No snow or turkey sandwiches? The lack of weather and cuisine in the Bible


The Bible, particularly the Old Testament or Torah and Tanach, has many passages that focus on the minutiae of life. For instance it is very specific about sicknesses. ““When anyone has a swelling or a rash or a shiny spot on their skin that may be a defiling skin disease, they must be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons who is a priest. The priest is to examine the sore on the skin, and if the hair in the sore has turned white and the sore appears to be more than skin deep, it is a defiling skin disease (Leviticus 13)”

But there are many things that are spectacularly absent. Two of these issues relate to weather and food. For instance we know that there is weather in the Bible and we hear about rain and such, but some weather patterns are absent. For instance, snow. In modern times it snows in Jerusalem almost every year. It snows on the Hermon and in other places, such as Kurdistan, which borders Nineveh of the Bible.

So why is snow only mentioned 21 times in the Bible? It is often mentioned in comparison: “the skin was leprous—it had become as white as snow (Exodus 4:6).” Miriam’s skin is also “as white as snow. (Numbers 12)” Also in 2 Kings it says that Gehazi skin that “it had become as white as snow.” 

Psalms has several mentions of snow, besides 51 “whiter than snow” we also receive mentions of things being “like” snow on Mount Zalmon, and God spreading snow. In Proverbs 25 there is mention of a “snow-cooled drink.” Jeremiah 18 mentions “Does the snow of Lebanon ever vanish from its rocky slopes?”

The book of Job is one noticeable exception where snow is mentioned four times. Why is this? Perhaps because the book was written either outside the Land of Israel or because it was set outside the land, particularly in Edom in northern Arabia.

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How come Jerusalem’s snow wasn’t mentioned? (Seth J. Frantzman)

Also in 2 Samuel 23:20 we receive one mention of an actual snowing event. “Benaiah son of Jehoiada, a valiant fighter from Kabzeel, performed great exploits. He struck down Moab’s two mightiest warriors. He also went down into a pit on a snowy day and killed a lion.” This story revolves around stories that took place either in Moab or Edom.

So what do we learn about the lack of snow? Mount Zalmon for instance is near Nablus, so that means the Bible is familiar with snow there. But why the lack of snow in the Biblical stories. Chariots never sink in snow. People don’t die from frostbite.

What about mud? Once again there is very little mud. A passage in Samuel about “I beat them as fine as the dust of the earth; I pounded and trampled them like mud in the streets,” is repeated in several other passages. In Psalms David is lifted out of the mud once, and in Jeremiah he is cast into mud. But where is there more mud? It is absent.

However dust is very common, with more than 100 mentions. Rain is similarly common. However more rare is cold (15 mentions) and heat (36). However the word “frozen” only appears twice, in Job. Why? Did things never freeze?

What about food?

We know the Bible spells out which animals may be eaten in Deuteronomy 14: “These are the animals you may eat: the ox, the sheep, the goat, the deer, the gazelle, the roe deer, the wild goat, the ibex, the antelope and the mountain sheep.”

Sheep and goat are often mentioned, more than 200 times each. Cow is mentioned only 29 times while “cattle” is mentioned 77 times. Chicken is not mentioned but “chicks” are mentioned twice. Birds are mentioned 128 times. In Psalm 78 it says “He rained meat down on them like dust, birds like sand on the seashore.” In Proverbs 6:5 we also hear “Free yourself, like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter, like a bird from the snare of the fowler.”

But how to eat these animals. “Sandwich” never appears in the Bible. Neither does “restaurant.” We do know that wine was common, it appears several hundred times. We know that fish was popular, as it says in Nehemiah “People from Tyre who lived in Jerusalem were bringing in fish and all kinds of merchandise and selling them in Jerusalem on the Sabbath to the people of Judah.”

Loaves were popular. In Exodus 29 “finest wheat flour make round loaves without yeast, thick loaves without yeast and with olive oil mixed in, and thin loaves without yeast and brushed with olive oil.” In Leviticus “offer thick loaves made without yeast and with olive oil mixed in, thin loaves made without yeast and brushed with oil, and thick loaves of the finest flour well-kneaded and with oil mixed in.” In Samuel a typical meal might have been ““Take this ephah of roasted grain and these ten loaves of bread for your brothers and hurry to their camp.” In Samuel a woman named Abigail is mentioned; “She took two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five dressed sheep, five seahs of roasted grain, a hundred cakes of raisins and two hundred cakes of pressed figs, and loaded them on donkeys.” In Kings we finally get “loaves of barley” and “Take ten loaves of bread with you, some cakes and a jar of honey, and go to him.” In this we can see cuisine innovation, perhaps what might be called “fusion” style or “modern.”

