This Bible History Daily article was originally published in May 2014. It has been updated.—Ed.
There 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).
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• 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.
This Bible History Daily article was originally published on May 6, 2014.
David Moster is a Ph.D. candidate in Biblical studies at New York University. 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.