Hey, you: Stop the bong hits and hit the pause button on your bootleg A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas instead — it’s time for a real history lesson about two super present-filled important holidays: Hanukkah and Christmas.
No matter that these Jewish and Christian festivals happen to fall on pretty much the exact same dates as pagan Winter solstice celebrations — and feature almost all the same characteristics of these parties.
Surely, the Abrahamic God honored by said shindigs is totally down with nonbiblical traditions such as gift exchange (once banned by the Catholic Church for its pagan origins), decorative evergreen (popular since Saturnalia, Ancient Rome’s December boozefest), Yule logs (from a Teutonic hunting rite), and Santa Claus (a spitting image of Odin, a generous, Germanic deity who rode an eight-legged horse through the sky).
Getting back to the point, these two events do mark watershed points in the development of Western religious thought — regardless of their origin.
Jewish folk believe that Hanukkah symbolizes the Maccabee Brothers’ miraculous rescue of the Israelites’ holy temple from the Greeks. Christians think their December holiday recognizes the equally miraculous birth of Jesus, said to come from a virgin teen mom.
Nowadays, both groups celebrate these happenings with a blend of monotheistic and other practices — such as the ones mentioned above. What’s always key: ceremonial feasts, be they redolent with latkes and applesauce or replete with Icelandic smoked lamb.
So, in the holiday spirit, Fork in the Road has decided to look to these faiths’ holy books and see what they say about food and drink. Behold, faithful and skeptics alike: Our 10 Best Food Moments in the Bible.
10. Forbidden Fruit
So God creates the world — according to Genesis, that is — and then makes two people, a dude and, later, a chick, to populate the earth along with the fish and the fowl. The couple, Adam and Eve, get to hang out totally naked in this sick crib, the Garden of Eden, where they don’t have to worry about anything and can even talk to all the animals just like in Disney movies. But there’s just one teensy-tiny, itsy-bitsy condition — they can’t eat from the Lord’s special Tree of Knowledge, the fruit of which purportedly conveys understanding of good and evil. At the behest of a serpent — because you should always trust articulate snakes — the couple winds up trying an apple from the sacred plant. God finds out, gets pissed, and decides that he’s done letting people crash on his metaphorical sofa. He decides to cast the lovebirds out of Eden into the cold, cruel, real world, where they have to fend for themselves and wear clothes, which sucks because hey, who really likes pants?
9. Great Flood
A lot of people think that the notion of “clean” and “unclean” animals — a hallmark of Jewish dietary laws — originally comes from Leviticus. Now, we might not be prime examples of biblical scholars here at Fork in the Road (FitR writers include a not-so-religious Christian Jew, a devout atheist, and an atheist Jew who used her bat mitzvah money on blackjack, so there ya go), but expert investigators we are. The result of this research suggests that Genesis, where the flood story gets told, might mark the first time when God gives some indication of his food preferences. In the Bible, he tells Noah to take one pair of each type of dirty beast onto the ark, as well as seven “male and mate” couplings of each sanitary animal. The clean/unclean distinction gets flushed out in Leviticus and, to some extent, Deuteronomy, where the author makes clear what’s kosher (chicken, salmon, LOCUST, etc.) and what’s forbidden (shellfish, pork, cat, etc.).
8. Binding of Isaac
So Abraham and Sarah really, really want a kid, right? But they’re both kinda old, with Abe being nearly 100 and Sarah not far behind. However, she gets pregnant — which makes the couple super-happy — since they need a son in order for God to fulfill his promises to them, so the Genesis story goes. Then, one day, when Isaac has grown to become a cherubic, flush-faced youth — and very much the apple of his father’s eye — God tells Abraham to kill his beloved son. Abraham is down with this, and takes Isaac to Mount Moriah, where he plans to slit the boy’s throat. Right before he brings the blade to the kid’s neck, however, God tells him to swap Isaac with a lamb. Isaac lives, and the family probably had some great chops for dinner that night. Abraham, though compensated for his blind faith, just can’t figure out why Isaac never calls.
Exodus tells the story of the Hebrews’ flight from Egypt, where they had been enslaved. Food — and gnarly, gruesome bloodshed — play heavily into this myth. Apparently, the holy plan to get the Jews out of Egypt involves inflicting 10 plagues upon the pharaoh and his people — including the slaughter of every Egyptian families’ first-born son. The Israelites escape unscathed from this mass child-murder, however, by smearing the blood of lambs on their doorjambs. (These poor animals really get the short end of the stick in these texts.) Later in the book, we get the deets on the rest of the Passover meal, which includes matzo. This traditional crackly bread comes unleavened, since the Hebrews don’t have time to add yeast before fleeing. They also got told to “eat in haste.”
6. Feeding the Multitude
Back before he gets famous, Jesus travels the Holy Land, either performing miracles or magic tricks, depending on what you believe. At one point, he comes across a bunch of hungry people and just so happens to have five loaves of bread and two fish on him. (I personally keep an unrefrigerated lox bagel in my purse at all times just ’cause, so this is completely plausible.) Anyway, Jesus — apparently unaware of the lurking dangers of seafood and gluten allergies — looks up to the sky, and then manages to feed 5,000 people with these snacks.
5. The First Miracle
The book of John tells the story of how Jesus winds up at a wedding in Galilee, and how nobody got mad at him even though he was not wearing a tie. At any rate, Jesus shows up, and his mom is also there. Like all moms, Mary forgets to tell him to pick up booze before he gets to the party, and asks him to get wine after he’s already taken the LAST parking spot. So he tells the servants to fill some containers with water and — whammo! — the most plentiful substance on earth has been turned into the most awesome one. At that moment, people start to believe that Jesus is the real deal — or at least start inviting him over because he always brings free booze.
4. Swine Slaughter
So Jesus is walking around Capernaum, hanging out, doing his thing, and he happens upon two demons, according to the book of Matthew. The devils start chatting with Jesus, and tell him just to spare them the pain and indignity of holiness and get rid of them — by casting them out and sending their spirits into a nearby “herd of swine.” Jesus agrees, and then drives the pigs off a cliff. No word whether they are heirloom.
3. The Weak and the Strong
In this perplexing passage (Romans 14), spiritual weakness somehow gets linked to vegetarianism. Some people, according to the passage, get to eat everything. Others — the weak folk — don’t get to eat everything because of their religion. For some reason, this turns into a parable about tolerance. The point, supposedly, is that people shouldn’t judge other people’s beliefs, nor the strength of their spirituality, for “the one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.” Still, the analogy seems kind of weird, considering that the book of Daniel contains an anecdote touting the benefits of a meat-free diet.
2. Peter’s Vision
Peter gets the bright idea of going and praying on a roof for hours on end. In this Acts 10 story, Peter doesn’t eat before his ascetic attempts. He decides to cook something (probably Hot Pockets) but falls into this weird, famished slumber. He wakes up in a cold sweat — the biblical equivalent, at least — and has this trippy vision/hallucination of sorts, in which God tells him to “kill and eat.” Usually, voices in one’s head get taken as a sign of mental illness, but Peter made constructive use of them and actually wound up learning about cultural relativism. “Peter said: ‘by no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.’ And the voice came to him again a second time: ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.'” During this “exchange,” Peter somehow realized that strict dietary laws might foster bias against people with different customs.
1. Last Supper
The name really does say it all: Jesus has one final meal with his 12 apostles before the Romans crucified him, as detailed in a Corinthians epistle. The repast, however, does give modernity several traditions. From Luke: Jesus takes the bread, says “thanks,” and tells his pals to dig in — “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me” — thus making the Eucharist an institution.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 23, 2011