Strong Drink

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Fausset's Bible Dictionary [1]

Shechar . Any intoxicating beverage, wine especially from the grape (compare  Numbers 28:7 with  Exodus 29:40). Strong drink was extracted from other fruit also, as the pomegranate ( Song of Solomon 8:2). Beer was made from barley, lupin, skirrett, and other herbs being substituted for hops. Spices were mingled with it ( Isaiah 5:22). Cider, or "apple wine," is noticed in the Mishna, Terum, 2, section 2. Honey wine was a mixture of wine, honey, and pepper, also a concoction from the grape called Debaash by the Hebrew, by modern Syrians dibs, wine, milk or water being added. Date wine also was made in Egypt. The Speaker's Commentary explains the proverbial phrase,  Deuteronomy 29:19, "so that the soul that is drunken with sin carry away that which thirsts for sin." "Drinking iniquity like water himself ( Job 15:16), he corrupts others thirsting for it."

Easton's Bible Dictionary [2]

 Judges 13:4 Luke 1:15 Isaiah 5:11 Micah 2:11 Psalm 107:27 Isaiah 24:20 49:26 51:17-22 Proverbs 20:1Wine

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [3]

(שׁכר , shēkhār  ; σίκερα , sı́kera  ; from שׁכר , shākhar , "to be or become drunk"; probably from the same root as sugar , saccharine ): With the exception of  Numbers 28:7 , "strong drink" is always coupled with "wine." The two terms are commonly used as mutually exclusive, and as together exhaustive of all kinds of intoxicants.

Originally shēkhār seems to have been a general term for intoxicating drinks of all kinds, without reference to the material out of which they were made; and in that sense, it would include wine. Reminiscences of this older usage may be found in  Numbers 28:7 (where shēkhār is clearly equivalent to wine, as may be seen by comparing it with  Numbers 28:14 , and with  Exodus 29:40 , where the material of the drink offering is expressly designated "wine").

When the Hebrews were living a nomadic life, before their settlement in Canaan, the grape-wine was practically unknown to them, and there would be no need of a special term to describe it. But when they settled down to an agricultural life, and came to cultivate the vine, it would become necessary to distinguish it from the older kinds of intoxicants; hence, the borrowed word yayin ("wine") was applied to the former, while the latter would be classed together under the old term shēkhār , which would then come to mean all intoxicating beverages other than wine (  Leviticus 10:9;  Numbers 6:3;  Deuteronomy 14:26;  Proverbs 20:1;  Isaiah 24:9 ). The exact nature of these drinks is not clearly indicated in the Bible itself. The only fermented beverage other than grape-wine specifically named is pomegranate-wine ( Song of Solomon 8:2 : "the juice of my pomegranate," the Revised Version, margin "sweet wine of my pomegranate"); but we may infer that other kinds of shēkhār besides that obtained from pomegranates were in use, such as drinks made from dates, honey, raisins, barley, apples, etc. Probably Jerome (circa 400 ad) was near the mark when he wrote, " Sikera in the Hebrew tongue means every kind of drink which can intoxicate, whether made from grain or from the juice of apples, or when honeycombs are boiled down into a sweet and strange drink, or the fruit of palm oppressed into liquor, and when water is colored and thickened from boiled herbs" ( Ep. ad Nepotianum ). Thus shēkhār is a comprehensive term for all kinds of fermented drinks, excluding wine.

Probably the most common sort of shēkhār used in Biblical times was palm or date-wine. This is not actually mentioned in the Bible, and we do not meet with its Hebrew name yēn temārı̄m ("wine of dates") until the Talmudic period. But it is frequently referred to in the Assyrian-Babylonian contract tablets (cuneiform), and from this and other evidence we infer that it was very well known among the ancient Semitic peoples. Moreover, it is known that the palm tree flourished abundantly in Biblical lands, and the presumption is therefore very strong that wine made of the juice of dates was a common beverage. It must not be supposed, however, that the term shēkhār refers exclusively to date-wine. It rather designates all intoxicating liquors other than grape-wine, while in few cases it probably includes even wine.

