Many thanks to Jan Heilman and Susan Marks for inviting me to write a guest post about my recent volume, Delicious Prose: Telling the Tale of Tobit with Food and Drink—A Commentary (Brill, 2018, Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism, Volume: 188).
Delicious Prose argues that food and drink in Tobit are essential both to telling the story (plot, characters, structure, mood, symbolism) and promoting acts of righteousness, even to the point of cultural resistance against a hostile dominant culture. Jews who adhere to their traditions, especially endogamy and almsgiving, the story argues, will prosper in the end even if they must at first suffer profoundly.
Delicious Prose identifies and analyzes the nearly three-dozen references to food and drink which occur throughout the ancient Jewish fairy tale. They include: (1) the distribution of food as tithes, in feeding the hungry, and in placing consumables on graves, (2) food preparation, (3) the consumption of food and drink and their associated dining customs, and (4) instances in which food is avoided or its consumption is delayed. A notable case of the latter is when Tobit leaps from his tempting Shavuot meal without tasting it in order to attend to a corpse (Tob 2:4).
Delicious Prose delineates how each food-linked reference functions within its immediate context, and within the work as a whole. It locates the reference both within writings sacred to Jews and Christians through late antiquity and from the wider world, including Egypt, the Ancient Near East, Ugarit, Greece, Rome and from contemporary cultures. In doing so, Delicious Prose brings to light extensive data about ancient foodways and the use of food as medicine.Continue reading