3

We know quite well that St. John the Baptist had a rather unique diet while living his ministry on earth. John lived an austere life.

4 John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5 People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. 6 Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. - Matthew 3:4

Further more we know that he did not drink either wine or strong drinks.

15 For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb. - Luke 1:15

According to biblical patristics, what is the historical interpretation of what constituted a strong drink at the time of John the Baptist? Was it simply another form of alcoholic beverage like beer, a type of liquor or a drink laced with some type of drug?

2
  • It seems obvious that "strong drink" implies any other alcohol, such as beer. But I don't know whether this can be definitively shown. The halakha of the time could be a source to show this, if the Nazirite vow was considered by the Sages to forbid all alcohol not just that made from grapes.
    – wberry
    Sep 5 '20 at 20:39
  • I know that Romans put something in drinks that would be now considered drug use.
    – Ken Graham
    Sep 8 '20 at 15:27
3

Was it simply another form of alcoholic beverage like beer, a type of liquor or a drink laced with some type of drug?

No. It was specifically a Hebrew concept. It was a word that the average Gentile never heard of.

strong drink,
σίκερα (sikera) Noun - Accusative Neuter Singular
Strong's Greek 4608: Intoxicating drink. Of Hebrew origin; an intoxicant, i.e. Intensely fermented liquor.

It is a Greek word borrowed from Hebrew.

Meyer's NT Commentary

τὸ σίκερα (שִׁבָר), which does not occur in the Greek writers, is any exciting drink of the nature of wine, but not made of grapes; Leviticus 10:9 and frequently in the LXX. It was prepared from corn, fruit, dates, palms (Pliny, H. N. xiv. 19), and so forth. Eusebius, Praep. Evang. vi. 10, has the genitive σίκερος.

Bengel's Gnomen

Σίκερα is from the Hebr. שכר, and denotes all drink distinct from wine, and yet intoxicating, as the juice of the date, malt liquor, etc.

It is related to a Nazirite practice.

Numbers 6:1 The Lord said to Moses, 2“Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man or woman wants to make a special vow, a vow of dedication to the Lord as a Nazirite, 3they must abstain from wine and other fermented drink and must not drink vinegar made from wine or other fermented drink. They must not drink grape juice or eat grapes or raisins. 4As long as they remain under their Nazirite vow, they must not eat anything that comes from the grapevine, not even the seeds or skins.

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What is the historical interpretation of what constituted a strong drink at the time of John the Baptist?

While not a view from the patristics, here is some historical information from the Watchtower February 1, 2010 article Did You Know? under the question "Apart from wine, what kinds of alcoholic beverages were made in Bible times?"

“Wine and intoxicating liquor” are frequently mentioned together in the Bible. (Deuteronomy 14:26; Luke 1:15) The term “liquor” should not be understood to mean that these beverages were the product of distillation, since that process was invented centuries later. Alcoholic beverages were made not only from such fruits as grapes, dates, figs, apples, and pomegranates but also from honey.

In fact, the term “intoxicating liquor” could also refer to beer. The Hebrew word translated “intoxicating liquor” is related to an Akkadian word that can refer to the common barley beer of Mesopotamia. That beverage was low in alcohol but potentially intoxicating if drunk in excess. (Proverbs 20:1) Clay models of breweries and paintings of brewers have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs. In Babylon, beer was an everyday drink both in palaces and in the homes of the poor. The Philistines enjoyed a similar brew. Throughout Palestine, archaeologists have found jugs equipped with strainer spouts. Those vessels strained the beer, preventing drinkers from swallowing husks of the barley from which it was brewed.

It seems that beer, in its ancient form, could have been the "strong drink" referred to in the Gospel accounts.

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