The Evolution of Wine in Christian vs. Islamic Theology

Alcohol and religion have been linked for thousands of years. As we have seen, the oldest evidence of alcohol in the Middle East shows its use in religious rites. Bacchus and Dionysus are two of the most well-known gods linked with alcoholic drinks in classical and ancient civilizations. Demeter, the goddess of bread, fruit, and vegetables, was not the only item to have a deity devoted to it, but wine and beer were more regularly tied to religion.

It’s not clear why it happened. Increasing alcohol consumption may cause a development from “moderate” to “severe” intoxication, resulting in symptoms such as drowsiness, lightheadedness, and disorientation, all of which are often referred to as “otherworldly” effects. While drinking, one’s sensory perceptions are enhanced to the point that they have spiritual or religious meaning[1].

Christianity versus Islam

Christianity and Islam, two faiths that developed in the same century, have distinct associations with alcohol. Whether positive or negative, the link between alcohol and religion may be considered a historical constant. In contrast to Christianity, Islam is the first major religion to ban alcoholic drinks.

There were various pre-Christian Jewish sects and secular laws (like those of Sparta) that outlawed the intake of alcohol, but on the other hand, wine was an essential component of the worship of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine. However, they were just minor or short-lived prohibitions on some products. Alcohol has a long history of religious significance for Christians and Muslims, and their teachings on the subject have given it much of the theological weight it still has today[2].

There are several allusions to wine and the consequences of drinking in the Jewish Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament of the Christian Bible), along with one mention of beer in a Greek translation of the Torah (but not in the Hebrew and later translations). Aside from a few brief allusions to beer’s widespread consumption in the eastern Mediterranean throughout Christian times, there are no references to the beer plant or grapevine in Scripture’s ecclesiastical canon[3].

Academic debates

Some biblical academics and interpreters are divided on the meaning of particular terminology and how biblical references to alcohol should be read. Although certain biblical scriptures may be interpreted as approving wine, others are neutral, and yet others are blatantly anti-drinking. Melchizedek, king of Salem, provided wine for the meal: “And Melchizedek brought out food and wine,” reads Genesis. In another passage, wine is praised: “Go your way, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a cheerful heart; because God now accepts your efforts.” 3

Wine’s medicinal properties were also identified in Luke’s Gospel, “And went to him and tied up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine,” he refers to wine’s antibacterial qualities.[4] “For he shall be great in the eyes of the Lord; he shall drink neither wine nor strong drink.”

Discouraging against the use of alcohol

However, other biblical scriptures seem to caution against any drinking. Overindulging in alcohol is strongly discouraged by several biblical passages, including: “Be not among winebibbers; amid riotous meat-eaters” and “Likewise must the deacons be grave,” meaning they shouldn’t have a bad temper or drink too much. Food and money were not subject to criticism in and of themselves, and alcohol consumption was probably the primary focus of the judgment.

Religious writers did not pay much attention to these ambiguities until the nineteenth century. Aside from being a safer option for drinking water, the moderate use of beer and wine was considered favorable before this time. A common misconception regarding alcohol in the Bible was that it only had bad connotations about abuse or overconsumption, not actual consumption.

Usually, when the Bible was used, it was to warn people away from imbibing and the attendant sins. Many people had access to clean drinking water in Europe and North America in the early 1800s. Therefore, alcohol was no longer needed as an alternative. Because of the advent of alcohol substitutes, complete abstinence from alcohol became a real possibility for many people for the first time. Much of what had been focused on intoxication and excessive drinking ended up being transferred to the intake of any alcohol at all[5].

Alcohol and religion

 

Islamic culture

On the other hand, Islam outlaws the intake of alcoholic beverages altogether. Alcohol is addressed in the Quran in three different ways. A few positive aspects of drinking are discussed, but it is made plain that the dangers outweigh the benefits in this passage. The Quran warns Muslims to abstain from drinking alcohol before their prayers (4:43).

This limitation dramatically limits the amount of time one may legally consume alcohol while praying five times a day. “O you who have believed, truly, intoxicants and gambling are just defilement from the work of Satan, therefore shun it so that you may be successful,” states the Quran (5:90). The authorized religious experts, the Jurists, say that alcohol interferes with a person’s responsibility to protect oneself and intellect.[6]

The Economist quotes Birkbeck College sociologist Sami Zubaida as saying, “For many Muslims, alcohol is an issue of identity.” Some Muslims may have a hard time drinking because they see it as an insult to their faith, similar to how Jews wear a yarmulke to identify themselves from non-Jews, as in Islam. The traditional Islamic view is that the facts sent down to Mohammed directly by Allah are the truths that some hold dear, especially Zubaida.[7]

What seems to be a gradual shift in Islam’s stance on alcohol drinking has some rationale behind it, at least in theory. There is a lot of emphasis in the Quran on abrogation or introducing new rules later with the premise that they take precedence over the previous ones. When it comes to wine, abrogation may be beneficial.

