Given that food is perhaps the most basic feature in our lives, it is hardly surprising that it figures so prominently in the Bible. There are literally hundreds of meals described in the Old and New Testament but very little food is mentioned except for bread and wine. Generally the meals are important for their place in the narrative, for their moral lessons and for the centrality of table fellowship. Most of the two dozen meals most frequently illustrated have typological significance or are New Testament forerunners of the Last Supper. The proposed talk discusses the images, covering the period 300-1500, with brief notes on the biblical commentaries involved.
Images of the cultivation, preparation, and consumption of food abound in the pages of illuminated biblical manuscripts (broadly defined to include books of hours, liturgical manuscripts, etc.). Calendars in books of hours depict the monthly chores necessary to produce sustenance, offering glimpses into medieval home, and revealing cooking techniques, kitchen tools, and popular dishes. Feasting scenes display both grand and modest tables set with edibles, as well as carefully arranged diners of different social classes, sometimes consuming to the point of gluttony and drunkenness. And food featured in biblical stories, in saintly miracles, and in Eucharistic ceremonies where it nourished both the body and the soul.
Themes related to food are common among all types of writing, and they are often used as a literary device for both visual and verbal impact. Food and related imagery have long been also part of literature. Food is also essential to human self-identity and is instrumental in defining family, class, and even ethnic identity. This paper deals with food metaphors and related imagery used by Augustine in his Confessions to describe spiritual hunger and intellectual satiation. Augustine talks of both physical and spiritual hunger, of physical and spiritual food, and compares physical hunger with the quest for knowledge of God. Food is used throughout the Confessions as a metaphor for thoughts, philosophies, and spiritual enlightenment. Augustine exposes his moral failings and spiritual longings in such a personal way that he comes very close to universal experience that our bodily hunger can never be fully assuaged. Food metaphors can best be explained in light of the other metaphors which he uses for the spiritual quest, in the final analysis for truth. Augustine’s desire to consume knowledge, the truest knowledge of God, is often directed towards the wrong kind of knowledge, towards a false, material knowledge. The way to maturity in experience God in its constant striving between lack and fulfillment is a way of graduation from literal eating to understanding eating as a metaphor for receiving true knowledge.