Sunday, June 19, 2011



*note: the article's formatting problems are being addressed

2/7/2011 10:51:36 PM
FINAL EDIT : 9/13/2011

by: Raymond A. Oliver
dated: 1/25/2011 7:43:53 PM
internet search key: “rayoliveresq”
© copyright 2011


Dear Editor:


This is a response to Assistant Professor Michael Homan’s article entitled, Did The Ancient Israelites Drink Beer. Mr. Homan’s article was published in BAR magazine, volume 36, issue 5 on October 4, 2010.

A separate copy of Homan's article is here:

After reading Michael Homan’s article, I recalled the Delta Blues musician, lyricist and

composer, Muddy Waters where he sang,

“…if the river was made of whiskey, I’d be a diving duck…” 1

Similar to that blues duck in rivers of whisky, Michael Homan’s article in Biblical Archaeology Review portrayed biblical Jews as diving ducks in a fermented river of Israelite beer.

The Homan article misportrayed ancient Israelites by grouping them with antiquities which establish and evidence that Egyptians, Babylonians, Sumerians, and other Mesopotamian Gentiles maintained a beer producing culture.

This is my opposition to Mr. Homan’s description of ancient Jews as pushing plows in Canaan fields flowing with barley, while joyously popping open amphorae and toasting “שכר “, with Homan’s imaginary clay beer שכר vessels and non-existent accoutrements of Israelite straws and strainers.

My intention here is clear. I am not engaging in a Harvard Austin-Strawson debate on Truth. I am unveiling Homan’s written fabrications.

Homan incorrectly leads the uninitiated reader into thinking that biblical Jews made and “drank lots of beer.” He tricks the reader into believing that ancient Israelites developed a beer culture through ethnographic influences.

This letter is an abridged version of my complete article in response to Michael Homan.

For purposes of this Letter to the Editor, my prefatory advice for readers of Michael Homan’s article on Israelite beer drinking, is that they should entirely dismiss Homan’s words as the fodder of an associate professor who is more an enthusiast of beer drinking, than he is for accuracy in biblical archaeology.

At the outset, the publication of Homan’s article begins a problematic journey for methodologically disciplined archaeologists. The article ignores the strict methods and standards in archaeology, which are required to overturn a prevailing understanding of ancient practices.
The article also textually leads the disciplined scientist and informed reader into the wilderness of Homan’s confusion of Jewish antiquity.

Can Homan prove that a beer culture existed without the necessary artifacts, simply by arguing that it is “too difficult to find evidence of beer production,” because beer making vessels were also used to prepare different organic products? The methodology used in reaching a conclusion
is the single most important tool available to researchers in the sciences and humanities. The absence of artifacts, as Homan admits, nevertheless becomes a methodology for Homan.

The issue of methodology is critical here, because professor Homan does not give us any verifiable explanation for distorting our collective perception of well-established archaeological facts about biblical Jewish practices and lifestyle.

First, it is clear that a widespread use of beer by covenanted Jews would be a dietary law gone astray, when measured against the Torah’s dictates of sacrificial practices and its general scheme of acceptable behavior for the promised people. Further, Homan’s anthropological description is at variance with the conventional political and theological thought on biblical Jews, whose raison d’etre was to preserve ethnic and religious purity during epochs of slavery and liberation. Jewish ethnic and religious purity was a strong countervailing value against acculturation and disobedience of the Mosaic purity laws of the Torah.

Homan apparently teaches theology. Yet he is blind to the fact that Jesus suffered the penalty of crucifixion because of his criticisms of archaeic Jewish religious practices. Jesus viewed Jewish religious practices as secular and blasphemous, rather than being an other worldly devotion to God.
It was Jesus’ perceived disobedience of the Mosaic Laws, that led to Jesus’ crucifixion. This is paramount evidence that ancient Jewish religious practices left no room for non conforming behavior.
But Homan would have us believe that Jews were drinking lots of beer like the Gentiles, even
though the presence of a Gentile in the Temple’s core grounds was treated as a desecration of the Temple itself.

As discussed in detail below, Canaan’s newly arrived covenanted Jew of the Pentateuch is hardly a Mosaic picture of Israelites making and drinking lots of beer.

The notion that ancient Israelites introduced any fermentation into the Jerusalem Temple and into their sacrificial offerings is inconsistent with the general religious precept of purity as it is contained in the Torah. If flour grain was not permitted to ferment for bread to be used as a sacrifice at the altar, could fermented beer grain be allowed as a drink sacrifice?

Fermentation of grains for leavened bread, which was prohibited directly by the Torah, could not be permitted indirectly through fermentation of barley for beer.

Homan is also indifferent to the self-imposed religious segregation and Jewish tribal practice of body modification as their religious belief in ethnic identification and exclusion from Gentiles. The body modification of circumcision is strong evidence of a tribal practice that was designed to prevent assimilation, acculturation and tribal attrition through intermarriage or sexual liaison with Gentiles. The requirement of circumcision was introduced as a scriptural covenant with Yahweh, which solidified the homogeneity of Israelites. This practice further identified Israelites as ethnocentric in the Mosaic law’s policy for self preservation.

The Torah gives us an historical record of those Israelites who failed to conform to the Jewish group’s taboo against assimilation with other nations. Those ancient Israelites who were not ethnocentric and who disregarded the Torah’s prohibitions against following the practices of
Canaanites and other Gentiles are recorded to have “…assimilated into other nations and lost their distinction as Israelites.”

The Torah tells us that these inter-cultural Jews became the lost tribes of Israel.

Therefore, the concept of an Israelite is that they were distinctly Israelite through their socio-legal theocracy engendered by Moses, who was a Prophet for the actual words of Yahweh.

The Israelites who strayed from this Mosaic constitutional confederacy lost their Jewish distinction.

It is reasonable to infer that the assimilated Israelite engaged in the practices of their host cultures. This would include drinking beer as a normative practice. However, these assimilated Jews were “lost” to the devotional Israelites. For our purposes, the lost tribes are not Israelite, because of the loss of their distinctive theological identity.

