Astounding stories of kings, battles and palaces can captivate our imaginations when we picture the Biblical world. While grand, these stories don’t teach us much about actual lives that most people lived in the Biblical world. Archaeology provides insights into daily life—and what could be more important on a daily level than food? BAS editors have arranged a special collection of articles from the Biblical Archaeology Review and Bible Review exploring farming and dining in the Biblical world. What do organic remains teach us about ancient agriculture? Why do so many decisive moments in the New Testament occur around the dinner table? And why does Jewish law prevent mixing milk and meat? Find out in this BAS Library Special Collection.

Scroll down to read a summary of these articles.

Agricultural terraces once served as a network of farms surrounding and supplying ancient Jerusalem. In the article “Ancient Jerusalem’s Rural Food Basket,” Archaeologists Gershon Edelstein and Shimon Gibson describe the considerable planning and engineering that went into creating these terraced farms, some of which have been in use for millennia. Iron Age, Second Temple period and Byzantine farms not only teach us about ancient diets, farming techniques and rural construction; the terrace agriculture matches descriptions found in the Bible.

Nebuchadrezzar’s destruction of Ashkelon preserved a wealth of archaeological materials, including carbonized seeds and fruits. In “Weeds & Seeds,” archaeobotanists Ehud Weiss and Mordechai E. Kislev describe what we can learn about Philistine food production from tiny samples. The local economy could not have relied on the fields around the city, so regular, long-distance trade in crop plants, such as cereals, must have occurred. Archaeobotany reveals the Philistine city’s economy and food supply on the eve of its fiery destruction.

More than 50 years ago, American archaeologist Nelson Glueck asked: Was the ancient Negev “a kind of Paradise Lost situated between the granaries of plenty known as Egypt and the country ‘flowing with milk and honey’ called Canaan?” More recent surveys revealed the development of the region’s food economy. In “How Ancient Man First Utilized the Rivers in the Desert,” Thomas E. Levy describes northern Negev advances such as floodwater farming that allowed for the development of the region’s agriculture, pastoralism and village systems.

Archaeology tells us a great deal about farming and economics, but what do we know about eating? It’s no coincidence that Jesus’ first miracle took place at a wedding feast, and that he gave his last instructions to his followers over dinner. Meals were the place for social bonding in the Greco-Roman world. In “Dinner with Jesus and Paul,” Dennis E. Smith describes traditional Greek, Roman and Christian dining practices that explain why Jesus taught, performed miracles and sparked controversy while dining throughout the Gospels, and why Paul’s church gatherings from Antioch to Rome took place at meal time.

The Rabbinic injunction against mixing milk and meat is a core law of kashrut, an elaboration of the Bible’s injunction against “boiling a kid in its mother’s milk.” But what distasteful behavior was this dietary ban originally meant to curb? In “Why Milk and Meat Don’t Mix,” Gloria London suggests that the probation may have started to prevent meat from spoiling, based on her study of traditional Cypriot potters. However, in “Should Cheeseburgers Be Kosher,” Jack M. Sasson uses early translations and scholarship to suggest that we can find the origins of the often-debated law in the text itself. The original Biblical text, which was recorded without vowels, may have prohibited cooking in fat, rather than milk.

Put your knowledge to the test with our recipes from the BAR test kitchen! Whether it’s pastries from Syria, or custard from Rome, these recipes have been researched and tested by our dedicated BAS gourmands, and are ready to be shared, from our kitchen to yours.


Ancient Jerusalem’s Rural Food Basket
Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August 1982 By Gershon Edelstein , Shimon Gibson

Until recently, archaeology—or at least Near Eastern archaeology—has been regarded primarily as a historical science. Its focus was history and particularly political history—kings and kingdoms, battles and destructions, the rise and fall of civilizations. That focus has now shifted somewhat. It is difficult to put a date on the change because it has occurred […]

Weeds & Seeds
Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 2004 By Ehud Weiss , Mordechai E. Kislev

Think small. No, think minute! Think something seemingly unimportant, but invaluable. Think seeds and weeds and grains—grown over 2,500 years ago. Our story takes place in the late seventh century B.C.E. in the thriving Philistine city of Ashkelon, on what is now the Mediterranean coast of Israel. In 604 B.C.E., Ashkelon was utterly […]

How Ancient Man First Utilized the Rivers in the Desert
Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 1990 By Thomas E. Levy

In Rivers in the Desert, the famous American archaeologist and rabbi Nelson Glueck reported the results of his archaeological site survey in the Negev Desert from 1952 to 1964. Glueck himself explains the allure that drew him to this work: “A blank space on a historical map is a constant challenge to the explorer […]

Dinner with Jesus & Paul
Bible Review, August 2004 By Dennis E. Smith

For Jesus and Paul, meals were not simply everyday events. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus is portrayed as teaching while at the dinner table, performing miracles at feasts and sparking controversy by his choice of dinner companions. In the churches of Paul, meals were the setting for most if not all church gatherings, whether in […]

Why Milk and Meat Don’t Mix
Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 2008 By Gloria London

I may have found a partial explanation for the basic law of kosher cooking, grounded in the Bible, of rigorously separating all forms of milk from all forms of meat. I am an ethnoarchaeologist. I concentrate on what I think Biblical archaeology does best: reveal the everyday lives of ordinary people in ancient times. […]

Should Cheeseburgers Be Kosher?
Bible Review, December 2003 By Jack M. Sasson

”You may not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk” is one of the Bible’s more puzzling interdictions. This short phrase—only five words in Hebrew (lo’ tebasûsûel gdi bahaleb ‘immo)—is repeated three times, once in Exodus 23:19, again in Exodus 34:26 and finally in Deuteronomy 14:21. Since Talmudic times, that is after 200 C.E., […]

A Mesopotamian Feast
Archaeology Odyssey, January/February 2006 By Adam Maskevich

Mesopotamia (as everyone who writes about it is required to state) is a land of firsts: the first cities, the first writing ... and the first cookbooks.


BAR Test Kitchen: Ancient Syrian Date Pastries
Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 2018

There’s no denying that I have a sweet tooth. Whether I am at home or abroad, I am always in search of desserts. From croissants to baklava, I’ve sampled many delicious dishes—but never before one from Bronze Age Syria.

BAR’s Ancient Test Kitchen: Something Sweet from Ancient Rome
Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 2017

The next item on BAR’s Test Kitchen menu—a sweet custard—derives from ancient Rome. Roman cooking presents a set of challenges to the modern chef. The Romans used many ingredients (especially spices) from Asia and Africa, which can be difficult to obtain. Roman recipes, moreover, did not always include precise measurements, unless those recipes were medicinal in nature.

BAR Test Kitchen: Eat Like an Ancient Babylonian
Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 2017

A favorite way for me to familiarize myself with a foreign culture is to sample its cuisine. Not only do you learn its ingredients and cooking methods, but also the setting in which meals are typically shared and with whom.

BAR Test Kitchen: Parsnips: Back to Roman Roots
Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 2019

Parsnips are an underappreciated vegetable in the U.S. Depending on where you are, they can be difficult to track down, and many Americans have only a vague notion of what a parsnip actually is. In my opinion, though, they are delicious and well worth the hunt.