"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Friday, September 4, 2020

Eastern Christians Eating Virtuously

Several years ago I taught a very fun freshman seminar called "Eating God." We looked at the history, economics, politics, geography, psychology, philosophy, and theology of food around the world and across cultures, culminating in a unit on the Eucharist and the daring Orthodox-Catholic claim to be eating God. So books in this genre continue to interest me, including one just released: Food, Virtue, and the Shaping of Early Christianity by Dana Robinson (Cambridge University Press, 2020), 257pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
In this book, Dana Robinson examines the role that food played in the Christianization of daily life in the fourth century CE. Early Christians used the food culture of the Hellenized Mediterranean world to create and debate compelling models of Christian virtue, and to project Christian ideology onto common domestic practices. Combining theoretical approaches from cognitive linguistics and space/place theory, Robinson shows how metaphors for piety, such as health, fruit, and sacrifice, relied on food-related domains of common knowledge (medicine, agriculture, votive ritual), which in turn generated sophisticated and accessible models of lay discipline and moral formation. She also demonstrates that Christian places and landscapes of piety were socially constructed through meals and food production networks that extended far beyond the Eucharist. Food culture, thus, provided a network of metaphorical concepts and spatial practices that allowed the lay faithful to participate in important debates over Christian living and community formation.
We are also given the Table of Contents:

1. Introduction
2. The medicine moderation: John Chrysostom and the true fast
3. From dinner theater to domestic church in late antique Antioch
4. Shenoute's botanical virtues: fruit, labor, and ascetic production
5. The places of God: festivals, food service, and Christian community
6. Meals, mouths, and martyrs: Paulinus of Nola and sacrificial spaces
7. Conclusion.

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