Wine and Religion

Wine and religion have had a tumultuous relationship throughout history. Wine and religion is a centuries-old topic that is still being discussed today. Although wine is explicitly forbidden in some religions like Islam and Buddhism, many other religions place a high value on its moderate consumption. At least 3,000 years ago, pharaohs and other high-ranking Egyptians drank wine in religious gatherings, and the practice has been documented ever since.[1]

Can you believe it has been recorded that ancient civilizations used wine as an essential part of their god-worship rituals? Some civilizations even went further and asked their gods for good wine production. For instance, Egyptian harvest goddess Renenutet was held liable for the growth of grapes and wine.

Egyptian winemakers would build her shrines next to their wine presses so that they could more easily show off their wine as gifts to her. Similarly, the Egyptian goddess Hathor was also linked to the practice of wine drinking in ancient Egypt.

Wine was used in religious ceremonies beginning as far back as ancient Egypt.

Wine was the central part of deity, and Dionysus was honored through religious rituals, such as the Ochlophobia or winemaking festival. In one of their ceremony, the young males would carry vine branches and dress like ladies on their way to the Temple of Athena Skiros from the Sanctuary.

In other cultures, the god of wine in Rome, was referred to as Bacchus. In those beliefs, wine production and spiritual celebrations were typical. It was a common practice for Romans to consume wine as a way to intoxicate themselves during Bacchus festivals.

Eventually, other faiths that utilized alcohol in their rites, such as Christianity, came into being. When it comes to biblical events, there are many mentions of wine, from the festivals to the release of Lot to Noah’s post-flood vineyard planting.

According to the New Testament, Jesus converted water into wine during a marriage festival. The account of the Seder tells us that the blood of Jesus is symbolized by wine in the rite of Communion, which is why it is so important in Christian practice.[2] Details of the wine perspective in different religions are discussed below.

  1. Judaism

In Judaism, wine is encouraged for religious and ceremonial purposes, and is considered an integral part of numerous Jewish holidays and rituals.

Wine in Jewish Ceremonies

Under the halakha, a collection of Jewish laws derived from the Oral Torah, wine can be consumed during wedding and circumcision ceremonies. Blessings for these occasions are often recited over a glass of wine. Additionally, wine is a crucial component of the Sabbath and Passover celebrations, during which four glasses of wine are consumed.

Wine in the Hebrew Bible

The Hebrew Bible contains numerous references to wine, both positive and negative. Some passages praise wine for its ability to gladden the heart and bring people closer to God, while others warn against the dangers of excessive drinking and the potential for wine to lead people astray.

In the Talmud, an ancient record of rabbinic teachings, the “Tree of Knowledge” from Genesis is said to be a grapevine, suggesting that humanity’s first sin was caused by wine. This complex relationship with wine in the Hebrew Bible highlights the importance of moderation in consumption.

Jews traditionally made sacrifices with wine that was blessed by the priesthood.[3]The bible mentions wine, produced for more than 5,000 years in Israel. Chronological wine history in Judaism is as follows:

  • 600 CE: Wine was banned in Israel for followers, and the majority of wines were felled and destroyed. Only during this period the sacramental wines were produced and consumed.
  • 1517 to 1917: Following an initial 400-year of Jewish prosperity in Israel (from 1517 to 1917), the Ottoman Empire razed the large parts of Israel to the ground and destroyed wine production.
  • 1848: After centuries of wine production and consumption prohibition, Yitzhak Shor founded the first documented winery in 1848.
  • 1882: Israeli wine was introduced and promoted by French-born Baron Edmond James de Rothschild.
  • 1960: It wasn’t until the 1960s that Israeli wines gained a reputation for being overly sweet and abrasive.[4]

Small, family-owned wineries began springing up all over the country during the 1990s. About 200 wineries currently operate in Israel. However, despite Israel’s technological advancements, the country can still not shed its outdated image in wine production and consumption.

  1. Christianity

Christianity is a religion with deep-rooted connections to wine, as it represents the blood of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, a sacred rite practiced by many Christian denominations.

Wine in the Bible

The Bible contains numerous references to wine, often depicting it as a source of joy and celebration. For instance, Ephesians 5:18 states, “Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do.” There are 247 favorable mentions of wine in the Bible, illustrating its significance in the religious experience.

However, the Bible also emphasizes moderation in wine consumption, warning against the destructive nature of excessive drinking.

Wine in Christian Ceremonies

Wine plays a vital role in several Christian ceremonies, including the Eucharist (Holy Communion) and the artoklassia (blessing with wine and bread). The Eucharist is a central Christian ritual, where believers consume bread and wine in remembrance of Jesus’ Last Supper. In this context, the wine symbolizes the blood of Christ, while the bread represents his body.

Christian weddings may also incorporate wine, such as in the Eastern Orthodox Church’s use of the “common cup,” shared between the bride and groom as a symbol of their unity.

