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Visions of a feast in the time of Christ: Shebaba by Renuka Narayanan

It is believed Jesus and his disciples ate simply. As Christmas draws closer, a look back at feasts of the old Judeo-Christian tradition.

columns Updated: Dec 24, 2017 09:54 IST
Renuka Narayanan
Renuka Narayanan
Hindustan Times
Christmas,Jesus Christ,Christ
The Bible tells us that Jesus ate bread, wine and fish. Scholars say other chief crops during Christ’s time were wheat, grapes and lentils. (Getty Images / iStock)

Food is such a big part of how we celebrate Christmas, but what did Jesus eat?

The Bible does not contain very many details, and so we must glean what we can from what is known of ancient Israelite food, and from clues in the text.

Bible scholars say the chief crops in the old Judeo-Christian land were wheat, barley, olives, grapes, lentils, fava beans, chickpeas, onions, leeks, garlic, and grapes, dates, apples, melons, pomegranates and figs. The people there also raised cattle, sheep and goats and fished in the Mediterranean Sea and the Sea of Galilee; made wine from grapes, and ate unleavened bread.

Olive oil, vinegar and a mint-like herb called hyssop were used as flavourings and long-simmered bean-stews like cholent were made for Sabbath lunch.

Jesus called himself “the true vine” in John 15:1 – 6 and said in John 6:35, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

He is said to have passed bread and wine around the table to his twelve disciples at their last supper together, saying that the bread was his body and the wine, his blood. This is the origin of communion, the central rite of the Catholic Church, in which the priest administers a wafer and a sip of wine to each believer in symbolic spiritual union with Christ.

Since Jesus and his disciples would have eaten very simply, Leonardo da Vinci’s 15th-century masterpiece, The Last Supper — now preserved at the monastery of Santa Maria della Grazie in Milan — shows loaves of bread, small fruit and glasses of red wine.

We know that Jesus ate fish because in Luke 24:41 – 43, he asks, ‘Have you any food here?’ “And they gave him a piece of broiled fish. And he took it, and did eat before them.”

Fish also played a key role in the miracle of the loaves and the feeding of the crowd. In fact, four of Jesus’s 12 disciples — Andrew, Peter, James and John — were fishermen. They were fishing when Jesus appeared to them after his resurrection as described in John 21:2 – 8.

Jesus drew from a compassionate vision of God, from divine commands as in Deuteronomy 24: 17 – 19: “Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this. When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.”

Whatever be the food that your table is blessed with, Happy Christmas, dear readers.

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Dec 23, 2017 21:27 IST