Honey In The Bible

The Bible throughout gives mention of honey as well as bees. let’s explore the Bible and its quotations that give mention to honey and bees.

Honey and bees are frequently mentioned throughout the Bible. It has been referred to as a wholesome food, a helpful kind of medicine in treatment of the ill, an ingredient of delicious beverage,an appropriate gift, as well as a valued possession for mankind. There is little evidence that the Hebrews actually cultivated bees, however, they were known to used wild honey in profusion. “Wild” honey is often mentioned; whether this was meant as a contrast to domesticated honey, it’s difficult to know. The Hebrew Bible gives indication that “Jews” were solicitous about their honey supply,as indicated in the Talmud (Hebrew Bible) (B. Batra 18, A) where a warning is given never to let mustard plants grow near bees nests because bees are fond of these flowers which, however, burn their throats, and they then consume a greater quantity of honey. The Jews were permitted, according to their religious laws, to provide water on Saturdays and holidays to their domestic animals, but this dispensation did not apply to bees, because they themselves could secure it (Sabath 24: 3). On the other hand, in case of rain, or to protect the bees from the scorching sun, the Jews were permitted to cover the nests with linen even on holidays (Sabath 436) Philo, the historian (in the time of Christ), in his work, De Vita Contemplativa , refers to a caste among the Hebrews called Essenes, who lived in the region of the Dead Sea, and whose occupation was supposed to be the cultivation of bees and the production of honey. Josephus, in the Antiquities of the Jews, also mentions the Essenes of Judea. (It is noteworthy that the Greek term Essenos (king bee) was the epithet of Zeus. The priestesses of Artemis were called Melissai (bees) and their high priests, Essenes.)

When the Hebrews referred to Palestine they used the proverbial metaphor, expressive of plenty, “a land flowing with milk and honey.” This reference is repeated twenty-one times in the Bible. (Exod. 3: 8; 3: 17; 13: 5; 33: 3; Lev. 30: 35; Num. 13: 28; 14: 8; 16: 14; Deut. 6: 3; II: 9; 26: 15; 27: 3; 31: 20; Jos. 5: 6; Tob. 30: 17; Jer. II: 5; 32: 22; Ezek. 20: 6; 30: 15; Sirach 46, I0; Baruch I, 20.) The day Christ rose from the dead and appeared before His Disciples, He asked for food. They gave Him broiled fish and a honeycomb (Luke 24: 42). Christ ate the food to prove to the Apostles that He was truly resurrected and not merely a Spirit or a Thought. John the Baptist, in his camel’s hair raiment, ate dried locusts and honey in the wilderness (Mark 1: 6, Matth. 3: 4). In the Hebrew language debash means honey and Deborah, bee.

There was honey galore in Palestine. Samuel described woods where honey was so plentiful that the combs were strewn on the ground. “And when the people were come into the woods, behold, the honey dropped.” (Samuel 14: 26.) Not only trees but also the rocks poured forth honey. “He would feed them . . . with honey out of the rock.” In the songs of Moses there is an allusion, “he shall not see the rivers, the flowing streams of honey and butter.” (Job 20: 17.) Prophet Isaiah (eighth century B.C.) mentions honey and butter: “… for butter and honey shall everyone eat that is left in the midst of the land.” (Isa. 7: 21.)

The heaven-born manna, on which the Israelites subsisted in the desert for forty years, contained honey; it was probably honey-dew. “And the House of Israel called the name thereof manna; and it resembled coriander seed, white, and tasted like wafers made with honey.” (Exod. 16: 31.) That manna contained only a small quantity of honey is mentioned in the chapter of the “Fives” in the Talmud:

“Fire is one-sixtieth of hell,
Honey is one-sixtieth of manna,
Sabbath one-sixtieth of rest of the world to come,
Sleep one-sixtieth of death,
Dreams one-sixtieth of prophecy.”

Honey must have been an important article of commerce among the Jews. Ezekiel mentions (27: 17) that the Israelites, in addition to wine, oil and balsams, also carried honey to a Phoenician mercantile town, known as Tyrus, and it is possible that they supplied other markets with honey. That the Jews put aside honey for future use is proven by the appeal of the men to Ishmael: “Slay us not, for we have stores hidden in the fields, of wheat and of barley and of oil and of honey.” (Jer. 41: 8.)

