Food. The diet of eastern nations has been in all ages light and simple. Vegetable food was more used than animal. Bread was the principal food; preparations of corn were, however, common. The Hebrews used a great variety of articles, John 21:5, to give a relish to bread. Milk and its preparations hold a conspicuous place in eastern diet, as affording substantial nourishment; generally in the form of the modern leben, i.e., sour milk. Authorized Version “butter”; Gen. 18:8; Judges 5:25; 2 Sam. 17:29. Fruit was another source of subsistence: figs stood first in point of importance; they were generally dried and pressed into cakes. Grapes were generally eaten in a dried state as raisins. Of vegetables we have most frequent notice of lentils, beans, leeks, onions, and garlic, which were and still are of a superior quality in Egypt. Num. 11:5. Honey is extensively used, as is also olive oil.
The Orientals have been at all times sparing in the use of animal food; not only does the excessive heat of the climate render it both unwholesome to eat much meat and expensive from the necessity of immediately consuming a whole animal, but beyond this the ritual regulations of the Mosaic law in ancient, as of the Koran in modern, times have tended to the same result. The prohibition expressed against consuming the blood of any animal, Gen. 9:4, was more fully developed in the Levitical law, and enforced by the penalty of death. Lev. 3:17; 7:26; 19:26; Deut. 12:16. Certain portions of the fat of sacrifices were also forbidden, Lev. 3:9, 10, as being set apart for the altar. Lev. 3:16; 7:25.
In addition to the above, Christians were forbidden to eat the flesh of animals portions of which had been offered to idols. All beasts and birds classed as unclean, Lev. 11:1ff.; Deut. 14:4ff.; were also prohibited. Under these restrictions the Hebrews were permitted the free use of animal food: generally speaking they only availed themselves of it in the exercise of hospitality or at festivals of a religious, public or private character. It was only in royal households that there was a daily consumption of meat. The animals killed for meat were—calves, lambs, oxen not above three years of age, harts, roebucks, and fallow deer; birds of various kinds; fish, with the exception of such as were without scales and fins. Locusts, of which certain species only were esteemed clean, were occasionally eaten, Matt. 3:4, but were regarded as poor fare.