This concept of the ancient Israelite is important for our analysis.
This notion of identity underscores the necessity for Homan to prove that “drinking lots of beer” was a cultural and normative practice for the ethnocentric and devotional Israelite.

Therefore, only solid epigraphic evidence can support an interpretation that an ancient Israelite beer drinking culture existed.

There is no such evidence.

In linguistic philosophy, the concept of ancient Israelite places us squarely within the distinct group of covenanted Jews. The covenant was that as a people, Yahweh chose them to assume their legacy of Canaan lands in return for their obedience to the Torah. Yahweh promised devotional Israelites that they would prosper as a great nation in exchange for their exclusive devotion to Him as a “jealous God.” Our profile of the ancient Israelite begins with this construct set out in the biblical five books of the Torah.

It is therefore illogical for Homan to extrapolate Jewish customs, mores and norms from the non-Jewish population’s normative behavior, within the ancient Near East. The well-evidenced practice of Egyptian beer making and drinking cannot be used as a “parallelism” that ancient Jews also engaged in a normative practice of making and drinking beer. Homan’s use of artifacts from non-Israelite civilizations to exemplify ancient Israelite culture is a disservice to the reader. Homan confuses the distinction of convenanted Israelites, from the wider ethno-topography of the Ancient Near East.

Homan Photographs of ANE Artifacts

Homan uses nine (9) photographs in his article. Only one (1) photograph is alleged by Homan to be evidence of an Israelite beer drinking culture. This single photo consists of twenty (20) stone stoppers with no indication of their in situ association with corollary artifacts. The stoppers are of two different types of pottery.
Homan does not provide pottery dating for this handful of (as yet) isolated, undecipherable stone stoppers.

Homan credits himself for photographing the perforated clay jar stoppers. The stoppers are identified as artifacts which were excavated at Tel Zeitah.

Further, the twenty stoppers offered by Homan are not part of a generally accepted and known collection of ANE artifacts, with an attribution to a specific civilization.

SEE: footnote 3 below on Homan's unsupported identification of these 20 clay stoppers as being Israelite.

The remaining eight photographs illustrate indisputable evidence of Egyptian and Babylonian artifacts of beer production. In order to substantiate an interpretation of ancient Israelite culture, it is necessary to rely on archaeological evidence which proves an institutional process of Israelite beer production and consumption.

(The above section re-edited July 28, 2011)


Could the political and theological structure of ancient Jewish societies allow Jewish assimilation into the fully evidenced Egyptian practice of making and drinking beer? Homan’s description of ancient Jews implies that Israelites uniformly adopted and acculturated into the societies in which they were enslaved, had established through conquests, or culturally influenced by their neighboring populations.

In his BAR article, professor Homan stated the issue as “Did the ancient Israelites drink beer?”

From the outset, Homan’s issue orients the reader to a seemingly common sense sentiment and a gut feeling reaction that “of course Israelites drank beer.”

The issue misdirects the reader into thinking that if barley grain was available and barley was fermented into beer by Egyptians and Mesopotamians and was a major alcoholic beverage of the Near East, then “of course ancient Jews made and drank beer too”.

However, the mere availability of barley is not evidence of a specific type of domestic use by ancient Jews. Over abundance of barley is not evidence of a history of beer production and its consumption by ancient Israelites or by any other Near Eastern peoples.

Even if we assume that there was an “overabundance of barley,” we need more evidence than just the availability of barley in Canaan, Judah or Israel to prove an ancient Israelite practice of making beer.
Although the topography of the Levant, Canaan and Mesopotamia favored the cultivation of barley in areas where viticulture farming was not supported, this is not on its own, evidence that the barley was used for beer.

The exhaustive volume of archaeological artifacts from Mesopotamian societies that barley was also used to make beer, is not archaeological proof that biblical Israelites also fermented barley into beer as a customary and normative societal practice.

Therefore, the proper issue is whether sufficient epigraphic or paleographic evidence exists to support an interpretation in anthropology that ancient Israelites domesticated barley partly for beer consumption.
A decision on the issue depends on our weighing the hard evidence in our hand.


Is there epigraphic or paleographic evidence, which proves a biblical Jewish beer making culture?
Was beer important to ancient Jews? Is the Hebraic biblical word, “Shekhar” translated as “beer?” If we assume that “shekhar” is translated as “beer,” is philology of the word שכר “Shekhar” an acceptable method in archaeology to make an interpretation in anthropology? If Shekhar means beer, does a mention of the word for beer in the Torah mean that ancient Jews engaged in widespread beer drinking?

Can philology alone, provide paleographic evidence that ancient Israelites produced beer? Was there a widespread conspiratorial plan to denigrate beer by distorting the meaning of the Hebraic word Shekhar through willful mistranslations of the Scriptures, as Homan argues?
Finally, does Homan provide sufficient bibliographic support to his statements?

A review of the archaeological evidentiary landscape leads to the clear conclusion that the ancient Israelites did not establish or acculturate into a beer drinking society.
Simply, beer was not important to ancient Jews.

In fact, the archaeological direct evidence proves the opposite of Professor Homan’s thesis.
Homan’s article and his thesis are wrong. The Scriptural evidence also proves that Homan is
wrong in his description of ancient Jews. The historical climatic conditions of the Levant and
Canaan regions also stand in contrast of Homan’s description of agricultural and barley conditions which existed at the time. Moreover, the economic data on the availability of barley, based on price movements of wheat and barley around 500 BC, is further misinterpreted and misunderstood by author Homan.

Not only is the thesis wrong that “biblical Jews drank lots of beer,” but a clear pattern emerges, that Homan’s article is an uninformative collection of citations and misstatements of the position and content of the authorities, which he cites in his footnotes.

I will reply to Michael Homan in two parts.
On one level, I will discuss the absence of competent evidence in Homan’s paper, together with the archaeological evidence, which is required to support an interpretive conclusion that a beer Jewish culture and norm existed.

