Arabia more or less opposite the city of Buto, where I went to try to get information about the flying snakes. On my arrival I saw their skeletons in incalculable numbers; they were piled in heaps, some of which were big, others smaller, others smaller still, and there were many piles of them. The place where these bones lie is a narrow mountain pass leading to a broad plain which joins on to the plain of Egypt, and it is said that when the winged snakes fly to Egypt from Arabia in spring, the ibises meet them at the entrance to the pass and do not let them get through, but kill them. According to the Arabians, the service is the reason for the great reference with which the Ibis is regarded in Egypt” (Herodotus, “The Histories” Book Two para. 75).

  6. Paul says

    In response to Alex it is the “cattle herb” in Daniel 4:30. About 1000 B.C.E in Judah that is the herb (asa) that the animals eat follows the shrub (shyach) in Genesis 2:5, which is the plant that is modified for human consumption such as wheat. After the Jews returned to their homeland in the 5th century B.C.E., they brought with them a version of creation based on soma-induced visions of the prophet Zoroarster and being an agrarian society (settled), the Jews added their own categories of plants beginning with the amoeba-sprout then grass then herb and is therefore not a fruit-bearing tree (Genesis 1:11).
    Perhaps this why the Akkadian moon god Sin was worhiped all over the Arabian and Sinai deserts:
    “Sin was also held to be wise and was believed to measure time with his waxing and waning. Moreover, by raising the marsh waters around the city of Ur, where his temple stood, he ensured the well-being of cattle by enabling them to ejoy an abundant supply of food” (“The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Mythology” by Arthur Cotterell & Rachel Storm, p. 319).

  7. Paul says

    The correct term for’herb’ in Genesis 2:5 is ‘asub’ and in Daniel 4:29-30 it is ‘asuba’ and in Dueteronomy 11:15, it is Yahweh, not Sin, who “wiil provide herbage in the fields for your cattle – and thus you shall eat your fill”

  8. Paul says

    The creation story in the second chapter of Genesis is older than the account given in the first chapter and it has many parallels in Sumerian mythology. One such myth is called “Cattle and Grain” and is described in Samuel Kramer’s “Sumerian Mythology,” p.53:
    “The myth involving Lahar, the cattle god, and his sister Anshan, the grain goddess, represents another variation of the Cain-Abel motif in Near East mythology. Lahar and Anshan, according to our myth, were created in the creation chamber of the gods in order that the Anunnaki, the children and followers of the heaven god An, might have food to eat and clothes to wear. But the Anunnaki were unable to make effective use of the products of these deities; it was to remedy this situation that man was created.”
    Here we can compare the situation of the heavenly gods being dependent on the products of earth, as “in the day Yahweh Elohim made the earth and heaven (Genesis 2:4). Note that the earth is mentioned before heaven . Kramer provides an introduction to this myth (p.72):
    “After on the mountain of heaven and earth,
    An (the heaven god) had caused the Anunnaki (his followers) to be born,
    Because the name Anshan (the grain-goddess) had not been born, had not been fashioned,
    Because Uttu (a name associated with a spider web, alluding to the spinning of fabric) had not been fashioned,
    Because to Uttu no temenos (shrine) had been set up,
    There was no ewe, no lamb was dropped,
    There was no goat, no kid was dropped…”
    Compare this with “there was no shrub (syach) of the field, there was no herb (asub) of the field” (Genesis 2:5), where the shrub is human food (grain) and the herb is animal feed.

  9. Tony says

    For me, the strangest but most wonderful food is the Bread of life (John 6:48, 51), if any man eats from this bread, he shall live forever.
    Another strange food is the hidden manna (Rev 2:17)

  10. Kurt says

    Dairy Products and Beverages. Also important as food were milk and milk products, using milk of cows, goats, or sheep. (1Sa 17:18) Milk was normally kept in skin bottles. (Jg 4:19) It would sour quickly. The Hebrew word chem·ʼah′, translated “butter,” can also mean “curdled milk.” Cheese was also a well-known item. In fact, the Tyropoeon (Cheesemakers’) Valley ran along the W side of the very early city of Jerusalem.—Jg 5:25; 2Sa 17:29; Job 10:10; see CHEESE.
    http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1200001541#h=16:0-16:861
    Bread of life:
    When God created Adam, he proceeded to “blow into his nostrils the breath [form of nesha·mah′] of life, and the man came to be a living soul.” (Ge 2:7) This “breath of life” not only filled the lungs with air but also imparted to the body the life-force that is sustained by breathing. The breath being drawn into the body through the nostrils is essential to life; it sustains the life-force. At the Flood, “everything in which the breath of the force of life was active in its nostrils, namely, all that were on the dry ground, died.”—Ge 7:22.
    http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1200270933
    Hidden manna:
    Christ also used the jar of manna symbolically when he assured his spirit-anointed followers that those who prove to be conquerors would receive “the hidden manna,” an imperishable food supply or that which results from such a supply, in their case, immortality and incorruptibility in heaven.—Re 2:17; 1Co 15:53.http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1200273643

