Food-Symbolism in Biblical and Extra-Biblical Perspective


Food studies show including and excluding character in cultural anthropology. We can define three types of food restrictions that contribute to the formation of communal identity: commensality-based regulations (e.g. racial segregation; religious purposes), preparer-based regulations (e.g. kashrut or halal butchery) and regulations concerning the status of food (clean – unclean; see Freidenreich). Food restrictions reflect conceptions of communal identity within a particular worldview. Claude Lévy-Strauss emphasizes in “The Raw and the Cooked“ that food is not only good to eat but also “good to think” because eating automatically creates boundaries, cultural and social spheres etc. Mary Douglas describes in “Deciphering a meal” and “Purity and Danger” how the boundaries in Judaism touch upon the concept of holiness. She emphasizes that food corresponds to three typical spheres: being fit for the temple sacrifice, being fit for table and human consumption, or being abominable according to a religious based system of classification. 


If norms regarding food conceptualize the identities of Us and Them, we have to distinguish between “laws in action”, “laws in books” and finally also “laws in minds” (William Ewald). The latter are encountered in the “context of ideas upon which scholars of the law call when they formulate and interpret the rules found in legal literature” (Freidenreich, Foreigners and their food, 10). Furthermore, food norms have to be examined in a horizontal, i.e. within a single time period or cultural milieu, a vertical, i.e. in different time periods within a single intellectual tradition (e.g. Bible), or in a diagonal way. The latter means that the “application of multiple overlapping taxonomic criteria – [e.g.] religious tradition, time period, geographic regions, type of food restriction, and style of classifying foreigners, … – yields greater insight into these norms.” (id., 13) 


The aim of this interdisciplinary unit is to foster readings of meal and food in the ancient Eastern Mediterranean. Profane and sacral aspects or domestic and official spheres are involved in this subject whose boundaries are sometimes fluid: e.g. Lord’s supper can be understood horizontally as a more or less profane meal ritual that defines the community in term of ecclesia (body/soma of Christ). Otherwise, and according to the traditional dogmatic reading, Lord’s supper is interpreted vertically as a ritual meal: bread and wine symbolize the community with participation/koinonia in Christ. During the EABS-workshop at Warsaw the intermingling of sacrality and profanity in the context of commensality was examined in several papers. However, the other aspects were of lesser importance and should be developed in the future meetings.



Material Food Studies, Dietary Restrictions, Ritual Meals, Metaphorical Meaning of Food in Antiquity, Domestic Religion



Christina Risch University of Koblenz-Landau
Michaela Bauks University of Koblenz-Landau
Lennart Lehmhaus Freie Universität Berlin

Member Area

Toulouse 2022 Call for Papers

Food studies in conversation with cultural anthropology have pointed out various including and excluding factors and strategies in this realm. We can define three types of food restrictions that contribute to the formation of communal identity: commensality-based regulations (e.g. racial segregation; religious purposes), preparer-based regulations (e.g. kashrut or halal butchery) and regulations concerning the status of food (clean – unclean; see Freidenreich). Food restrictions reflect conceptions of communal identity within a particular worldview. The three criteria will not be separated from one another, but should be subsumed in overlapping themes including scholarly perspectives informed by the study of the Ancient Near East, the Old Testament, the New Testament, Patristics and Judaic Perspectives.


At the EABS-Meeting 2022 in Toulouse the research unit will specifically address aspects of gender and food. Presentations might explore the gendered nature of food consumption and restriction, such as fasting. They might also investigate particular regulations for the priests, their wives and families/households, or the partaking of women (and minors or slaves) in ritual meals or other important socio-cultural contexts of eating and drinking. Can we find cultural or religious connections drawn between women or men and particular types of food or their preparation and consumption – perhaps in a discriminatory manner? Are we able to identify major differences between the aforementioned Eastern Mediterranean traditions, either horizontally or vertically? Another topic of interest is the connection of sexuality (seduction), food, and consumption in those textual traditions, especially in poetic and narrative texts. A further issue might be the failure of commensuality (cf. e.g. Esther, Judith).


The research group is composed of more or less regular participants and of participants selected through an open call for papers. Interested scholars are welcome to attend. While comparative approaches are highly welcomed, cross-cultural comparison is no prerequisite for participation