On another level, I will discuss the critically deficient standards exhibited by Homan’s article in Biblical Archaeology Review.

Before I analyze the archaeological collection of artifacts needed to support a finding of a biblical Jewish beer culture, I will first point out the deficient bibliographic support and self-defeating argument, which Homan makes in his article.

Worse than Homan’s incorrect conclusion and his unsubstantiated archaeological interpretations, are his misstatements of bibliographic sources and citations.

My review of the texts and publications cited by professor Homan as footnotes, leads me to the conclusion that Homan improperly summarized the position of other authors.
Here are the specific reasons why I believe that Homan’s article raises a question of intellectual honesty.

Like the gospel of John, “In the beginning was the Word…,” Homan’s most salient point to support his argument is his statement that the Mesoretic Text-Hebrew Bible evidences that in the beginning was “the Word” for beer.

Homan states,

"The word from the Hebrew Bible that I translate as “beer” is shekhar ( שכר). I believe this is the best translation, based on linguistic and archaeological sources. 11
I am certainly not the only scholar to adopt this translation. Others include Richard E. Friedman, Magen Broshi…
12 Richard Friedman, Commentary on theTorah is footnoted). Magen Broshi, Date
Beer And Date Wine In Antiquity"

Personally, I admire Richard Friedman's critical thought and dedication to primary sources.

I have read Friedman’s Commentary a number of times.

Here is Friedman’s authoritative statement in his Commentary on the Torah, Numbers 28:7,

28.7 beer. I have consistently translated Hebrew yayin and sekar as
“wine” and “beer,” respectively, because wine and beer are the alcoholic
beverages of the ancient Near East. (italics added) Still, I admit that
a libation of beer here presents a difficulty because beer involves
fermentation, and normally fermented substances are not used in the holy place.
Thus the priests eat the meat of their sacrifices on unleavened bread.
The translation “beer” is therefore uncertain in this passage
(and possibly in other occurrences as well).

Although Friedman candidly recognizes the difficulty of introducing the fermented beverage of “Near Eastern peoples” into the sacrificial Temple or onto the altars in the fields, Homan leads his readers to believe that the Homan translation is consistent with the renowned authority, Richard Friedman.

Homan misleads the reader in his description of Richard Friedman’s scholarly work.

Assistant professor Homan also states that Magen Broshi adopts Homan’s translation of
Shekhar שכר as beer. Again, Homan is either willfully untruthful or nescient in his
description of the scholarly work of Magen Broshi.

Broshi simply does not translate Shekhar שכר as beer, the way Homan misleads us to believe.
Here is the relevant text from Date Beer And Date Wine In Antiquity, subtitled, Terminology from, Palestine Exploration Quarterly, (2007) p. 55.

Broshi states,

"In the Old Testament l’’’ and שכר appear as parallels and there is
no way to tell if שכר is different from grape wine…"

Broshi intelligently crystallizes his use of the word שכר in the Abstract to his study on Date Beer.

He states,

"Ancient authors tell us, testimonies corroborated by archaeological finds, that in this area, northwest of the Dead Sea, in the first century BCE and first century CE existed groves of date palms. As of the beginning of Iron Age date wine became the principal alcoholic beverage of Mesopotamia (but still called beer) replacing the millennia-old barley beer. Classical authors, as well as the Babylonian Talmud, supply us with detailed description of the production methods and properties of the drink… p. 55"

Broshi explains that the drink made from crushed and fermented palm dates was a “wine” made

from dates (date wine). But this wine which was made from dates, was still being called “beer”

at the beginning of the Iron Age (1200 BC).

Broshi further refines the meaning of the word “Beer” as a term which actually refers to a

“wine” made from palm dates.

Broshi tells us,

"Henceforth, the alcoholic beverage made of dates will be called beer, but indeed it is wine. We use the term beer because in the Talmud, as well as in its contemporaneous neighbouring languages, it is called beer. The Babylonian Talmud speaks explicitly about beer, שכר, made of barley and beer made of dates (Moed katan 12, 2). footnote omitted."

It is clear that Magen Broshi does not “adopt” Homan’s translation that Shekhar שכר, as used in

the Hebrew Bible, means barley beer. In contrast to Homan, Broshi adopts the term “Beer” as it

is used in the Babylonian Talmud. The Talmud refers to “Beer” as meaning a “wine made from

dates” and as a “drink made from barley.”

The Talmud is not the Mesoretic Text-Hebrew Bible from which Homan extracts the word for

beer. The Talmud is a complex set of rules and regulations, which were adopted by the

Israelites and are not part of Mosaic Law of the Hebrew Bible. The Talmud consists of a

separate body of later adopted rules. The Babylonian Talmud was designed to help the

Israelites follow the Mesoretic Text-Hebrew Bible.

Homan extracts his word Shekhar as barley beer from the Hebrew Bible.

In contrast, Broshi translates the term “Beer” from the Talmud, as a “wine” made from dates;

“…indeed it is wine.”

As my final comment on Michael Homan’s misleading reference to Magen Broshi, the following

statement by Broshi is noteworthy.

Broshi states in his footnote three, at page 59, the following,

"3 It is interesting to note that the word cider is derived, through Latin and Greek, from the
Semitic shechar."

Therefore, the philology of the word “shechar” is cider.
This derivative tracing of the Semitic “Shechar” is hardly an adoption of Homan’s translation of Shekhar as meaning beer in the Hebrew Bible.

Clearly, author Michael Homan misleads us.

Furthermore, in footnote 11 above, Homan also tells us that he reached "…the best translation, based on linguistic and archaeological sources.” What are those “linguistic and archaeological sources” that he cited as footnote 11?

Here is Homan’s footnoted support for “the best translation…” and the “linguistic and archaeological sources.”

"11. “Ale” is actually more accurate, as “beer” typically refers to a beverage made from malted grains flavored with hops and carbonated. Like ale, ancient beer had no carbonation, though ancient beer was not flavored with hops as beer and ale are. Due to the malt, ancient beer was sweet and flavored with a variety of fruits and spices."

