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People in the Bronze and Iron Age lived in close contact with domestic animals. Animals provided food, and their care and feeding was an investment and a hedge against hard times. Sheep and goats were the principal herd animals: they are mobile, resilient in drought and provide meat, milk, wool, manure, and leather. Although cattle provide most of these same products and also can be used for plowing, they are not as well adapted to dry conditions and broken terrain.

Pigs were rare in the Iron Age. Beginning at the end of the Middle Bronze Age, the raising of pigs declined steadily. Pigs were costly to feed and do not provide milk, hair or wool. The avoidance of pork probably was already a widespread cultural pattern before the dietary prohibition of Leviticus 11:7 in the Old Testament. In the Hellenistic period (333 - 63 BCE), when pork consumption once again became popular, this long-standing regional pattern also became a means of marking an ethnic division between Jews and Greeks.

Iron Age houses usually included space for stabling animals. Small flocks were housed in and around the village, but large flocks had to travel considerable distances to find sufficient water and pasture. For at least part of each year, full-time shepherds were nomadic.

Meat was a luxury which did not normally form part of the diet because animals could be more profitably be used to produce other commodities. Meat from goats, sheep and cattle was normally eaten at sacrificial feasts and as part of the entertainment of a special guest. Meat was also obtained from birds. The chicken may not have been introduced into the southern Levant until the later Iron Age. Seafood was rare for the Israelites as they lacked access to the Mediterranean for part of their history. A limited variety of fruits and vegetables was also eaten including dates, pomegranates, figs, grapes, olives, legumes, onions, leeks, beans and lentils. Seasonings included salt, garlic, aniseed, coriander, cumin, dill, thyme, mint, nuts and honey.




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