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.
We have planned three sessions: 1) Reading and Interpretive Activity during Ancient Meals (open call): The Greco-Roman meal is one potential context for reading and interpreting texts. However, while research into meals more or less presupposes that people have read during ancient meals, broader investigations of this topic and detailed analyzes of the sources concerning reading practices during ancient meals are lacking. The aim of this session is to initiate a scholarly discourse about reading and interpretive activities during “pagan,” Jewish and Christian meals in the ancient and late antique Greco-Roman world. Therefore, we would like to address the following questions:
What is the relation of the Roman institution of the recitatio, which was bound to the presence of the author, and ancient meals? Can we determine the role of meals for the ancient literary culture? Do we find evidence in Jewish and Christian sources for equivalent practices during their meals? Are there special values or conventions of ancient reading and interpretation practices during ancient meals, e.g., concerning the length, the function, the social participation?
2) Drinking and Intoxication in Ancient and Late Antique Meals (open call): We invite scholars to propose papers on any aspect of drinking, beverages and intoxication in the meals of the Hellenist and Roman or Late Antiquity. We look forward to perspectives from a variety of different communities. Were there specific beverages favored and why? Specific beverages rejected? And what does a focus on drinking reveal about the social relations within the group? These investigations can include arguments against intoxication as well as explorations of whether intoxication furthers access to the deity invoked or induces religious experiences, and how meals contribute to these questions. 3) Two New Handbooks: Meals and Ritual (co-sponsored, invited speakers only).