Obviously, Homan’s footnote 11 is also a misleading citation. Homan does not provide any support for his unsubstantiated assertion of being the best translation based on linguistic sources.

Homan provides an entirely irrelevant paragraph on the flavoring and distinction between ale and beer. Homan does not give any support to his statement that his interpretation is “the best translation” or on the “linguistic and archaeological sources” on which he bases his translations.

It is my personal opinion, that these two infractions of bibliographic standards are serious in academia. They are also serious deficiencies in vetted journals and magazines. Misleading citations would generally prevent publication of an article in academic journals. Worse yet, these types of infractions in some academic settings would cause departmental hearings on the propriety of the published paper.

Even Homan’s first footnoted statement is questionable.

"Humans have been making beer for at least 5,000 years, and most likely much longer. 1"

Homan’s first footnote cites pages 23 and 24 of Katz and Voigt’s publication, “The Early Use of Cereals in the Human Diet.” as his support that humans had developed a beer production culture “at least 5000 years” ago. Pages 23 and 24 are the first two pages of Katz and Voigt’s scientific and disciplined study of the domestication of cereals in the human diet.

However, contrary to Homan’s footnote one, Katz and Voigt do not make any statement about the age of beer production.

Katz and Voigt’s study is a qualitative analysis of botanist Jonathan Sauer’s suggestion that the earliest plant domestication and use of cereals may have been for fermentation of grains, rather than for the production of flour and bread. Katz and Voigt discuss the survey of distinguished anthropologists and archaeologists, which Robert Braidenwood conducted on Sauer’s question of whether grains were domesticated first for beer or for bread..

The group of scientists,

“…tentatively concluded that people never lived by beer alone, but must have
lived first by gruel, then by bread, and finally by bread and beer."

The Katz and Voigt paper is a documented analysis of Katz’s “biocultural evolution of cuisine.”
With respect to Homan’s publication, nowhere in pages 23 and 24 or anywhere in the Katz and Voigt article is there support for Homan’s statement that humans developed beer production, “…at least 5000 years, and most likely much longer.”

Simply, the Katz and Voigt paper does not identify the origins or date of beer production.
The origin of beer production is not the subject of the study, nor is it mentioned.
If a date were given for the origin of beer production, the footnote would have cited the page
number where the statement could be found.

This is just another example of questionable use of citations. The citation gives an appearance of support to Homan’s novel ideas on biblical Jews and on the hypothesis of widespread consumption of beer.

I am not saying here, that the absence of a reliable bibliographic citation by author Homan means that humans did not produce beer at least 5000 years ago. There is credible evidence of beer production dating back to at least 5000 bc. However, Katz and Voigt are not sources, which support a 5000-year-old beer producing culture.

Even if we assume, without any bibliographic support, that humans developed beer production 5000 years ago, an early human practice is not evidence of the ancient Jewish practices dating to the 15 century bc and later. The Torah itself is convincing evidence that societies developed myth, magic and religion which altered and governed the actions of members of specific tribes and societies.
Ancient human practices were profoundly altered by subsequently adopted tribal rules over the course of millennia during human development. We are all the product of those changes.

My criticism of Homan’s first footnote is not to dispute the statement that “humans have been making beer for at least 5000 years…” I am familiar with the micro-biological samples obtained by the University of Pennsylvania which revealed chemical evidence of beer production attributed to Iran in 3500-3100 years bc. There is other epigraphic evidence, which demonstrates that beer production has been a practice of Mesopotamians, Asiatic and Europeans for thousands of years.

Rather, my point is to reveal Homan’s apparent indifference to reliable bibliographic support for his readers.

The point is that, on one level, Homan’s thesis is unproven and unreliable because of his deficient citations and the absence of literary support for his statements.

There are many more examples of misplaced citations by Assistant Professor Homan.

In footnote two (2), Homan again cites Katz and Voigt as support for his statement that,

"Some anthropologists have argued that it was a thirst for beer, rather than a hunger for bread, that led to the Neolithic Revolution (c. 9500–8000 B.C.E.), during which humans gradually abandoned a huntergatherer lifestyle in favor of sedentary farming.2"

Homan does not cite a page number for reference in his footnote.
Again, Homan’s reference to the “entire article” by Katz and Voigt as support for his statement is misleading. There is no argument made by any anthropologist in the Katz and Voigt article that asserts that the gathering of wild cereals during the Paleolithic age had transformed into Neolithic age because humans domesticated grain plants to satisfy a “thirst for beer.”

Here is what Katz and Voigt wrote in their article,

"Robert Braidenwood’s field work at Jarmo…led the botanist Jonathan D. Sauer to suggest that the earliest use of wheat and barley may not have been as flour for bread, but for beer. Braidenwood posed Sauer’s question to his colleagues as follows. "

I have previously noted what Braidenwood’s distinguished colleagues decided as their “tentative” answer to botanist Sauer’s question on whether beer or bread came first.
Katz and Voigt do not make an argument that a “thirst for beer” was the stimulant for domestication of plants.

Contrary to Homan’s citation, “a thirst for beer” is not the subject of Katz and Voigt’s paper. The subject of Katz’ Biocultural Evolution of Cuisine is about the decreasing number of edible plants used by humans, and the increasing number of ways those plants are used in food preparation.
Katz and Voigt point out that humans use less edible plants, but that the ways in which those plants are prepared for food, has increased.

The thesis of Katz’s article is that humans have a greater variety in the way foods are prepared, with a corresponding lower use in the variety of edible plants.

Moreover, Homan makes the following statement, supposedly based on the Amarna Letters,
which he cites as footnote four (4),

"4 Nobody disputes the importance of beer in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, where it was the national drink. Beer was used to pay laborers and the fathers of brides."

Excavations at the Amarna Work Village do not support Homan’s statement that “beer was used to pay laborers and…(for) brides.”

