“Ancient Israel’s affinity for beer has largely been ignored”

Beer was a staple in the Israelite diet, just as it was throughout the ancient Near East. Yet a search of most English translations of the Bible will produce few, if any, occurrences of the word “beer.” Ancient Israel’s affinity for beer has largely been ignored. I believe this is for three reasons: (1) confusion about the meaning of the Hebrew word shekhar (שכר), (2) a general snobbery in academia causing scholars to scorn beer drinking while celebrating wine culture, and (3) the unique challenges archaeologists have faced in finding (or identifying) beer remains in the Israelite material record.

In ancient Near Eastern cultures, beer was, in many ways, a super-food. By producing and drinking beer, one could dramatically multiply the calories in harvested grains while consuming needed vitamins; the alcohol was also effective at killing bacteria found in tainted water supplies. Given the difficulty of producing food in the ancient world, beer gave you a lot of nutritional bang for your buck.

Michael M. Homan, “Did the Ancient Israelites Drink Beer?”, Biblical Archaeology Review vol. 36, no. 5 (September/October 2010), 49-50.