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What is this fish? Just like in the Bible, it’s a mystery (Seth J. Frantzman)

The word “feast” appears 60 times in the Bible. It is not often explained what was in the feast. For instance in Judges: “And there Samson held a feast, as was customary for young men. 11 When the people saw him, they chose thirty men to be his companions.” His feast went on for seven days. But we never hear much about what they consist of. “he prepared a great feast for them, and after they had finished eating and drinking,” is one typical description. 

Cheese is rarely mentioned, only three times. In Samuel it says “Take along these ten cheeses to the commander of their unit.” In another “honey and curds, sheep, and cheese from cows’ milk for David and his people to eat.”

The word “roasted” appears ten times, often in relation to meat or grain. In Samuel we learn “They also brought wheat and barley, flour and roasted grain, beans and lentils.” Passover animals are also “roasted.” The word beans appears one other place in Ezekiel, ““Take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them in a storage jar and use them to make bread for yourself. You are to eat it during the 390 days you lie on your side.” Lentils also only appears two other times, once in Samuel; “When the Philistines banded together at a place where there was a field full of lentils, Israel’s troops fled from them.” Can we conclude from this lentils came from the Philistines?

Fowl appears four times, once in Kings, “ten head of stall-fed cattle, twenty of pasture-fed cattle and a hundred sheep and goats, as well as deer, gazelles, roebucks and choice fowl.”

In Deuteronomy, probably before sedenterization, we hear more about deer and gazelles. “You may slaughter your animals in any of your towns and eat as much of the meat as you want, as if it were gazelle or deer, according to the blessing the Lord your God gives you.” We know that during that period there was hunting because it is mentioned through Isaiah.

What did they eat with. In Exodus it says “Make all its utensils of bronze—its pots to remove the ashes, and its shovels, sprinkling bowls, meat forks and firepans.” Meat was also cooked in pots. “The clay pot the meat is cooked in must be broken.” Meat was often boiled and eaten with bread. “Take the meat and the unleavened bread, place them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” Although Proverbs says not to “gorge” on meat and wine, we learn in Isaiah, ” a banquet of aged wine— the best of meats and the finest of wines.” Even when on a trip it says “I even baked bread over its coals, I roasted meat and I ate.”

How do we explain that “aged wine” only appears in Isaiah? Because only then had the culinary expectations met up with modern wine tasting. We know that there was other alcohol because “fermented drink” is mentioned 9 times.

What about the mysterious “stew” in Kings?

“Elisha returned to Gilgal and there was a famine in that region. While the company of the prophets was meeting with him, he said to his servant, ‘Put on the large pot and cook some stew for these prophets.’ One of them went out into the fields to gather herbs and found a wild vine and picked as many of its gourds as his garment could hold. When he returned, he cut them up into the pot of stew, though no one knew what they were. The stew was poured out for the men, but as they began to eat it, they cried out, ‘Man of God, there is death in the pot!’ And they could not eat it. Elisha said, ‘Get some flour.’ He put it into the pot and said, ‘Serve it to the people to eat.’ And there was nothing harmful in the pot.”

In Genesis we also learn about “stew” several times. “Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank.” There is also mention of “red stew.” But this is all. 

Milk and honey? Obviously this cliche is common and honey appears many times in the Bible, such as in Proverbs “Eat honey, my son, for it is good; honey from the comb is sweet to your taste.” Besides the concept of the Land of Israel as a place of milk and honey we also hear in Ezekiel, “‘Judah and Israel traded with you; they exchanged wheat from Minnith and confections, honey, olive oil and balm for your wares.”

How about a pinch of salt? In Leviticus, “Season all your grain offerings with salt. Do not leave the salt of the covenant of your God out of your grain offerings; add salt to all your offerings.” Ezra also discusses salt; “Whatever is needed—young bulls, rams, male lambs for burnt offerings to the God of heaven, and wheat, salt, wine and olive oil, as requested by the priests in Jerusalem—must be given them daily without fail…up to a hundred talents of silver, a hundred cors of wheat, a hundred baths of wine, a hundred baths of olive oil, and salt without limit.” As we can see olive oil is common, mentioned more than 100 times.

So what can we conclude about food in the Bible? Loaves were a primary ingredient of most meals. As time went by these may have become slightly more complex and there were more grains involved. Beans and lentils would have been served, alongside honey. Rarely cheese. For meat there would have been sheep, goats, or beef, sometimes also fowl and fish. Much of this would have ended up in a stew in a pot, or roasted. We can clearly see that food progressed over time from savagery to more modern cuisine and experimentation. There were large portions of wine, and sometimes over beverages.

What about the weather. We have to conclude that the people of the Bible, or who wrote it, rarely experienced extreme weather. Was the lack of snow due to global cooling in the Middle East, meaning it was more warm then? We may never know.



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