Archaeologists and anthropologists have not determined the nature of the Amarna Work Village.
The only interpretation made in situ at the Amarna excavations is that some households in the segregated work village of Amarna contained bread-making ovens and others did not. Some in situ excavations of bread ovens were in common areas, apparently for general inhabitant use. The anthropological interpretation is that there must have been a bread manufacturing process at Amarna, which was dependent on interaction and cooperation between the Amarna inhabitants. From this mutual dependency and cooperation between Amarna inhabitants, the inference is that, it appears, that there was a division of labor at Amarna.

However, the purpose and inhabitants of Amarna are riddles, which remain unsolved.
The overriding concern here is that neither the footnoted work of D. Samuel or the Amarna excavations and its recovered artifacts, support Homan’s statement that beer was so valuable a commodity that it bought Egyptian, Mesopotamian, or Israelite brides.

Amarna is not support for interpretations relating to beer as a commodity.

In fact the text of the Amarna report which is cited by Homan as support for his statement, that Egyptian beer was "used to pay...the fathers of brides," further evidences Homan's callous disregard for the truth or accuracy in summarizing important archaeological studies.

The reader of Homan's article should note that the word "Beer" is only used twice in Samuel's report, "Bread making and social interactions at the Amarna Workmen's Village, Egypt," at page 125. The word beer is only used parenthetically and is not part of the study on the Amarna's workmen's village.

Here is the text that Homan cites as support for his statement that Egyptians used beer to "pay the fathers of brides."

"Bread, together with beer, was used as an economic yardstick in a
moneyless economy. Although based on barter, the ancient Egyptian
economy was sophisticated (Jansen 1975). Commodities were frequently
valued in relation to measures of grain or loaves of bread. As part of
this system, bread (along with beer) was provided as rations, and was
an important part of the payment system by those who had access to
people's labour (Kemp 1989: 117ff). pg. 125 italics added.

Clearly, Michael Homan distorts and misrepresents the reference to beer, in Delwen Samuel's important work. Michael Homan falsely attributes Samuel's work as support for the
statement that Egypt used beer to buy brides.
This is another example of Homan's use of false footnotes to his article.

Further, it is specious reasoning for Homan to state that beer production and drinking was widespread and common, but on the other hand, beer was such a rare and treasured commodity at Amarna that it had a monetary value in a system of bartering for women.

Homan is also self-contradictory by stating that women were the major beer producers.
Apparently, for Homan, women were producing a commodity that was used for their purchase by potential husbands. In Homan’s micro-economy, the more beer the women produced, the lower their net value became. What economic incentive would beer manufacturing women have to produce more beer, when their liberty and family estate value was directly affected by the quantity of beer they produced?

The problem here is that Homan “stretches the fact” that women made beer in ancient households. It is well evidenced that women made beer in ancient times. Women were also tavern-keepers during Hammurabi’s reign. One ancient Babylonian artifact illustrates a woman, presumptively drinking beer from a jug, while having sexual intercourse from behind.

However, Homan stretches the fact that ancient women made and drank beer, by claiming that
women were the major beer producers. Homan exhibits a propensity towards illusionary attempts to elevate women in ancient (and modern) society by making disjointed associations to reach his preferred conclusion.

To borrow a phrase from Homan, “I am certainly not the only” reviewer to see a clear pattern of disjointed associations made by Michael Homan. In the Bryn Mawr Classical Review, (2009), Stephanie L. Budin, of Rutgers University, Camden made the following comment on Jennie R. Ebeling and Michael M. Homan’s, "Baking and Brewing Beer in the Israelite Household: A Study of Women's Cooking Technology."

"However, the authors also had to relate all this to ancient women. To engender the paper, they include somewhat weaker sections on ANE beer goddesses, make an argument that beer brewing was predominantly in women's hands in ancient times, and end with a statement that control over brewing, like control over baking, empowered ancient women, as they were responsible for providing vital nutrition to their families."
Considering the extent to which kitchen duty has not empowered women at any other point in
history, I'm not sure if this is really a valid argument. Nevertheless, the article is a good
place to begin for anyone interested in the history and archaeology of beer.
A similar kind of dis-junction occurs…

The current archaeological evidence indicates that Egyptians paid laborers for construction of the pyramids with beer. There is also epigraphic evidence that beer was sold to a person, public official or government purchaser and a sales receipt was given to the buyer.

If our current understanding that Israelite slave labor constructed the pyramids during the Torah’s account of 430 years of Egyptian “degrading” were accurate, then the practice of paying Israelite indentured laborers with beer, would lend further support to the notion that Israelites did not have a beer producing culture of their own.
Beer as a commodity has little exchange value to a person who produces that same commodity on a personal and societal scale.

Moreover, King Hammurabi’s Law codified rules for tavern keepers for the sale of beer to patrons. Hammurabi’s Law did not impose a general rule on the “strength and price of beer” on the general population, as Homan seems to imply.

Taken together, this bibliographic deficiency questions the reliability of Homan’s statements.

There emerges an indisputable pattern of misinformation by Homan.
In the first nine footnotes, (one through nine), Homan cites himself as a “source to himself,” five (5) times. As demonstrated above, Homan incorrectly cites the materials authored by Katz and Voigt, twice. He misstates D. Samuel and the Armana Work Village as having something to do with beer as payment for brides.
In footnote nine (9) Homan clearly misrepresents the statements of Richard Friedman in Commentary on the Torah Homan further distorts Magen Broshi's work, that Date Palm wine was being called beer.
Homan hides from his readers, Broshi's philological conclusion that Shechar was cider.

The net result is that all of Homan’s statements made up to that point in his article, beginning from footnote one through nine, are unreliable and false references. His bibliographic citations merely give the appearance of support to his thesis that biblical Jews drank lots of beer. The actual texts of those references tell us a different story.

There is no need to burden the reader here with additional examples of Homan’s questionable use of footnotes. Be assured that there are many more examples throughout his article.

For readers, this emerging pattern is a sufficient basis to dismiss Homan’s article entirely, because of Homan’s unreliability and indifference to accuracy for his readers.

