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Biblical times: Local pastor presents research on first-century food

By Staff | Feb 14, 2020

Christ Reformed United Church of Christ Reverend Gayle Bach-Watson talks about the biblical food she made for audience members to sample at the First Tuesday Speaker Series on Feb. 4. Tabitha Johnston

SHEPHERDSTOWN — “I have been studying biblical food for a long time, since before I went to seminary,” said Reverend Gayle Bach-Watson, as she welcomed community members to her lecture on biblical food, during the First Tuesday Speaker Series in Christ Reformed United Church of Christ on Feb. 4.

Bach-Watson, as the pastor of CRUCC, normally invites a special speaker to come to the First Tuesday Speaker Series, but her passion for biblical food and customs inspired her to give a lecture on the subject and prepare samples of many of the foods she mentioned throughout the course of her lecture.

“I welcome all of you to first-century Palestine. Tonight, we’ll be sharing food from that time, or as the Jews would say, ‘Let us break bread together,'” Bach-Watson said.

The food samples covered most of the foods mentioned in her research, although some foods were not locally available for her to acquire.

“We have sauted onions, couscous, lentil stew, figs, two kinds of hummus, almonds, coriander, parsley, endive, two kinds of flatbreads, baked fish, honey, capers, pistachios, dates, hearts of palm, dried apricots, water and wine,” Bach-Watson said. “They did not drink coffee. They did, however, drink many different kinds of herbal tea, and beer made out of barley. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any beer made out of barley.”

Community members fill up their plates with biblical food, during the First Tuesday Speaker Series on Feb. 4. Tabitha Johnston

To complete attendees’ knowledge of what foods they could have expected to eat, if they had lived in first-century Palestine, Bach-Watson passed out a long list of foods, drinks and spices that she found in her research. The list included food that could spoil — especially fruits such as apricots, dates, grapes, figs and apples — which she explained were likely dried and stored out-of-season, so they could be eaten during the winter months.

“A lot of food would have been dried and stored in pottery. They would have been covered with pottery or cow hide,” Bach-Watson said, mentioning dried food and herbs would have been stored together near the stove, to keep them all dry.

The diet, based on Bach-Watson’s description, was relatively similar to the Mediterranean diet, although that varied based on the individual’s location in Israel. Individuals living near water would have eaten fish on a regular basis, while individuals living farther in land might have only had birds or goats to eat throughout the year. But the one time of the year the diets of everyone living in Israel aligned, was during the Passover feast.

“For all but families of means, you’d probably have meat once a year, at Passover,” Bach-Watson said, mentioning the perfect lambs sacrificed for Passover were a great sacrifice in more than one way. “Sheep would only be eaten when they were close to death at that time, because they were so valuable. They could produce wool for a family’s clothing for many years. That’s why the Passover lamb was such a big sacrifice, because it had so much life left to live.”

In spite of their limited amount of meat and lack of coffee, Bach-Watson said the Israelites did not have as boring diets as many modern people might imagine they had.

“For what we would call an ancient civilization, they ate pretty well,” Bach-Watson said.