Despite its importance in religious practices, Christianity generally discourages regular consumption of wine. Many philosophers and theologians throughout history, such as Thomas Aquinas, have argued that moderation or abstinence from alcohol leads to salvation.

Monastic Wine Production

Monks have played a significant role in the production of beer and wine throughout history, often running their own breweries and vineyards. Trappist Beer, made by Cistercian monks in Europe, is a notable example of monastic brewing. Although many monastic breweries were later shut down due to concerns of deviation from religious principles, some still operate today and hold licenses from the International Trappist Association.

Before accepting Christianity, Greeks and Romans loved wine and made it a part of their cultures. When Christianity gained popularity in these cultures, it attracted more followers. Church realized and endorsed alcohol’s affection for the masses and incorporated wine into Christianity. The Church retained winemaking expertise and vineyards and produced wines for religious gatherings. The monks spent several hours in the vines and winery. Early Christians enjoyed a glass of wine in their routine diets.[5]  The wine history in Christian dominated world is described below:

  • First Century AD: During the first century AD, wine press and associated winemaking were common in the Christian world. Such equipment is found in San Marino.
  • 20 AD: Tradition says Jesus made and drank wine at 20. He appreciated moderate drinking but despised drunkenness, considering wine to be a divine creation, and followers must appreciate it.
  • 71 AD: Wine-growing regions were established surrounding the port city of Bordeaux.
  • 92 AD: Due to increased demand for wine, vineyards routinely supplanted food crops in 92 A.D. Rome’s food supply was threatened by the vineyard’s expansion. To stop the expansion further, Emperor Domitian barred vineyard expansion. En out of the way, the Emperor ordered half the nation to grow food crops instead of grapes for wine.
  • 1152: This year, the local wine production couldn’t meet English demand. As a consequence, vineyards in Bordeaux, France, were developed significantly.
  • 1191: To sell wine directly from their boats in Paris during the reign of King Louis XII. Participating the non-Parisians, the seller must first “identify as a Parisian.”[6]
  • 3rd Century AD: Christians drank a lot of wine in their everyday life. Talmud included several rules that allowed drinking. Due to these rules, alcohol became an essential feature of many religious ceremonies.
  • The Middle Ages: Feudal dynasties dominated the power and controlled masses for much of the Medieval Period. Almost 1,000 years passed between the fall of Rome and the Renaissance (after about 1300). After the fall of the Roman Empire, several monasteries and religious orders continued to grow grapes for centuries. Theologian wine was promoted in society, and as a consequence, more monasteries were involved in winemaking. Christian teachings, winemaking, and consumption went hand in hand. Because of this, wine held a special place in early Christian culture.
  • 7th Century AD: Viniculture and winemaking flourished until the seventh century in Uzbekistan. Table grapes and raisins replaced the wine with the arrival of Islam.
  • 1900- 1962- Until 1962, Roman Catholics were not allowed to receive both flesh and blood of Christ at mass.
  • 21st Century: Western and Eastern Christians, no matter how different they may be in their beliefs and practices, continued to drink wine to appreciate Christ’s sacrifice.[7]

      3. Islam

“Quran,” the holy book of Muslims, prohibits the use of wine and other alcoholic beverages. The prohibition is based on the argument that alcohol detracts from one’s ability to remember god and practice faith. The prohibition is described in many Quranic verses, each related to a distinct point in revelation time. As a part of the more significant Islamic dietary code, a complete prohibition on alcohol is commonly acknowledged.[8]

According to scholar Muhammad Al-Munajjid of Saudi Arabia, the consensus of classical fuqaha’ for the punishment for consumption of alcohol is flogging, but scholars differ about the number of lashes to be administered to the drinker, “the majority of scholars are of the view that it is eighty lashes for a free man” and forty for enslaved people and women.

Islam takes a different stance on wine, with the Quran declaring it unlawful (haraam). Unlike Christianity and Judaism, which emphasize moderation, Islam promotes complete abstinence from alcohol, as it is believed to have adverse effects on humans even in small quantities.

Wine in Islamic History

Although complete abstinence is the general rule in Islam, there is evidence that early Muslims may have consumed wine before certain battles. The Hadiths, records of the traditional teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, document the consumption of alcohol by soldiers during the Uhud war, although this did not prevent them from becoming martyrs.

Wine in Ancient Greek Religion

Ancient Greek religion held wine in high regard, as it was associated with the god Dionysus and the Dionysian celebrations. Wine played a prominent role in religious ceremonies, with libations (ritual pouring of wine) used to honor the gods and accompany the dead on their final journey.

Wine and Christianity in the Byzantine Era

During the Byzantine period, wine, now known as “krasi,” gradually came under the protection of Christianity. Christ was referred to as “ambelos” (vine), and wine symbolized his blood, consumed by the faithful during the Holy Communion. The position of wine in religion persisted, even as the Dionysian celebrations became a “forbidden” memory.

