By Sandy Mittelsteadt
With the increased interest in eating and drinking during the upcoming Holiday Season, I thought an article on what Jesus ate and drank would be appropriate. As an observant Jew, Jesus would have followed the dietary laws laid down in the eleventh Chapter of Leviticus. Regardless of the rules, Jesus would have been restricted in his diet by what was available. Jesus was poor, and he ate the foods of the poor. He probably just ate two times a day – in the morning and in the evening.
Some of the following article will be speculative and some will be based on educated guesses of the foods known to grow in the geographical area of Israel, but we can actually discover by reading in the Bible what certain foods Jesus ate. For example, Luke 24:41-43 says: “41. And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said unto them, Have ye here any meat? 42. And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of a honeycomb. 43. And he took it, and did eat before them.” So, we definitely know that Jesus ate fish and honey. Another verse also mentions Jesus with fish; this verse is in John 21:9-10, “9. As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread. 10. Jesus saith unto them, ‘Bring of the fish which ye have now caught.’” Jesus ate fish from the Sea of Galilee. The bones of freshwater fish, such as carp and St. Peter’s fish (tilapia) have been identified in local archaeological excavations. However, there is also evidence that the supply of fish was not always plentiful and there would have been problems in transporting fish, which would have made the cost of fish prohibitive. Fish was quite often dried, smoked, or salted, which solved the problem of availability as large catches could be saved for times of scarcity.
Jesus probably also ate bread, as it was the staple of the ancient diet, which was probably coarse wholegrain barley bread that would likely go rancid and moldy if not eaten daily. Barley bread was the bread of the poor, because it was used to feed cattle and horses. People who were wealthier would have used wheat or millet to make bread. (Jesus called Himself the “The Bread of Life,” and barley bread was passed out in the feeding of the multitude as stated in the Bible). The Mishnah, the first major written collection of the Jewish oral traditions, states that the works which the wife must perform for her husband is the grinding of flour and the baking of bread, as well as washing clothes, cooking food, nursing children, etc. The grinding of grain was a back-breaking task usually carried out by women at home, using small hand-mills made of coarse stone. These mills normally left a residue of grit in the bread. In fact, the regulations in the Mishnah allow a minimum level of ten-per-cent impurity in bought goods, so we can assume that there was often more than this left in the flour. Indeed, skeletons of people in the time of Jesus show teeth ground down by years of eating gritty bread. Jesus probably did not eat fresh bread every day as it would take numerous hours to forage for enough fuel to bake daily and fuel was expensive to buy. Ordinary people baked once a week; professional bakers in villages baked once every three days; the bakers in the cities were the only ones who baked more often than that. To keep bread from going bad, it was often dried in the sun and then to make it edible, it was dipped into a liquid. (FYI: In spite of careful drying, the bread could still go moldy, but it was often eaten all the same.)
Another food would be figs (Jesus attempted to eat figs from a fruitless fig tree on the road to Jerusalem). Grapes, raisins, vinegar, and wine were other foods (Jesus called Himself “The True Vine,” and a sponge soaked in wine vinegar was offered to Jesus while He was on the cross). Jesus probably ate lamb (lamb is an important part of the Passover Feast), and olives and olive oil (the “sop” used to dip the bread in during the Last Supper probably contained olive oil). Pomegranates would be another food that Jesus probably ate (a fourth century mosaic shows Christ flanked by pomegranates), as well as apples, pears, apricots, peaches, melons, and dates were grown in the region. Eggs from ducks, hens, geese, quail, partridges, and pigeons were probably in Jesus’ diet, as well as vegetables, beans, and pulses (legumes such as chickpeas). Lentils stews were known as Miqpeh, which were mainly a solidified mass, which is what happens to cooked lentils when left to cool. These solid lumps of food were easier to scoop up by hand for poor families who would not have owned many eating utensils. Miqpeh was often flavored with garlic and cabbage would be added. There were also vegetable stews made up beans, lentils, onions, garlic, cucumbers, and leeks. For flavorings, there was mustard(Remember, Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed in Mark 4:31), and dill, cumin, cinnamon, mint, and salt are also mentioned in the Bible.
For drinking, Jesus probably drank water, wine, and milk (from goats and sheep). And lastly, we cannot forget dessert, which was probably not eaten often. For dessert, Jesus would have eaten almonds and pistachio nuts, as well as baked cakes made of honey, dates and raisins.
In summary, you can tell, Jesus mostly ate fresh food that was in season.