According to most historians, the Middle East was a hotbed of alcohol manufacture because of its beginnings in the area. Muslims had to progressively reduce their reliance on alcohol since it was an integral component of Middle Eastern culture and commerce. According to an Imam we talked with, the Quran promotes situational ethics to prevent instability in the Muslim community and the larger economy.[8]

This Day in Wine History

500-1000 AD: Between AD 500 and 1000, numerous monastic societies were responsible for planting grapes, leading to a rise in vineyards across Europe. It was also a mainstay of the clergy’s diets since it was so cheap. There was a half-liter of alcohol (ale or wine) drunk by each monk or nun each day. “Wine is not a drink for monks; but since modern monks cannot be persuaded of this, let us at least agree that we drink sparingly and not to satiety,” St. Benedict’s rule, which became the most important model in Western Europe, authorized a daily amount of wine for each monk[9].

764 AD: This vineyard was gifted to the St. Nazarius of Lauresham monastery in Heidelberg by two secular landowners before 764.

864 AD: By 864, there were over 100 vineyards in the region of Deinheim, thanks to secular gifts. In this period, the church was responsible for viticulture and wine production. For example, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) and The Salvation Army forbid alcohol consumption (SA). Mainstream Christian denominations also used unfermented wine for communion, calling it “grape juice.” Many scholars dispute whether alcohol is in the Bible. The Bible portrays beer and alcohol negatively as a personal choice.[10]

The 1800s: The two-wine interpretation of the Bible was used by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Salvation Army, respectively, to make it illegal to drink alcohol in their congregations. Grape juice, or “unfermented wine,” as they termed it, became popular in most religions in the 18th century. There is a lot of disagreement over the role of alcohol in both the Old and New Testaments. Whether or not references to beer and wine in the Bible are primarily negative is a matter of considerable contention among biblical scholars.[11]

The 1900s: This is noteworthy in the history of alcohol since it marks the first comprehensive restriction of alcohol production, distribution, and use. Alcohol manufacturing and sale were illegal under earlier prohibition laws, such as the well-known American national prohibition from 1920 to 1933.) Notably, Islam’s prohibition restrictions have lasted over 1500 years in diverse Muslim locations.[12]

1914-1935: Various national governments tried prohibition legislation between 1914 and 1935, but no non-Muslim power outlawed alcohol until then. It’s plausible to argue that the Christian church indirectly fostered alcohol use by elevating one sort of alcohol to new prominence. Throughout the second Christian millennium, Europeans drank more alcohol, even though it was not religiously sanctioned

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References

[1] Outreville, Jean-François. “Wine Consumption and Religions: A Research Note.” Beverages 7, no. 4 (2021): 70.

[2] Fuller, Robert C. Religion and wine: A cultural history of wine drinking in the United States. Univ. of Tennessee Press, 1996.

[3] Reid, David. New Wine: The Cultural Shaping of Japanese Christianity. Vol. 2. Jain Publishing Company, 1991.

[4] Cosgrove, Charles H. “Banquet Ceremonies Involving Wine in the Greco-Roman World and Early Christianity.” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 79, no. 2 (2017): 299-316.

[5] Abbott, Lyman. The Evolution of Christianity. Houghton, Mifflin, 1892.

[6] Malakzadeh, Zeinab, Nayeb Ali Ahmadi, and Vahideh Nasr. “Investigate the effect of alcohol on the human body from the perspective of verses of the Holy Quran, Hadith and Traditional medicine.” (2017): 102-106.

[7] Alserhan, Baker Ahmad. “On Islamic branding: brands as good deeds.” Journal of Islamic marketing (2010).

[8] Michalak, Laurence, and Karen Trocki. “Alcohol and Islam: an overview.” Contemporary drug problems 33, no. 4 (2006): 523-562.

[9] Kreglinger, Gisela H. “The Spirituality of Wine.”

[10] Bacchiocchi, Samuele. Wine in the Bible. Vol. 8. Biblical Perspectives, 1989.

[11] Tyree, Greg. “WHAT DOES THE BIBLE REALLY SAY ABOUT WINE?.”

[12] Kazemi Moghadam, Roshanak, and Davood Komijani. “A comparative study of the prohibition of drinking wine in The Holy Quran and The Old and New Testament.” Comparative Studies of Quran 3, no. 6 (2019): 55-81.

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