What is the “Culture of Drinking?”
Most of us have a set of understandings and knowledge about alcoholic beverages that we use automatically in our daily lives. Beer bottles are instantly recognizable for their shape and color, if not for the taste of the liquid contents. We assume that others have the same set of thoughts when applying this to drinking alcoholic beverages. This is called the “Culture of Drinking.”
There was a culture of drinking that has been handed down to us by ancient traditions. I am most familiar with traditions that have come from Judao-Christianity. These were recorded in the Old and New Testament in the Bible.
One of the famous paintings in the Sistene Chapel in the Vatican depicted the drunkenness of Noah [above]. It was painted by Michaelangelo. Prior to Noah’s getting drunk [and naked] there was no mention of wine or drunkenness in the Old Testament. There are plenty of references to drinking in the Bible and over the years. Many different words were used to depict drunkenness and drinking. (for a list of these words, click HERE)
Drinking, getting drunk and topics related to wine abound in the Bible. I will include a few examples here to set the stage for my main thesis.
Lot and Drinking
The Biblical account of Lot describes a man who is left with only his daughters after his wife has been turned into a pillar of salt by God. Presumably, they thought that they were the only mortals left on earth after the destruction of the wicked city of Sodom and Gomorrah. His daughters, desirous of having children to perpetuate Lot’s posterity decided that they needed to have sex with their Father. Knowing that he would not willingly comply with their plan, the Biblical account says that his daughters got him so drunk on two consecutive nights that he had no recollection of having sex with them but still was able to accomplish the act of procreation with both daughters. [See Genesis 19]
Lot is plied with wine by his daughters
Without wine, presumably, Lot would not have had grandchildren. Modern thinking, however would cast doubt on the facts of the event, as a man who is so drunk as to not know that he is having sex with his own daughters is highly unlikely to be sexually able to perform physically.
Not all tribal culture of ancient Israel, however, were focused on wine drinking. The vow of the Rechabites and the Nazirite were two examples of Israelite prohibition of wine and drunkenness. The Biblical character of Samson had been raised from birth to abstain from all wine — or even of touching grape leaves (as well as cutting his hair or coming into contact with a corpse). It was only after breaking this vow that he became weak enough to be made a slave.
Alcoholic beverages in the Bible almost always referred to grape wine. The discovery of distillation did not come till about 1,000 AD and although beer was regularly in use, wine was preferred. When you come across a reference to “strong drink” or “liquor” in the Bible, it referred to wine — although sometimes wine could have its alcoholic content enhanced in various ways.
The Birthright of Isaac
Would Isaac have given his birthright to Jacob instead of Esau were it not for the deception that was used through drinking wine and tricking him by wearing an animal skin (see Genesis 27)? Would Jacob have married two women (Leah and Rachel) instead of the one he wanted (Rachel) if he had not been tricked on his wedding day by getting him drunk and marrying the wrong woman? (See Genesis 29)
Vinyard in Ancient Egypt
Wine as an Essential Part of God’s Covenant
By Jesus’ time, wine (at least in the Middle East) was used to seal covenants, bind marriages, and to honor guests. It represented most of the important occasions of celebration from birth to death. For example, four cups of wine were to be drunk during the Feast of the Passover. (See Exodus 12) Wine was even used as an intrinsic part of the circumcision ritual. It’s appearance of reddish color reminded one of the blood of God or of Israel.
Throughout the Old Testament, wine is depicted as a sign of God’s blessing (Gen 27:8; Deut 7:13; Amos 9:14). The “gladdening of the heart” that wine created was not only thought to be acceptable, but was positively recommended (2 Sam:13:28; Esther 1:10; Ps. 104:15; Eccl 9:7 and 10:9; Zech 9:15 and 10:7).
The fact that God, wine and drinking were all very important and interrelated is highlighted by the fact that — over thousands of years, monks owned, cultivated and presided over the wine-making process. Profits from the sale of wine and liquor often kept the monasteries financially afloat.
The liquor-making cellar of the Ettal monastery in Bavaria, Germany. Large bottles of secret flavorings line the shelf.
Many of the fermentation and bottling processes were discovered (and kept secret) by experiments of the monks, including how wine could be forced to undergo a second fermentation that yielded sparkling wines and champagnes.
Monks traditionally made and secured the secrets of making and storing wine
The word, “pervasive” describes the importance and ever present role of wine to Israelites. It was so important that even the cups, containers and bottles that contained wine gained elevated value. (Remember, that it was the king’s drinking cup that was used to trick the sons of Israel in coming to Egypt)
Wine became an essential part of the ritual communion. It represented the blood of Christ to Christians.
But within a relatively short distance geographically, wine came to represent an evil drink. Wine was “haram” – forbidden.
Linguistically, khamr (خمر) Arabic for “wine”, is alcohol derived from grapes. This is what is prohibited by specific texts of the Quran (see 5:90). Therefore alcohol is categorically unlawful (haraam) and considered impure (najis). Consuming any amount is unlawful, even if it doesn’t create any drunken effects.
The Prophet Muhammad of Islam said, “Intoxicants are from these two trees,” while pointing to grapevines and date-palms. Alcohol derived from dates or raisins is also prohibited, again regardless of the amount consumed, as explained on Islamic site Seekers Guidance.
At first, a general warning was given to forbid Muslims from attending prayers while in a drunken state (Quran, 4:43). Then a later verse was revealed to Prophet Muhammad which said that while specifically alcohol had some medicinal benefits, the negative effects of it outweighed the good (Quran, 2:219).