There are many references in the Bible to honey as an attractive gift. Jacob, the Patriarch, when he sent his son to Egypt, gave him honey, spices, myrrh and almonds to deliver as a present to the Governor. When Jeroboam’s queen visited the blind Prophet Ahijah at Shiloh (Kings 14: 3), she brought with her a cruse of honey in order to obtain a favorable report about her dying son. Possibly honey was also intended to cure the Prophet’s blindness. King David’s army, 3,000 years ago, was provided with honey, . . . “they brought beds and basins and earthen vessels and wheat and barley . . . beans and lentils . . . and honey and butter for David and for the people with him, to eat; for they said, the people are hungry and weary and thirsty in the wilderness.” (2 Sam. 17: 28, 29.) That the Hebrews highly valued honey as a food substance is conclusively proven by the words of the son of Sirach, who recognized honey as “one of the principal things for use in man’s life.” (Eccl. 39: 26.) The medicinal value of honey is often emphasized in the Talmud. It was used for various diseases, especially for heart troubles, gout and as an external application for the wounds of man and beast. Mixing honey with wine is repeatedly mentioned. Assyria was called the land of honey and olive trees.

Honey was frequently employed in the Bible in a symbolical sense, namely, to draw a comparison between some act or conception and the sweetness of honey. David, who had been a shepherd boy, often utilized metaphorically the sweetness of honey: “The judgment of the Lord is sweeter than honey and the drop-pings of the honeycomb.” (Ps. 19: I0.) “How sweet are thy words to my taste, yea, sweeter than honey in my mouth.” (Ps. 119 : 102.) In Solomon’s Proverbs (16: 24) : “Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul and health to the bones.” “The lips of the bride are as sweet as honey. The lips of the concubine are like honey but later bitter as vermuth” (Prov. 5:3). There are two accounts in the Bible of men being ordered to eat a book and in each case “the book tasted as sweet as honey.” (Ezek. 3: 3 and Revel. I0: 9, i0.) In the Revelation: “And I took the little book out of the angel’s hand, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth sweet as honey.”

The mythical tale of Samson (Judges 14:5-18) is well known. Samson was calling on his Philistine sweetheart when he was attacked by a young lion. Samson had no weapon, only the Spirit of Jehovah came mightily upon him and “he rent the lion as he would have rent a kid.” When he returned “after a while” he passed the spot and found that bees had taken possession of the lion’s carcass and had built combs in it, where they stored their honey. Samson removed some honey, took it home, gave a portion to his father and to his mother and ate some of it himself.

During his marriage feast Samson put a riddle to the Philistine young men: “Out of the eater came forth meat and out of the strong came forth sweetness.” The young men could not solve the riddle for three days, but Samson’s wife obtained from him the answer and betrayed him to the young men, who then claimed to have solved the enigma by saying: “What is sweeter than honey and what is stronger than a lion?”

This Biblical tale was much discussed by ancient and modern apicultural writers. Aristotle emphasized the bees’ dislike for strong odors and decayed matter. It seems improbable that the bees would utilize a carcass for their nesting place. On the other hand, it must be taken into consideration that in tropical countries at a certain season of the year the heat is so intense that it dries up all moisture and the carcass will not undergo decomposition. In the desert dead camels remain mummified for a long time and their bodies are entirely free from offensive odors. Often jackals, vultures and dogs gnaw off the soft parts and only the skeleton remains in which the bees may build their combs. In the West of the United States (Montana) skeletons of oxen have been found which the bees had converted into dwelling places.

Honey sacrifices were prohibited by the Jews as honey was liable to ferment. “Ye shall burn no leaven, nor any honey as an offering unto Jehovah” (Lev. 2: z I). Honey, however, was allowed as a “not burnt” offering or as a tribute of first fruit (Lev. 2: 12). One may assume that the Jews used honey as a leavening for baking purposes.

Today, there is again honey in abundance in modern Palestine and vigorous efforts have been made by the inhabitants to find foreign markets for their bees and honey.