Early Christianity—Food Rituals and Asceticism

Food: A Cultural Culinary History—Episode 10

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In today’s podcast we’re going to observe the role of food in Jesus’s parables and miracles, as well as in the ritual of the Eucharist. We’ll take a look at early Christian and monastic dietary prescriptions, we’ll examine practices regarding ritual fasting in Christianity, and we’ll examine the significance of purification through self-denial in practices such as Lent.

Images for this Episode:

Culinary Activities for this Episode:

• Fasting Exercise

This is an odd thing to try at home, but trying it can have very interesting results. If you fast for very long periods, you will feel lightheaded and may even hallucinate. This may very well be the source of some early ascetic’s visions. Even a short fast can be a challenge as well as a way to expand your sensory perception. In many respects, our taste buds, like all of our senses, are dulled by overstimulation. Think of this as a temporary deprivation chamber to reawaken your taste buds.

As a purely gastronomic exercise, go an entire 24 hours without any food or water. Prepare a food you normally eat for dinner, and consume it slowly and mindfully. Did you appreciate the taste more than you normally would? Does it taste different—perhaps more intense? Which particular flavors do you notice as standing out?

Suggested Reading:

Chadwick, Western Asceticism.

Feeley-Harnik, The Lord’s Table: The Meaning of Food in Early Judaism and Christianity.

Grimm, From Feasting to Fasting, The Evolution of a Sin: Attitudes to Food in Late Antiquity.

Hill, Eating to Excess: The Meaning of Gluttony and the Fat Body in the Ancient World.

Shaw, Burden of the Flesh.

Images courtesy of:

• Map of the Holy Land: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
• John the Baptist: By Meister von Gracanica (I) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Jesus: Workshop of Titian [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Parable of the Vineyard: By Unknown/Άγνωστος (Byzantine gospel. Paris, National Library.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• The Wedding Feast at Cana: Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Loaves and Fishes: Ambrosius Francken I [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• The Last Supper: Leonardo da Vinci [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

• Communion: Shutterstock
• Peter’s Dream of a Sheet with Animals: Domenico Fetti [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• St. Paul: Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Ichthys: By UnknownMarie-Lan Nguyen (Own work) [Public domain, Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• St. Benedict of Nursia: By Georges Jansoone (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons