My wife, Lori, wanted me to find a hobby. She thought it was fine that I read, write and teach about biblical studies. But she thought I needed to find something that would be a distraction. So I began to brew beer. I already had a deep, abiding love and appreciation for beer. Four years of living in England helped me to appreciate what real beer should taste like. Two uncles who live in England made their own beer. So when I decided to learn the fine art of home brewing I had found a hobby. I am not sure if this is the kind of hobby Lori had in mind, but it is the one I chose.
Imagine my excitement when I saw that the recent issue of Biblical Archaeology Review brought both of my passions together in an article entitled: Did the Ancient Israelites Drink Beer? Michael Horman gives a resounding "Yes" to the question. The ancient Israelites drank beer since it was a common part of the ancient world's diet. Of course the beer of the ancient world was not like the fine brews we enjoy today. Beer in antiquity did not contain hops and it was often produced by fermenting a barley cake in some water.
In the article Horman argues that the Hebrew word shekhar which is usually translated as "strong drink" would be better understood as "beer". He even suggests that one of drinks which the Nazerite was commanded to avoid in Numbers 6:3-4 was beer. Horman notes that the oft repeated phrase from Ecclesiastes 11:1-2 is probably referring to beer.
"cast your bread upon the water and in many days you will acquire and then give servings to seven or eight others for you do not know what evil there will be upon the land"
The description sounds a lot like how the ancients brewed beer!
Horman's article makes me think about Deuteronomy 14:22-26 where ancient Israel is instructed about the tithe. If they could not get to the temple they were to use their tithe to buy food and "strong drink" (beer according to Horman's translation) and then enjoy themselves. I am not sure if most modern churches would approve of me spending my offering this way, but I am glad to see that my hobby has a long history with biblical endorsement.