Finally, “intoxicants and gambling” were called “abominations of Satan’s handiwork,” which warned people with self-consciousness to not turn away from God and forget about prayer, and Muslims were ordered to abstain (Quran, 5:90-91).
The Prophet Muhammad also instructed his companions to avoid any intoxicating substances (paraphrased), “if it intoxicates in a large amount, it is forbidden even in a small amount.” For this reason, most observant Muslims avoid alcohol in any form, even small amounts that are sometimes used in cooking. (http://www.greenprophet.com/2011/11/muslims-alcohol-haraam/)
The reason why wine was selected as a religious item is not difficult to conclude. As Edward Hyams has written,
“[T]he strange power of intoxicants to release the human spirit from the control of the mind led to their being regarded with superstitious awe and, seized upon by shamans, witch doctors and priests, they became early and everywhere instruments of religious experience. Their use became a religious rite, and this was the case of wine as of the others.”
Dionysus: A Social History of the Wine Vine (New York: Macmillan, 1965), 7
Whatever the reasons that wine was chosen in the ancient world as the beverage of the gods, it was generally associated with religious feasts, celebrations and ordinances. Its use was intended to please the deities who control our lives and actions.
Wine’s Importance In Jesus’ Time
Notwithstanding the fact that Jesus’s cousin, John The Baptist, abstained from wine as part of his Nazirite vow, Jesus selected wine as the substance to demonstrate his power and calling when his first “miracle” was at a wedding ceremony was to magically turn water into wine. This wine was declared to be the “best” wine.
Marriage at Cana where Jesus magically turned water into fine wine
Wine was selected also by Jesus Christ represent his blood that was shed for their sins.
Wine and Alcohol Before European Contact in the Americas
Although one of the labels that applied to the Americas was “Vinland” – or land of vines, grape vines of the types found in Europe and the Middle East did not exist in North and South America until starts were brought from Europe. (Most historians claim that it was not grapes that gave America that label, but cranberries) Similarly, none of the culture of drinking wine existed in the Americas either. When alcohol was initially given to American Indians, their reaction was often very negative – partly because of the effects that drinking had on them and partly because historically, their cultural intoxicant was not alcohol, but tobacco.
He called it [alcohol] urine of the chief of hell.
— Jean Bossu, Travels (1771)
The original American intoxicant – tobacco
The “culture of drinking” that was widely known in Europe and the Middle East simply did not exist in the Americas.
The reasons for this are many.
American Indians did not have the same kind of pottery technology that existed in Europe and the Middle East. The nomadic lifestyle of American Indians did not allow the cultivation of numerous vineyards because of the amount of care that is required — often requiring several years of elaborate care before a proper harvest could be made. Being a gardener of such responsibility when the family or tribe moved to follow the herds of game was basically impossible. At the time of European discovery of the Americas, most American Indians were nomadic or semi-nomadic and rarely did groups or tribes have gardens or farms that they tended. Grape vines required regular maintenance and care that American Indian cultures could not maintain in any significant degree. These tribal cultures had very limited knowledge of pottery-making except in certain areas. Storage of fermented drinks was extremely difficult under their living conditions anyway. If supplies of fermenting fruit changed into wine, the Indians simply did not have the technology to store and care for the wine that was produced.
This is not to say that American Indians did not occasionally drink fermented beverages. All that it takes to make a fermented drink that contains alcohol (after fermentation) is water; sugar of some kind and yeast. Yeast is in the air we breathe. It covers most or all fruits as they ripen and will sometimes even cause fermentation accidentally if fruits, happen to fall in small pools of water and ferment in the sun.
Yeast grows on the skins of most berries as they ripen
Berries and other fruits grow all over the world — from arctic to tropical regions. Although Eskimo cultures have not had the resources to have a wine tradition, even here, wine can easily be made. All you have to do is pick the berries on the tundra, put them in a jar alone with water and keep it warm enough to allow fermentation — which will happen due to the yeast on the skin of the berries. Fermentation can also happen if you use other substances that have sugars in them — like honey.
Transplanting The Middle East (Biblical) Culture Of Drinking Alcohol To The Book Of Mormon Lands
Joseph Smith wrote in the Book of Mormon that when the resurrected Jesus appeared in the American hemisphere, that he instituted the sharing of wine in remembrance of him in a manner similar to what is described in the New Testament. There was a difference, however in the Book of Mormon account (3 Nephi 20: 1-9). Where the first miracle of Jesus in the New Testament has him changing water into wine, the Book of Mormon account has him miraculously producing BOTH bread AND wine where none had been there before (kind of like doing one-upsmanship to the Bible’s account at the Marriage at Canaa where Jesus was claimed to have turned plain water into wine).
Since I have a tendency to question everything, I have been left with many questions about Joseph Smith’s account of Jesus instituting wine in the Book of Mormon:
Why would Jesus have instituted the drinking of wine at all as a spiritual experience among the Book of Mormon people? Culturally, they had used tobacco as the means of having spiritual experiences, not wine or alcohol in any significant degree.
Why would it have been important to provide bread and wine supernaturally? Would this have shown Christ’s power in a more convincing way than Native Shamans would have been able to do?
If Jesus had taught the American Natives about the emblems of the sacrament (as claimed in the Book of Mormon), why has there been absolutely no archaeological findings that show that such a sacred ceremony has endured among Native American folklore?
The entire idea of taking the culture of drinking from the Middle East and claiming that the native culture of the Americas used the same values seems unconvincing and unbelievable to me.