Common Eating – Old and New Testament

Common Eating – Old and New Testament

By Donald McKenzie

May 10, 2021

This is another one of the sections that I’ve been giving a great deal of thought as to how I would like to present it.  In the regular type face sections below you will see that while I put some emphasis on the stories of the Old and New Testament, there was not necessarily a lot of emphasis there originally. There are definitely a lot of changes to this post, and I think, that as I continue to develop this course, there will be a lot more to come.

Oil, generally of the olive variety play a role in Old and New Testament writings.
This is sunflower not olive but oil plays a significant role in Old and New Testament writings

This post was originally written about five and half years ago. Since that time I’ve go more deeply involved in reading and writing about food. It’s also changed the way I’ve heard the Bible. In part this is because, as a priest, the Lectionary plays a substantial role in my Bible reading. The Lectionary does tend to cut out large parts of the text which means that certain stories get greater emphasis than they would if you simply read the Bible cover to cover.

Also, every Lectionary day includes both Old and New Testament readings. This helps to cover the tendency to skip the Old Testament.

While I find the lectionary difficult at times there are also other times when I find it quite delightful. Every so often as I am preparing my sermon for the week I come across a food story that I hadn’t thought about before. I may have read the passage several times, but there is something in breaking a passage down in the way the lectionary does that draws my attention to elements of it that I may not have noticed in the past.

I think this is because there are passages where the food element is central, but there are also a fair number of passages where the food element may just appear in passing. When I see these it makes me stop, and go, hmmm, I wonder why that was included as part of the story. Does this help me understand the context of the story better, or does this mean that maybe I’m missing some of what is going on this bigger story, and I have to go back and read it again more carefully?

I’ve decided that I would include both the Old and New Testament classes in this one post, even though they will make up separate weeks in the course itself.  One reason for doing it is an attempt to limit the number of posts that I am doing in connection with the course.  Another reason is that the design and lecture format for these two classes will most likely be very similar.

Old and New Testaments

So, the OT first.  Among possible questions to be raised and discussed is the role of common eating in the sacrificial system and rules. When looking at sacrifice system we will look not only at the requirements surrounding the animals to be sacrificed, but also the way in which the food derived from the sacrifices is later to be distributed.

Places in the text where common eating plays into the narrative flow. Individual stories are also open to discussion, such as the whole story of Jacob taking Esau’s birthright for a bowl of stew, and the trickery of Jacob and Rebekah conspiring to fool Isaac, in both cases meals being served in solitary rather than in common settings.

In other words, the meal being used to isolate first Esau, and later Isaac from the whole family, in such a manner that manipulation becomes easier to achieve. 

Not all of the Biblical stories are of pleasant memories and good fellowship based around the common enjoyment of a meal. The Book of Esther in particular is full of banquets, both good and bad. David inviting Uriah to eat and drink, to cover up David’s sin against Bathsheba, is another such story that we will look at.

Naturally the institution of the Passover will be covered, a topic which will be picked up a couple of weeks later in the context of the class on the Eucharist.

One specific element of the Passover story that fits into the overarching theme of the course, is the plan for families that couldn’t eat a lamb on their own, to share with another family.

We will also lay some of the ground work on the subject of hospitality, which will also be picked up in more detail later on the course.

Common Eating – Ferial Eating

Inter-Testamental developments will also be given a place either at the end of the first class or at the beginning of the second.  When it comes to the New Testament, the primary focus will be on the experiences of common eating in the Gospel narratives.  Jesus eating with his disciples, Jesus eating with the Pharisees and other leaders, and Jesus eating with the outcasts and sinners.

Meals in other parts of the New Testament will also be referred to. The book of Acts with it’s emphasis on the holding of property in common and the regular sharing of meals is a natural point of emphasis.

The class will end with a look at the Last Supper, setting up the next weeks discussion of the Eucharist.

My original intent was to take some time to introduce the Eucharist as part of this lesson. I think looking things over I will simply move the entirety of the Eucharist into the next week’s class.

I look at other topics covered here and think I would likely move the discussion of their Biblical contexts in the lessons that focus on those specific topics. So, Biblical texts on hospitality would be left until the week the class discusses the topic of hospitality. Things such as purity laws, etc. could be worked into other weeks as well. One of the topics that the Bible presents in relation to food is the role of gleaning, which plays such a pivotal part in the story of Ruth and Boaz. This is an often neglected element in the rules surrounding food in the Old Testament.

A final option for this class is to take it and split it off into two classes. The first would deal with the items such as the purity laws, etc. and the second with the stories contained in the text. Another way to do this may be to make one class about Jesus at meals, and then take all the other elements and put them in a second class. Either of these options would mean, that to keep this class to 13 weeks, I’d need to go through the course and find a way to restructure some of the other classes.

As I said at the beginning of this post, the more I do a deep dive into food, and into what the Bible has to say about food and eating together, the more I find that there is to learn. So, it’s entirely possible that by the time I’ve done all the work preparatory to making this course workable, I may decide that I have enough material for two distinct courses. Who knows, but I think for now I need to find a way to make one course workable before I try and create two.

Again, I welcome all comments.  You can comment in the comment section below or send me a tweet @diningwitdonald


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