  11. Christopher says

    @Benny. I can’t vouch for a YU education but to be fair what point has the author missed? His statement is basically a direct quote of Gen 3:22 which is represented as God’s own declaration.
    Peace.

  12. johanes says

    David, your article help me much to learn Bible deeper. Jesus bless you. Salute from Indonesia.
    Johanes Saragih

  13. Judith says

    What about the Sotah ritual drink in Numbers?

  14. Paul says

    The author has the benefit of knowing the Jewish traditions to be able to compose such an article. No offence intended but I think it’s ironic how this scholar’s trajectary began at YU along the upscale upper east side of Manhattan, where outsides its gates the socially accepted alchohol culture dominates portrayed in the log-running televsion sit-com “Cheers” (where everybody knows your name, and the episodes are all the same). Then on to NYU in the leafy heart of The Village where it is not so upscale so as to clinicly sterilize any reference to the “cattle herb” that Jews living in exile in Babylonia would have been familiar with as farm laborers and were in a class designated in an old Sumerian tablet as the “knocked-down kicked-under people.”
    In “Food of the Gods; The Search For the Original Tree of Knowledge” by Terence McKenna, the origin of this mysterious plant that gives knowledge of the divine realm began with psychoactive mushroom cults form Africa and Europe as well as the milky-white juice Soma (probably ground up cannabis and ephedrin) of the Indo-Europeans from Central Asia, and was eventually replaced with, not suprisingly, alchohol (where everybody knows your name, and all your secrets just the same). On page 141 a quote is given from”Water and Wine” by E.S. Drower:
    “Fruits rich in seed, such as pomegranates and figs, appear from the earliest times as symbols of fecundity. The vine and its juice has a long history of religious significance. Deified, like the Zoroastrian haoma and Vedic soma, its powers of exhilaration and intoxication were thought to be manistefations of divine possession. In the group of sacraments or ‘mysteries’ that we shall examine,…the vine symbolizes especially the fruitfullness of woman, and its juice, mostly unfermented, is drunk ceremonially in order to promote the ferility of the womb.”
    Perhaps the tradition of Soma use was preserved in Genesis 49:12; “His eyes are darker than wine, his teeth are whiter than milk.”

  15. Paul says

    In response to Judith’s inquiry about the trial by ordeal of a woman suspected of adultery known as Sotah (Numbers 5:11-31), it is based on a word that means “turn aside,” and in this case refers to iniquity. In a book of mysticism known as the Bahir, there is a play on words between ‘satah’ (iniquity) with the letter teth (soft ‘t’) and ‘satah’ (conceal) with the letter tau (hard ‘t’) that is found in Genesis 38:15, where Judah mistakens Tamar for a prostitute after she conceals (satah) her face.
    “The word Satan means ‘turning aside,’ since he turns all the world aside to the balance of guilt. How is this indicated? It is written (Genesis 38:16), ‘And he turned aside to her,’ and the Targum renders this VaSata, [Satah being the root of Satan[. It is likewise written (Proverbs 4:15), ‘Turn aside (S’teh) from it and pass on’” (The Bahir, by Aryeh Kaplan, p.62).
    In other words, get on with your studies and don’t emulate the self-appointed “vice police” who are always on the lookout for women who wear make-up so they might defile themselves by physically touching the women in order to wipe off the lipstick, thereby making themselves a laughing-stock like Judah who only proved that women are more worthy to hold the very office that the men themselves have prostituted.

  16. Shannon says

    It’s not food made upon human excrement in Ezekiel. It is food cooked on a FIRE that is MADE from excrement. Please, if you are going to quote the Bible get it correct. There’s a huge difference in the two.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. What’s for dinner? « What Then Why Now linked to this post on June 17, 2014

    […] Bible has some strange foods in it. Strange even to the people at the time. BAR presented a fun article looking at some of those foods and the people’s reaction to them. I think we take some of these […]


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