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Egypt & Israel

Dining with the Pharaohs & Patriarchs

In this lecture on culinary history of the ancient Middle East kingdoms of Egypt and Judea, we examined the extraordinary developments in cuisine from earliest recorded history. In Egypt, we focused on the all-important annual inundation of the Nile River, which blessed the “Black Land” with dense, nutrient-rich soil, which made Egypt prosperous and free from food insecurity. We saw how this annual flooding shaped all aspects of Egyptian life from the calendar to festivals. Egypt’s immense prosperity makes it the first society to have an elite “court” culture where the cuisine is distinct from that of ordinary citizens.

In neighboring Judea and later Israel, we examined the primary food groups of the Israelites as they wandered through the wilderness in search of the Promised Land. We noted that food insecurity is often an inciting incident in the key narratives of the Old Testament in stories such as Abraham’s heeding the call of Jahweh, Joseph’s time in Egypt, and Esau’s famous bowl of lentil soup. We noted too how the Israelites begin to define themselves as distinct by the kinds of foods they are permitted to eat. Finally, we took a look at the rich tradition of Jewish festivals and the unbroken culinary traditions that are still very much a part of this religious observance.


For more on spices and the ancient spice trade, visit the reading list for The Spice Routes

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