There can be no doubt that shēkhār was intoxicating. This is proved (1) from the etymology of the word, it being derived from shākhar , "to be or become drunk" ( Genesis 9:21;  Isaiah 29:9;  Jeremiah 25:27 , etc.); compare the word for drunkard ( shikkār ), and for drunkenness ( shikkārōn ) from the same root; (2) from descriptions of its effects: e.g. Isaiah graphically describes the stupefying effect of shēkhār on those who drink it excessively ( Isaiah 28:7 ,  Isaiah 28:8 ). Hannah defended herself against the charge of being drunk by saying, "I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink," i.e. neither wine nor any other intoxicating liquor ( 1 Samuel 1:15 ). The attempt made to prove that it was simply the unfermented juice of certain fruits is quite without foundation. Its immoderate use is strongly condemned ( Isaiah 5:11 ,  Isaiah 5:12;  Proverbs 20:1; see Drunkenness ). It was forbidden to ministering priests ( Leviticus 10:9 ), and to Nazirites ( Numbers 6:3;  Judges 13:4 ,  Judges 13:7 ,  Judges 13:14; compare  Luke 1:15 ), but was used in the sacrificial meal as drink offering ( Numbers 28:7 ), and could be bought with the tithe-money and consumed by the worshipper in the temple ( Deuteronomy 14:26 ). It is commended to the weak and perishing as a means of deadening their pain; but not to princes, lest it might lead them to pervert justice ( Proverbs 31:4-7 ).

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [4]

stands in the A.V. as the rendering of the Hebrews word שֵׁכָר , Shekar' (Graecized Σίκερα ,  Luke 1:15), which, in its etymological sense, applies to any beverage that had intoxicating qualities: it is generally found connected with wine, either as an exhaustive expression for all other liquors (e.g.  Judges 13:4;  Luke 1:15), or as parallel to it, particularly in poetical passages (e.g.  Isaiah 5:11;  Micah 2:11); in  Numbers 28:7, and  Psalms 69:12, however, it stands by itself, and must be regarded as including wine. The Bible itself throws little light upon the nature of the mixtures described under this term. We may infer: from  Song of Solomon 8:2 that the Hebrews were in the habit of expressing the juice of other fruits besides the grape for the purpose of making wine: the pomegranate, which is there noticed, was probably one out of many fruits so used. In  Isaiah 24:9 there may be a reference to the sweetness of some kind of strong drink. In  Numbers 28:7, strong drink is clearly used as equivalent to wine, which was ordered in  Exodus 29:40. With regard to the application of the term in later times we have the explicit statement of Jerome ( Ep. Ad Nepot. ), as well as other sources of information, from which we may state that the following beverages were known to the Jews:

1. Beer, which was largely consumed in Egypt under the name of zythus (Herod. 2:77; Diod. Sic. 1:34), and was thence introduced into Palestine (Mishna, Pesach, 3:1). It was made of barley; certain herbs, such as lupin and skirrett, were used as substitutes for hops (Colum. 10:114). The buzah of modern Egypt is made of barley-bread, crumbled in water and left until it has fermented (Lane, 1:131): the Arabians mix it with spices (Burckhardt's Arabia, 1:213), as described in  Isaiah 5:22. The Mishna (1.c.) seems to apply the term shekar more especially to a Median drink, probably a kind of beer made in the same manner as the modern buizah; the Edomite chomets, noticed in the same place, was probably another kind of beer, and may have held the same position: among the Jews that bitter beer does among ourselves.

2. Cider, which is noticed in the Mishna ( Terum. 11:2) as apple-wine.

3. Honey-wine, of which there were two sorts; one like the Οἰνόμελι of the Greeks, which is noticed in the Mishna (Shabb. 20:2; Terum. 11:1) under a Hebraized form of that name, consisting of a mixture of wine, honey, and pepper; the other a decoction of the juice of the grape, termed debash (honey) by the Hebrews; and dibs by the modern Syrians, resembling the Ἕψημα of the Greeks and the defrutum of the Romans, and similarly used, being mixed either with wine, milk, or water.

4. Date-wine, which was also manufactured in Egypt ( Οϊ v Νος Φοινική Þ Ος , Herod. 2:86; 3:20). It was made by mashing the fruit in water in certain proportions ( Plin. 14:19, 3). A similar method is, still used in Arabia, except that the fruit is not mashed (Burckhardt's Arabia , 2:264): the palm wine of modern Egypt is the sap of the tree itself, obtained by making an incision into its heart (Wilkinson, 2:174).

5. Various other fruits and vegetables are enumerated by Pliny (14:19) as supplying materials for factitious or home-made wine, such as figs, millet, the carob fruit, etc. It is not improbable that the Hebrews applied raisins to this purpose in the simple manner followed by the Arabians (Burckhardt, 2:377), viz., by putting them in jars of water and burying them in the ground until fermentation takes place. (See Wine).