12th Century: According to Prophet Muhammad, anyone involved in the trade of alcoholic beverages, including the wine-presser, one who presses the wine, the drinker, one who conveys the beverage to another party, the one who serves the beverage to a customer or client, one who sells or gives it away, and one who buys it or sells to another party, is violating the prohibitions of the Quran.[9]

  1. Hinduism

Rather than relying on divine revelations (like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), blind faith, or dogma, Hinduism claims to be a religion founded on a knowledge of dharma, the inherent rules that govern the cosmos. For Hindus, the issue is how alcohol consumption fits into their understanding of dharma and how it affects our karma. Aside from using intoxicants and stimulants in general, alcohol is also allowed in Hinduism.[10]

  • The 1400s: The Indus Valley Civilisation brought grapes from Persia around 5,000 years ago. However, Chanakya reported on the side effects of excessive Madhu (alcohol) drinking in the 4th century BCE.
  • 20th Century: The Karnataka Wine Policy initiated a drive to issue a new winery license in 2008. With this drive, making winery establishments is more straightforward and less expensive. Bijapur, Bidar, and Belgaum have all eased the establishing process of new wineries (apart from Bangalore). Other states’ producers have followed Maharashtra’s example and remained cautious.
  • 2009: The Indian Grape Processing Board was established in 2009 in Pune. However, officials still would not use the W-word.
  1. Buddhism

Buddhism generally condemns alcohol consumption, as it is believed to induce a loss of self-control. The psychotropic effects of alcohol can lead to debauchery and social disorder, which are discouraged in Buddhist teachings. However, wine remains a promised drink in heaven, according to some Buddhist beliefs.

However, practically many Buddhists use alcohol in moderation, and some are dangerous or destructive drinkers. The archeological remains of Gandhara artifacts, including wine jars, may be associated with the wine culture in the Buddhism-dominated areas.[11]

  • 1249 AD: Ten pitchers of alcohol were consumed by six persons. However, these figures appear excessive for a 13th-century feast.
  • 11th to 13th Century: The artifact of the era has clay and glazed plaques representing Jataka scenes associated with alcohol use.

When Buddhism arrived in Bagan, it was observed that drunkenness increased in society. However, according to the 11th-century Jataka stories, Buddhist culture influenced individuals to abstain from wine. Finally, Buddhism practice accepts moderate alcohol use as long as it is not reckless. If so, the amount of alcohol ingested before a violation may differ.[12]

Wine in Hinduism

Hinduism, a diverse religion encompassing various philosophies and practices, does not have a strict ban on wine. While monks in Hinduism typically avoid alcohol, wine is recognized as one of the five elements of the earth and is used in some religious rituals. However, excessive drinking is generally condemned, as it can lead to immoral behavior.

Wine in Shintoism

In Shintoism, the native religion of Japan, wine (specifically, sake) plays a significant role in religious ceremonies and rituals. Sake is often used as an offering to the kami (gods) during Shinto rituals, symbolizing purification and the creation of a sacred space. Sharing sake among participants in a Shinto ceremony also serves to foster friendship and strengthen bonds within the community.

Wine in Taoism

In Taoist rituals and practices, alcohol, particularly wine, is used as an offering and a means of connecting with the divine. The consumption of alcohol in Taoist rituals symbolizes purification, blessings, and the establishment of a sacred space. As with other religions, the consumption of alcohol in Taoism is done in a controlled and mindful manner, reflecting the Taoist emphasis on balance and harmony.

Wine and Religious Festivities

Across various religions, wine is often associated with joyous celebrations and festivities. For example, in Judaism, wine is used during the feasts of Purim and Simhat Torah, while in Christianity, wine is consumed during convivial moments of sharing. In these instances, wine serves as a symbol of happiness, unity, and thanksgiving.

Conclusion

Wine has played a complex and multifaceted role in numerous religious traditions throughout history. Its use in religious ceremonies, rituals, and celebrations has been both revered and condemned, depending on the context and the teachings of the specific religion.

The relationship between wine and religion serves as a reminder of the importance of moderation and mindfulness when consuming alcohol. While wine can bring joy and a sense of connection to the divine, it can also lead to harmful consequences when not approached with respect and self-control.

Also read:

Prohibition of Wine in Islamic History

Judaism

1870-75: To help revive Jewish winemaking after a long hiatus, Baron Edmond de Rothschild assisted in 1870. During Benjamin Disraeli’s tenure as British Prime Minister in 1875, a Palestinian kosher red wine bottle was delivered to him. After a few sips, he said it tasted “more like what I anticipate to receive from my doctor as a treatment for a nasty winter cough.”

