The Food and Feasts of Jesus

The Original Mediterranean Diet, with Menus and Recipes

reviewed by Mary Boland
Rowman & Littlefield, 2012

Have you ever wondered at the way Jesus lived? What was a typical day like? With whom did he have his meals, and what did he eat? Wonder no more, for Douglas Neel and Joel Pugh answer these and many other questions in their book, The Food and Feasts of Jesus.

The authors state that understanding a people’s food source and methods of meal preparation gives enormous insight into their culture and everyday life. Meal preparation was a long process and people’s lives revolved around food—from the growing and harvest seasons to the actual cooking, eating and storage of the food. The first chapter sets up the reader for the rest of the book, which is not only full of recipes but of history and culture lessons, too. With every recipe comes an explanation on how the ancient Israelites would have enjoyed the food, if it was an everyday meal, or a special meal for a celebration, and who in their society would have been likely to eat it.

Before diving into first century Middle Eastern cuisine, the authors take the time to introduce to the reader the foods that would have been available to Jesus and his people. Going through each food group, the authors tell us what food was available and a bit of history of how it was cultivated or tended. The first recipes appear in Chapter 3 and more are revealed throughout the book, from the basics of bread and yogurt to the complex roasted leg of lamb of the Passover feast.

Each chapter focuses on an aspect of a first century meal, beginning with basic everyday meals and moving towards specific feasts and the special cuisine for each. A history lesson surrounds each meal, engaging the reader in the culture surrounding the meal. The Sabbath meal was a cherished weekly affair; a wedding feast was a multi-day food fest for the whole community; the todah feast was a quiet, deeply personal meal of thanksgiving. While the authors elaborate on and encourage the old ways of preparing the food, they also are always quick to point out the blessings and ease of contemporary methods. The important thing, they argue, is not to become entirely engulfed in the old traditions, but to use the old in the context of the new and take pleasure in sharing a meal with family and friends.

However, if you are interested in immersing yourself in ancient Jewish culture, each celebration and meal comes along with instructions for how to host the meal in first century fashion, from what order to present the food in, to what prayers to say, and even, in the case of Passover, exactly how much wine to drink. In the case of the Passover Haggadah, the feast truly comes alive as the authors dictate a detailed dialogue, partitioning out speaking roles to a host, narrator, and various family and friends. While this detailed supplement may be well worth the effort to some, the layout of this book does a wonderful job of also outlining the crucial points throughout each chapter for those who simply want a taste of first century life. A helpful index in the back offers a great point of reference for quickly finding a recipe with a certain ingredient, or for a certain feast.

For foodies interested in not only great tasting meals but also the history and culture behind them, this book is a delicious treat.

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