On this first level, Homan’s article does not give us any reason to overturn our current understanding of biblical Jews.

The policy statement of the Jewish Museum in New York remains as the correct statement of the current state of archaeological eividence concerning Israelites and beer in the Ancient Near East.

“Beer originated in at least the fourth millennium BCE in the warm lands of
the ancient Near East, particularly in grain-rich Egypt and Mesopotamia.
Over time, the beer industry spread throughout the East. In Mesopotamia,
beer was drunk by people of all strata, in cultic contexts as well as in
taverns and private homes. Beer-making was the only profession considered
to be under divine protection. In Egypt, beer was not offered to the gods,
since it was considered a drink of the common folk. As a dietary staple,
it was included among the daily rations distributed to laborers, soldiers,
and even schoolchildren. Beer never played an important role among the
drinking customs of the land of Israel. The ancient Greeks and Romans
regarded it as a barbarian drink, and thus it was not popular in these
lands either…” (bold italic added)


The curator of the exhibition…Michal Dayagi-Mendels, Frieder Burda
Curator of Israelite and Persian Archaeology at The Israel Museum,
Jerusalem. The New York installation of Drink and Be Merry is being
coordinated at The Jewish Museum by Dr. Susan L. Braunstein, Curator of
Archaeology and Judaica and Head of The Jewish Museum’s Judaica

Currently, there is no verifiable evidence of an ancient Israelite beer producing and drinking culture. Neither the Israeli Antiquities Authority, The Jewish Museum, The Universities of Tel Aviv, Chicago, Pennsylvania, Harvard, Cambridge, Cairo or The Smithsonian Institute hold a single artifact which evidences an Israelite beer producing and consuming culture.

There are no textual Hebraic artifacts, no tablets, no beer jugs, no vessels with
chemical remnants of organic barley and beer, no stele, no pottery shards and no ethnographic references to a neighboring Israelite beer culture. We do not have an iota of archaeological evidence, which could be interpreted as an artifact of an ancient Israelite beer producing custom

Michael Homan’s assertions and misleading references for support, stand against these facts.

[This letter to the editor is an abridged version of the full article.
I will discuss the following topics at a later date, as a supplement to this article.]





Does the historical and scriptural record contain an echo of an ancient Israelite beer drinker’s toast?

There is no echo in the global halls of Jewish antiquity collections.

In contrast to Homan’s whimsical words of an ancient Hebraic beer toast, the beer toaster’s echo, which jumps from the historical record that we hear resounding outside of the Jerusalem Temple gate is (Egyptian Hieroglyphs for Beer).

Be confident that the elusive diving duck for truth is in a river of beer flowing through the various Gentile cultures of the Ancient Near East, with devotional Israelites watching from the viticultural riverbanks.

Ultimately, Homan’s only contribution is that he saw the elusive diving duck. He just needs to give us a truthful account of his sighting.

In final toast to author Michael Homan’s beer quest, I offer him to “have another one on me.”
Mazel tov.
I I have chosen not to burden the reader with footnotes for this “letter to the editor.” Necessary references and citations are contained within the text of this article. The biblical references here are common knowledge for students of theology and of related fields. I will include footnotes and the bibliography on a later date, on publication of the full article. This is an abridged version submitted as a letter to the editor.

2. Michael Homan's article, Did The Ancient Israelites Drink Beer?, published by Biblical Archaeology Review can be found at this site: PubID=BSBA&Volume=36&Issue=5&ArticleID=4 Note that the editors at BAR removed the online publication of Homan's article, shortly after receiving the above criticism of Homan's article. Also, Homan's article is separately reprinted here:

3. NOTE: Additional misrepresentation by Homan: A further investigation was conducted into Homan's assertion that the image of 20 perforated clay jar stoppers, was evidence of Israelite beer drinking. The credit to the photograph cites Homan as the photographer and the excavation is identified as Tel Zayit (Hebrew pronunciation). Official name of the excavation is Tel Zeitah (Arabic). Ron E. Tappy is director of the Tel Zeitah excavation.
Here is the official and relevant statement from Dr. Tappy on finding the 20 clay jar stoppers, that Homan attributes to Ancient Israelite beer drinking,

"When our volunteers reached the bottom of Pit 1477, they found nearly 20 perforated clay balls.
Inside and around the perforations on these items we could see the imprint of woven cloth. This observation likely indicates that these balls were used as stoppers that were placed in the mouths of jars and stuffed with cloth to assist in the controlled release of gases during the process of fermentation. In Pit 1476, we even found one of the stoppers still in the bottom of a broken jar. It seems, therefore, that the ancient inhabitants of Zeitah were producing wine, vinegar, and other similar commodities in these rooms."

Despite the insistence of BAR publisher, Hershel Shanks in an interview for BAR, Dr. Tappy did not attribute the site to Israelite origins. In fact, Tel Zeitah has NOT revealed any artifact which would indicate that Jerusalem or Judah existed at the time of Tel Zeitah. The inhabitants of Tel Zeitah are thus far, unknown.
The major find at Tel Zeitah is a tablet with early Phoenician alphabetic writing. The tablet is attributed to "Syria-Palestine."
However, despite the unknown inhabitants of the Tel Zeitah site, publisher Shanks solicited Homan to submit an article. As demonstrated above, Homan's article contains unsubstantiated and false assertion that the stoppers were Israelite. The overwhelming falsity of Homan's article lends strong support to the suspicion that BAR publisher Shanks and Homan had intentionally or consequentially engaged in nationalistic archaeology, which intended to confuse or misappropriate other cultures for the political agenda of a modern day Israel. To assert falsely that the stoppers were Israelite, results in a false historical tie and cultural root to a site which may very likely belong to another civilization. False historical roots seemingly legitimizes the expropriation of another people's land and cultural history. Therefore, nationalistic archaeology creates a false legacy to disputed lands and cultural practices. This note added: July 19, 2011 edited: September 13, 2011
It is also important to note, that nationalistic archaeology as demonstrated above is inherently inaccurate. The driving motivation for "archaeological discoveries" in nationalistic archaeology is to legitimize a political agenda. I do not take any political position in this paper. I am unconcerned whether artifacts or epigraphic evidence supports a Jewish or Gentile beer drinking culture. I am exclusively concerned with accuracy and intellectual honesty in archaeology, in order to correctly understand the historical record of civilization. There is no room in academia for people like associate professor Michael Homan. This note added July 27, 2011.
© copyright oliver 2011

