Food, memory and cultural-religious identity in the story of the ‘desirers’ (Nm 11:4–6)

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This article examines the nutritional and cultural meaning underlying the list of foods mentioned in the claims of the Israelites in Numbers 11:4–6. The foods eaten by the Israelites in Egypt express stability and a familiar routine, whilst the foods of Eretz Israel, although depicted as choicer, express uncertainty. The list of foods has a literary role on several spheres: (1) The foods are elements distinguishing the agricultural practices in Eretz Israel and Egypt. (2) Fish and vegetables are an indicator of the low class of the Israelites – eating fish reflects the practice of obtaining protein from small animals available to the poor. In Egypt, vegetables were more readily available and were a more prominent ingredient in the diet of the poor and slaves. (3) The food is an indicator of the Egyptian cultural identity of the Israelites – the Bible identifies the longing for the fish and vegetables characteristic of their Egyptian diet as a sign of the Israelites’ cultural and mental affiliation with Egypt. Although they left Egypt physically, they remained affiliated with Egyptian culture and identity. Contribution: This article contributes to the understanding of the biblical story of the ‘desirers’ (Nm 11:4–6) from a multidisplinary perspective. It combines the fields of ancient Egyptian agriculture, nutrition, culture and research on features of immigrants’ foods.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbera6158
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalHTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2020


  • Ancient Egyptian agriculture
  • Ancient Egyptian food
  • Diet and belonging
  • Diet and identity
  • Food and migration
  • Food in Antiquity
  • Food in the Bible
  • Foods of slaves
  • Manna
  • Numbers 11:4–6


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