While wine appears to be the drink of choice in the Hebrew Bible, frequent reference is also made to shekhar, which the King James Version renders as “strong drink” and rabbinic commentators tend to understand as old, very strong wine. Some modern scholars, however, believe it to be beer. Regardless, there is little doubt that ancient Israelites were familiar with the beverage, which had been brewed in the Promised Land millennia before Moses. Nathan Steinmeyer reports on the findings of recent archaeological research on the subject:
The study examined remains from two sites in Israel dated to the Chalcolithic period (ca. 5500–3900 BCE). An analysis of storage and drinking vessels from both sites provided clear indications of the production and consumption of beer in large quantities. The discoveries add a new piece to the puzzle on the origins of beer.
The two sites examined for the study were Tel Tsaf in the northern Jordan Valley of Israel (ca. 5200–4700 BCE) and Peki’in Cave in the Upper Galilee (4500–3900 BCE). In Peki’in Cave, evidence was found of beer consumption within a funerary context, leading the team to suggest that beer may have been part of prehistoric burial rites or ceremonies. In contrast, at Tel Tsaf, beer was found associated with several large courtyards and storage areas, suggesting it may have been served during large communal feasts or gatherings.
The researchers believe the strainers were used to filter the beer as it was poured into serving vessels. This contrasts with later Bronze Age depictions of beer consumption, in which long reed or metal straws were used to drink from large communal vats.
The earliest archaeological evidence for the production of beer dates back to at least 13,000 years ago, from a cave in northern Israel.