About the author:
Ray Oliver is an attorney admitted to NJ & Washington, DC bars. He is a graduate of Loyola University Chicago in Political Science, with emphasis in philosophy & social sciences and graduate level research work in the Sociology of Religion with distinguished sociologist, Tom Gannon, SJ. He attended New York University, Graduate School of Politics, Political Philosophy Division and simultaneously studied at the graduate level at the New School for Social Research, where he studied with visiting distinguished economist from Cornell University, Thomas Vietoriz and with internationally renowned political theorist, Hannah Arendt. He received his juris doctorate from John Marshall Law, Chicago and took various advanced legal instruction courses at Harvard Law School, including International Litigation with Ann Marie Slaughter, now dean of Princeton University Woodrow Wilson School.
Some of his previous writings on Middle Eastern affairs have appeared in international newspapers, including the Al Riyadh and the previous newspaper, the Riyadh English Daily of Saudi Arabia. Ray Oliver is attributed credit for legal representation in filmmaker Jake Gorst’s 2007 Emmy award winning nationally broadcast PBS documentary, Farmboy. Additional information about the author is available by internet key search: “rayoliveresq.”
*The author is greatly indebted to the director of the Warren County Public Library, New Jersey for her patience and assistance and to the library staffs of Drew University and the Sussex County Public Library, New Jersey for their invaluable research support.


  1. NOTE TO READERS: I have reformatted this article numerous times. Each time that I reformat the lines, the lines become distorted shortly after publishing. There appears to be an unknown reason for distortion of the placement of the words in the COMPARING FOOTNOTES section of my article.

  2. PART 1 OF 2
    Mr. Oliver, your response to Michael Homan was somewhat less than scholarly. In fact, it was rather rude and inflammatory throughout. Certainly you could have made at least the attempt to respond politely to Mr. Homan's article.

    For all the blustering in your response, you've made a number of errors of logic and fact. Take for instance your comment, "Fermentation of grains for leavened bread, which was prohibited directly by the Torah, could not be permitted indirectly through fermentation of barley for beer." That statement is factually incorrect. Nowhere is fermentation of grains for leavened bread prohibited in the Torah. Yeast fermentation was the sole source of leavening up until modern times. If their ancient bread was leavened, it was fermented by yeast. We know they had leavened bread, therefore those breads were yeast-breads. A description of the process of saving a lump of leavened bread dough for use in future bread-making is found in the New Testament, indicating it was a common practice in Israel to ferment bread.

    Leavened breads as well as wine and "shekar" (i.e., strong drink) were offered in the Temple. (Shekar is also plainly an alcoholic beverage, regardless of the source, and thus was fermented by yeast.) Only blood sacrifices with leavened bread and meat offerings burnt with leaven were forbidden. The Temple was not a "yeast-free" zone.

    A longer statement in which you erred was, "It was Jesus’ perceived disobedience of the Mosaic Laws, that led to Jesus’ crucifixion. This is paramount evidence that ancient Jewish religious practices left no room for non conforming behavior. But Homan would have us believe that Jews were drinking lots of beer like the Gentiles, even though the presence of a Gentile in the Temple’s core grounds was treated as a desecration of the Temple itself."

    First, it was not Jesus' "perceived disobedience of the Mosaic Laws" which led to His crucifixion, but rather the jealousy and hatred of the Jewish leaders. The supposed disobedience to the Law was a trumped-up charge that came AFTER they set their minds to kill Him. Second, that in itself is no piece of "paramount evidence" that there was no room for non-conforming behavior in ancient Jewish religious practices. In fact, there was a considerable amount of non-conforming behavior in the many Jewish "denominations" and cults of the day. They had not yet settled on the Pharisaical version of Judaism which won out after the Fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Third, though the Gentiles drank beer, they also ate bread, drank wine, raised cattle and sheep, used camels and donkeys, etc., etc. Your statement irrationally singles out the drinking of beer as a peculiarly Gentile practice without a single shred of evidence. The Israelites didn't exist in a vacuum, but came OUT OF THE GENTILE CULTURES. The evidence that they absorbed many features and practices of the cultures around them into their own culture is historically and patently obvious. Not every practice of a culture is a "Gentile" (read: pagan) practice. The largest portion of every culture, including Israelite, was essentially the same. There isn't the slightest reason to believe that the Israelites were any different in their beer consumption than other ancient cultures in the Middle East. It is blind speculation upon your part that the Israelites would have considered beer to be bad and Gentile in nature, while praising the virtue of wine as a blessing from God. Instead, the nature of "shekar"--not as a parallel to wine, but as a distinctly different substance--in the Hebrew Bible indicates that the Israelites did indeed imbibe other alcoholic beverages than wine.

  3. PART 2 OF 2
    Fact is, there is really little difference between wine and beer--none that would separate the two for any particularly religious reason. Both depend upon yeast fermentation, but beer has a better nutritional profile, typically a lower alcoholic content, is antibacterial, and is easier to produce in quantity.

    You also point out that the Israelite laborers were probably paid with beer, but you take that to mean that they did not have a beer-producing culture of their own, because they wouldn't need beer if they produced it themselves. Of course that doesn't take into account the extent of their labors which restricted the time they had to produce beer, the inability to produce it for themselves due to lack rather than desire, the possible lack of professional skill in producing quality beer, and the distinct possibility that the purpose of the ration of beer was as a beverage during their exhausting labors. Working in the Egyptian sun, they would have easily drunk the entire daily ration out of thirst alone. Beer was provided to them three times daily, which indicates the slaking of thirst, rather than strictly payment for labor. There's also the natural antibiotic properties of beer that protected ancient beer drinkers from the contaminated waters found practically everywhere in the ancient world...

