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).
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.
• 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).
Dig into more than 9,000 articles in the Biblical Archaeology Society’s vast library plus much more with an All-Access pass.
• 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.
David Z. Moster, PhD, is a Research Fellow in Hebrew Bible at Brooklyn College and a Lecturer in Rabbinics at Nyack College. He is the author of the upcoming book Etrog: How a Chinese Fruit Became a Jewish Symbol (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018). His websites are www.929chapters.com and brooklyn-cuny.academia.edu/DavidMoster.
The world of the Bible is knowable. We can learn about the society where the ancient Israelites, and later Jesus and the Apostles, lived through the modern discoveries that provide us clues.
Biblical Archaeology Review is the guide on that fascinating journey. Here is your ticket to join us as we discover more and more about the biblical world and its people.
Each issue of Biblical Archaeology Review features lavishly illustrated and easy-to-understand articles such as:
• Fascinating finds from the Hebrew Bible and New Testament periods
• The latest scholarship by the world's greatest archaeologists and distinguished scholars
• Stunning color photographs, informative maps, and diagrams
• BAR's unique departments
• Reviews of the latest books on biblical archaeology
The BAS Digital Library includes:
• 45+ years of Biblical Archaeology Review
• 20+ years of Bible Review online, providing critical interpretations of biblical texts
• 8 years of Archaeology Odyssey online, exploring the ancient roots of the Western world in a scholarly and entertaining way,
• The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land
• Video lectures from world-renowned experts.
• Access to 50+ curated Special Collections,
• Four highly acclaimed books, published in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution: Aspects of Monotheism, Feminist Approaches to the Bible, The Rise of Ancient Israel and The Search for Jesus.
The All-Access membership pass is the way to get to know the Bible through biblical archaeology.
Sign up to receive our email newsletter and never miss an update.