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DRUNKENNESS (Heb. שִׁכָּרוֹן, shikkaron).

In the Bible

Biblical, apocryphal, and ancient Near Eastern references make it clear that, far from being condemned, the use of alcoholic beverages was regarded by Jews and others as a necessary (Ecclus. 39:26; Pritchard, Texts, 598, line 89; 602, line 32) and distinctive (Ps. 104:15; Pritchard, Texts, 77c, line 12ff.) feature of human life. A feast was inconceivable without wine, and Proverbs 9:1ff. speaks of Wisdom personified offering food and wine. Indeed, complete abstinence was associated with a turning away from civilization (Jer. 35; see *Rechabites). Likewise, the *Nazirite avoidance of alcohol is of a piece with their refraining from cutting the hair and from participating in the burial of the dead, two other hallmarks of civilization (Numbers 6). *Wine was valued for bringing joy and banishing sorrow (Judg. 9:13; Ps. 104:15; cf. Pritchard, loc. cit., line 21; Prov. 31:6–7; Eccles. 10:19; Ecclus. 31:27–28; 40:20) and was used cultically in libations (Ex. 30:40–41) and the festive sacral meal (Deut. 14:26).

Intoxication, however, was deprecated (cf. Ecclus. 31:25–31; 39:27), both in the cult – in keeping with the biblical rejection of the Dionysiac element of other ancient religions (Lev. 10:8–11; I Sam. 1:13–16; Ezek. 44:21) – and in daily life. Wisdom literature warns that drunkenness brings poverty, woes, quarrels, wounds, strange visions, etc. (Prov. 20:1; 21:17; 23:19–21:29–35; 31:4–5; cf. I Esd. 3:19–24) and causes kings to err in judgment (Prov. 31:4–5; cf. Lev. 10:8–11 (priests); Isa. 28:7 (priest and prophet)). Several narratives depict the disgrace and sometimes death of drunkards (Noah, Gen. 9:20–27; Lot, Gen. 19:31–38; Nabal, I Sam. 25:36; Amnon, II Sam. 13:28–29; Elah, I Kings 16:9; Ben-Hadad, I Kings 20:16; Ahasuerus, Esth. 1:10; cf. Holofernes, Judith 13:2). The prophets frequently condemn drunkenness, particularly among the wealthy and the leaders (Isa. 28:1ff.; 56:11–12; cf. Prov. 31:4–5), associating it with moral insensitivity (Isa. 5:11–12, 22–23; Amos 2:8), licentiousness (Hos. 4:11–12, 18), and forgetting God (Hos. 4:11–12; cf. Job 1:4–5). Drunkenness and gluttony are among the charges against the insubordinate son (Deut. 21:20). However, Isaiah 51:17–18, like the Ugaritic Aqhat epic (in Pritchard, Texts, 150b, line 32–33), reflects a view that filial duties include helping a parent made unsteady by alcohol to walk. The occasion of drunkenness might be private drinking (Noah, Lot) or group celebration (Nabal, Amnon, Ben-Hadad, Ahasuerus), including carousing on religious festivals (Hos. 4:11ff.). Drinking songs and music are mentioned at such celebrations (Isa. 24:7–9; Amos 6:5–6; Ps. 69:13). One type of gathering that appears, especially in the light of extra – and post – biblical attestations, to have been conducive to drunkenness is the marzeaḥ, referring at times to a joyous banquet (Amos 6:7), at others to a mourning meal (Jer. 16:5)


IN THE BIBLE: Kaufmann Y., Religion, 321, 374; B. Porten, Archives from Elephantine (1968), 179–86; G.R. Driver, in: Words and Meanings, Essays… D.W. Thomas (1968), 47–67; L. Milano (ed.), Drinking in Ancient Societies (1994). MODERN TIMES: D. Cahalan, I. Cisin and H.R. Crossley, American Drinking Practices (1970); V. Efron and M. Keller, Selected Statistical Tables on the Consumption of Alcohol and on Alcoholism (1963); Keller, in: British Journal of Addiction, 64 (1969); King, in: Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 22 (1961), 321; Knupfer and Room, ibid., 28 (1967), 676; C.R. Snyder, Alcohol and the Jews (1958); Shuval and Krasilowsky, in: Israel Annual of Psychiatry, 1 (1964), 277; 3 (1965), 249.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.