1983: More Israelis left the country in 1983, mainly to Europe, and it became apparent to them that wine was more than just a ceremonial drink. Golan Heights Winery opened in 1983, and Israelis began to demand higher quality wines[13].

Christianity

1066: Wine commerce between England and France rose considerably when William, Duke of Normandy, defeated King Harold at Hastings in 1066.

1214: For a national wine show, Philip II Augustus ordered all French regions to submit a sample to Paris in 1214.[14]

Islam

Order of 1979: Under “the Prohibition (Enforcement of Hadd),” 80 lashes are handed out to individuals found guilty of drinking liquor under Pakistan’s criminal code.” According to the British Embassy in Saudi Arabia, lashes “may also be part of the penalty” for drinking alcohol.[15]

10 July 2018: On a public plaza in the Iranian city of Kashmar, a man found guilty of drunkenness was given 80 lashes for his punishment. This one illustrates how Islam forbids the use of alcohol.

Hinduism

1500s to 1900s: Port wine was brought to Goa by the Portuguese in the early 1500s and the British conquered India and set up a whiskey. Shaw Wallace cultivated Golconda grapes in Hyderabad to create Cinzano vermouths alongside Vittal Mallya in the 1970s.[16]

Buddhism

1376: Some of the trees in the area, such as Bruni and Punnapatta Jatta, look like palm fronds and bear toddy-like fruits, which may be the primary component used to distill alcohol. The tree has no relation to Jtaka’s fundamental idea. While creating this plaque, the artist may have seen and felt the distillation process. He inserted a palm tree motif, which was used to make liquor in the Jataka story. He believed that the Indian sweet drink Yamanaka aphyaw was probably produced from toddy juice around 1376.[17]

Want to read more? Try these books!

The Spirit of Wine- Finding Religion in the Fruit of the Vine Wine & Wine Offering In The Religion Of Ancient Egypt (Studies in Egyptology)

Reference

[1] Holt, Mack P. “Wine and religion: Part 1, antiquity to 1700.” In The Routledge Handbook of Wine and Culture, pp. 233-240. Routledge, 2022.

[2] Phillips, Rod. “Wine and religion: Part 2, 1700 to the present.” In The Routledge Handbook of Wine and Culture, pp. 241-249. Routledge, 2022.

[3] Cherny, Mark. “Humanistic Judaism.” TheAustralian Humanist 144 (2021): 9-10.

[4] Bochkareva, Irina B., and Elena V. Tarasova. “Bukhara Jews and Distillation in Turkestan in the late 1860s-1890s.” Былые годы. Российский исторический журнал 2, no. 52 (2019): 677-685.

[5] Jaboulet-Vercherre, Azélina. “Wine as metaphor.” In The Routledge Handbook of Wine and Culture, pp. 250-258. Routledge, 2022.

[6] Feier, Iwona, Aleksandra Migała, Marta Pietruszka, and Mateusz Jackowski. “Roman wine in Barbaricum. preliminary studies on ancient wine recreation.” Heritage 2, no. 1 (2019): 331-338.

[7] Howland, Peter J. “Drinking the divine: fine wine, religion, and the socio-political in Aotearoa New Zealand.” Journal of wine research 30, no. 4 (2019): 275-293.

[8] Patel, Youshaa. “What Is Islam?.” The Journal of Religion 98, no. 1 (2018): 114-120.

[9] Arab, Pooyan Tamimi. “Can Muslims Drink? Rumi Vodka, Persianate Ideals, and the Anthropology of Islam.” Comparative Studies in Society and History (2022): 1-37.

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

[11] Edelglass, William. “Buddhism, Happiness, and.” Meditation, Buddhism, and science (2017): 62.

[12] Commodity, Balancing. “Sacred Commons.”

[13] Beltrán Peralta, Natalia, Silvia Aulet, and Dolors Vidal-Casellas. “Wine and monasteries: Benedictine monasteries in Europe.” Journal of Foodservice Business Research (2022): 1-32.

[14] Inglis, David, and Hang Kei Ho. “Beyond white: On wine and ethnicity.” In The Routledge Handbook of Wine and Culture, pp. 415-423. Routledge, 2022.

[15] Arif, Muhammad, Imran Ali, and Muhammad Asfaham. “Domestic Policies of General Zia Ul Haq towards Islamization during 1979-88.” Harf-o-Sukhan 6, no. 1 (2022): 60-69.

[16] Sahu, Manas Kumar. “Religious pluralism and interreligious dialogue.” IOSR 24, no. 7 (2019).

[17] Syed, Ibrahim B., Nina Naquiah Ahmad Nizar, Farizah Mohd Hairi, and Amer Siddiq Amer Nordin. “Alcohol in religious and cultural food.” In Preparation and Processing of Religious and Cultural Foods, pp. 279-291. Woodhead Publishing, 2018.

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