    The antibiotic tetracycline has been found in the bones of several ancient cultures in the Middle East, including ancient Israel. This is prima facie evidence that the Israelites were a beer-drinking culture, since the natural antibiotic is produced in quantity in alcoholic beverages made from grain.

    When an enslaved people develop a taste for a drink for a period like 430 years, it's more than likely that the desire of such a people continued on well after their enslavement. You couldn't pry the beer from the fingers of a modern man that drank that much beer regularly. Why would it have been any different for the ancient Israelites?

    You feel that the "policy statement of the Jewish Museum in New York remains the correct statement of the current state of archaeological eividence [sic] concerning Israelites and beer in the Ancient Near East." Yet their statement that "Beer never played an important role among the drinking customs of the land of Israel" is at least as much an unsubstantiated claim as any made in the article by Michael Homan. The ancient cultures in that region drank beer. The Israelites drank beer for as much as 430 years in Egypt to where it had likely become an aspect of their culture as well. Where is the museum's evidence for that broad and unsubstantiated claim, especially when it comes right after the comment that it was a dietary staple "included among the daily rations distributed to laborers, soldiers, and even schoolchildren"??? That's a rather unfortunate way to introduce such a bold and empty claim. You demand a long list of references from Mr. Homan and reject his careful logic, while demanding nothing at all from the obviously biased source that agrees with your conclusion, making your fallacious appeal to authority probably hoping nobody notices.

    Based on the emotional content and the numerous errors of logic and fact in your response, I can only conclude that you have some religious and/or ideological basis for rejecting Michael Homan's premise out of hand. Your response plainly does not derive from the unbiased search for truth. Without any evidence to the contrary and with so much evidence in favor, the most likely conclusion is that the ancient Israelites were no different than neighboring cultures in the type of alcoholic beverages they consumed, including plenty of wholesome beer.

  4. Thank you Mr. McCormick for your comment. Note that every statement which you made is unsubstantiated by any authority.

    My article which is published here, simply compared Michael Homan's "footnoted statements" with the actual text from the source which he footnoted. As I noted, Friedman's "Commentary on the Torah" states the opposite of what Homan purportedly represented in his writing. There is a pattern of "false and misleading" representations about the content of his citations. This is an aggregious matter in academia.

    You should closely read the above article again. A foremost authority, Richard Friedman notes in Commentary on the Torah that "fermentation was not permitted in the Temple..."

    After reading your comments, it is obvious that you fell prey to the "common sense notion" that Ancient Israelites were assimilated into neighboring societies and civilizations and adopted the practices of making and drinking beer.

    There exists no artifact to substantiate an ancient Israelite practice of making or drinking beer.

    In contrast, there exists a substantial amount of evidence that all non-Israelite cultures at the time, made and produced beer.

    I am sorry. But, your critique seems more to be an apologetic and sympathetic assist to an Asst. Professor who failed to meet the integrity standards in thesis writing that his students are required to meet.

    Also, your idea of leavened bread, yeast and fermentation being permitted as a sacrifice is in "direct" contrast to the actual texts of the Torah/Old Testament/ Pentatuech.

    I strongly suggest that you obtain Richard Friedman's Commentary on the Torah and read the texts of the Torah / Old Testament.

    You should read the primary source, the Mesoretic Text Torah / Old Testament.

    With respect to my analogy of Jesus suffering crucifixion because of perceived "blasphemy of the Mosaic Law," you should note that "blasphemy" under the Mosaic law mandated death. (Fundamental Islam follows the literal text of the Torah, which is why we see modern day stonings, floggings and ostracizing in Muslim practices.Go to Youtube to see actual stonings of Muslim women.)

    Jesus' touching of dead bodies was a violation of the Mosaic Law.
    Jesus' ministry to gentiles and philistines was a violation of a direct Mosaic dictate that the Torah was the word of God for ministration to Hebrews only.
    Jesus' interpretation that "the Father loves more a circumcision of the heart..." was a contradiction of the Jewish practice that "covenants with Yaweh" were made by circumcision of the penis.
    Jesus' ministry that "sincere prayer from the heart will forgive of sins..." was a violation of the Mosaic Law that mandated stoning to death (for a Jewish woman's adultry).

    Jesus' entry and touching of lepers was a direct violation of the Mosaic purity laws contained in the Torah.

    Although Jesus never disavowed the earlier prophets and the Torah, He ministered a new and "otherworldly devotion" to "God the Father."
    The MT Torah went from a "jealous vengeful (rarely forgiving) God to a loving and forgiving God, under Jesus' ministry.

    These acts were perceived to be blasphemous; which was more aggregious to the Sanhedrin under the Mosaic Law, than a murderer's crimes. Hence, the Sanhedrin's call for Jesus' crucifixion.

    Therefore, there was no room for non-conformance under the Torah and ancient Israelite practices at the time.

    Ultimately, your comments are unconvincing and unsupported by the actual texts of the authorities, which I have cited and are unsupported in any reading of the Old Testament.

    Lastly, be assured I have no agenda, other than dismissing the whimsical writings of an "intellectually dishonest academician."

    Again, thank you for your time and effort.

  5. Mr. McCormick, again:

    Here is Friedman’s authoritative statement in his Commentary on the Torah, Numbers 28:7,

    28.7 beer. I have consistently translated Hebrew yayin and sekar as
    “wine” and “beer,” respectively, because wine and beer are the alcoholic
    beverages of the ancient Near East. (italics added) Still, I admit that
    a libation of beer here presents a difficulty because beer involves
    fermentation, and normally fermented substances are not used in the holy place.
    Thus the priests eat the meat of their sacrifices on unleavened bread.
    The translation “beer” is therefore uncertain in this passage
    (and possibly in other occurrences as well).

  6. Fun stuff! And the beat goes on...