We read in Neh 8:10:

Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

We also read in Lk 1:15, of the ensuing birth of John the Baptist:

"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."

So, there were three categories of drinks that the Jews normally had: sweet drink, wine and strong drink. Let us consider unfermented fresh grape juice as sweet drink, and fermented wine as one step below strong drink. It would imply that strong drink was made of something else other than grapes.

So, what were the ingredients of soft drink and strong drink as mentioned in Nehemia and Luke?

  • The main point of the passages quoted may be more important than the actual beverage specified. The intent of the message offered by the writer. The "why" rather than the "what"
    – David D
    Jan 2 at 14:33

2 Answers 2


The word used in Nehemiah 8:10 is Strong's H4477. The verse actually says, "...and drink the sweet." H4477 is the word for "sweet" used here. When researching the meaning of the word, I found that H4477 comes from H4985. According to Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon: "STRONGS H4985: Abbreviations† מָתֹק verb become or be sweet, pleasant (Late Hebrew מתק, especially Pi.; Assyrian [matâḳu] be sweet, in derivatives; Ethiopic bdb060805 sweet; Aramaic bdb060806 suck (with pleasure), מְתַק id., be sweet; Arabic bdb060807 (bdb060807a before bdb060807b) see smack the lips (with pleasure), bdb060808 sweetness); — Qal Perfect 3rd person masculine singular suffix מְתָקוֺ [H4988 Job 24:20]; 3rd person plural plural מָֽתְקוּ Job 21:33; Imperfect 3rd person masculine plural יִמְתָּ֑קוּ Proverbs 9:17, וַיִמְתְּקוּ Exodus 15:25; —

  1. literally become sweet, of water (opposed to מָרִים) Exodus 15:25 (J); are (i.e. taste) sweet, מַיִם גְּנוּבִים יִמ׳ Proverbs 9:17 (figurative of delights of illicit pleasure).
  2. = be pleasant, מָֽתְקוּ לוֺ Job 21:33 sweet (pleasant) to him are the clods of the valley (said of one resting in the grave).
  3. suck (Aramaic sense, compare Syriac above) מְתָקוֺ רִמָּה [H4988 Job 24:20] the worm doth suck him, feast on him (on verb masculine compare Ges§ 145. 7 KöSynt. § 345 a DaSynt. § 113 (b)), Di De Buhl (compare Kau Da; also SS who render 'angenehm finden'), but this sense in Hebrew dubious; text perhaps corrupt (compare conjectures by Bu Du). Hiph. Imperfect 3rd person feminine singular אִם תַּמְתִּיק בְּפִיו רָעָה Job 20:12 if evil gives a sweet taste in his mouth (declarative Hiph.); 1st person plural אֲשֶׁר יַחְדָּו נַמְתִּיק סוֺד Psalm 55:15 [Psalm 55:14] we who used to make sweet (our) intimacy."

When talking about the "strong drink" referred to in Luke 1:15 (note: You accidentally made a typo and said it was 1:16, but the verse you referred to was actually verse 15 ;) ), Strong's G4608 is used, and from the definition I found, it is different from wine. Here is the definition I found: "strong drink, an intoxicating beverage, different from wine; it was a artificial product, made of a mixture of sweet ingredients, whether derived from grain and vegetables, or from the juice of fruits (dates), or a decoction of honey"

I think this gives us a good idea of what the drinks consisted of.


The book of Nehemiah was written several hundred years earlier than the Gospel of Luke. Jews would have already experienced the Babylonian exile but not the Hellenistic or Roman cultures of later centuries. So the categories Nehemiah refers to might be different than what Luke speaks of. Nehemiah does not contrast "sweet" vs. "strong" so sweet drinks in that case might refer to sweet wines as well as non-alcoholic beverages. (Song of Songs 8:2) An article in the Jerusalem Post states:

The Talmud describes 60 types of wines. Some wines were diluted with water. Others would invariably have flavors added to improve the taste and act as a preservative. Salt, seawater, herbs and spices such as cinnamon were added. Raisins or date honey were used as sweeteners. These flavored wines were forerunners of the punches or vermouths of today.

So sweet drinks might include alcoholic beverages as well as a variety of fruit juices (pomegranate, citron, grape, fig, etc.) or drinks made with honey and/or milk. Vinegar flavored with honey and spices is also noted in the sources. In both "sweet" and "strong" drinks, spices such as cinnamon, anise and cumin could be involved; and raisins or dates, as well as honey, were used as sweeteners.

Two types of "strong drink" in the quote from Luke would include beer (known from very ancient times in Babylonia) and mead (popular in Greek culture). An alcoholic beverage used by Roman soldiers, posca is another possibility. This is probably the same beverage given to Jesus on the Cross.

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