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

Wuppertal 2021 Call for Papers

The first call for papers of the research unit “Food-Symbolism in Biblical and Extra-Biblical Perspectives” stresses concrete and material aspects of the overarching research question as outlined in the research unit’s description. The unit is consecrated to the question of status of food: Which products are consumed and which are not, which products are immolated, which are not. Which are the including and excluding customs or products in the different regions of the Eastern Mediterranean world, and how we can describe the transformations in different ages or the variations in different religious contexts? 

A possible epistemic background, perhaps in a critical perspective, could be the much discussed concepts of Mary Douglas, Walter Burkert, René Girard or Jean Soler. Beside literary texts also material culture would be of interest, especially when cultic vessels display animal pictures or forms that illustrate which animal was fit for consumption or which one was fit for sacrifice or ritual destination (cf. “pig head rhyton” as Mycenaen cult vessel).

The research group is composed of more or less regular participants and of participants selected through an open call for papers.