U.S. scholar says Israelites drank beer as well as wine

Washington, D.C. (RNS) — Ancient Israelites drank not only wine but also beer, according to a Biblical scholar at Xavier University, a Roman Catholic school in Louisiana.

“Ancient Israelites, with the possible exception of a few teetotaling Nazirites and their moms, proudly drank beer — and lots of it,” said Michael Homan, in his article for the September/October issue Biblical Archaeology Review.

While English translations of the Bible do not mention beer, the original Hebrew does, he said. Homan, an archaeologist, said the Hebrew word shekhar has been mistranslated as “liquor,” “strong drink” and “fermented drink,” but it translates as “beer” based on linguistic and archeological research.

Confusion over whether the ancient Israelites drank beer also stems from the difficulty of identifying and finding archeological remains of beer production in Israelite artifacts.

The tools used for brewing beer, such as mortars and winnowing baskets, were also used to make bread because the two processes were similar.

Homan said the ancient Israelites made beer by baking a cake of malted barley or wheat, placing it in water and adding yeast.

Additionally, the Israelites’ taste for beer has been ignored because academic scholars over the past 100 years have inferred that beer drinking is “uncouth” behavior, he said.

He said the Bible does call for moderation but beer was a staple in the Israelites’ diet.

“Men, women and even children of all social classes drank it,” he said. “Its consumption in ancient Israel was encouraged, sanctioned, and intimately linked with their religion.”