Sunday, July 11, 2010


About Wine and Religion

While attending holy communion at church this morning I had some thoughts about the use and prohibition of wine in various religions. Traditional Christians celebrate holy communion with wine. These include the Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Lutherans, and Anglicans. In the consecration of the wine the Anglicans dilute the wine with water. An Episcopal priest once explained to me that, as a consequence, he would start with fortified wine (i.e., strengthened to 19 percent alcohol) so that after dilution the wine would still be strong enough to kill any bacteria or viruses and enable the parishioners to sip from the same cup without spreading disease.

The Episcopal prayer of consecration describes the preparation of wine and bread at the last supper. I don't know of any biblical account of the last supper that includes the detail of diluting the wine. However, that detail isn't important to my theory, which I am about to present.

My theory is that wine produced in countries of the same latitude as Biblical Israel is rather strong. Compare, for example, Italian Chianti with German May wine. German grapes are grown in a higher latitude and the wine is milder in consequence. The wine produced by the vintners of Jesus's time must have been pretty strong stuff. I can imagine that Jesus himself had a rather delicate taste and couldn't stand the local wine unless it was diluted. Certainly priests serving communion in the centuries that followed would also be likely to dilute the wine.

Now let's consider Muhammad. He lived in a region not suitable for grapes. Any wine consumed there was imported from Israel or Persia or Mesopotamia, all in the same range of latitude for producing strong-tasting wine. I can believe that Muhammad also had a rather delicate taste. He couldn't stand the stuff and wouldn't drink it. He hated it so much that he forbade his followers to drink it either.

There's another theory about Muhammad. He was in a situation similar to another religious leader who was establishing a colony for his flock in Utah. Brigham Young forbade his followers from drinking coffee or tea. Coffee and tea don't grow in Utah and he wanted his colony to be completely self-sufficient. They could drink tea made from the leaves of mint plants that do grow in Utah. Hence, Mormons can drink peppermint tea but not coffee or Oolong tea or any of the other teas that must be imported. Muhammad may have had the same attitude toward wine, since it had to be imported. Coffee was no problem for him. After all, coffee originated in Arabia.

My theory is incomplete. Christians dilute sacramental wine and Muslims abstain from all wine for one of two reasons: (1) Their leaders had delicate tastes and didn't like the taste of the available wine; (2) Muhammad didn't want to have to import wine from the north and urged his followers to drink coffee instead.


Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?