HomeFood and religion in Egypt and in the Ancient Near East

Food and religion in Egypt and in the Ancient Near East

Religion et alimentation dans l'Égypte et l'Orient ancien

*  *  *

Published on Friday, August 22, 2014 by João Fernandes


Religion et alimentation interagissent à bien des points de vue (le jeûne, le sacrifice, etc.), principalement parce que la norme, notamment mise en forme à travers les rites, est au cœur de chacune ; dans cette optique, elles sont un moyen privilégié d’interroger les sociétés, et de les comparer. Aussi est prévue à l’Ifao la publication de l’ouvrage collectif Religion et alimentation dans l'Égypte et l'Orient anciens, qui aura pour objectif de déterminer la place qu’occupe la nourriture dans les mythes et les pratiques rituelles, et de définir la nature et l’importance de la marque religieuse dans les pratiques alimentaires. Fondé sur une démarche comparatiste, il rassemblera des études de cas et des travaux de synthèse, qui porteront aussi bien sur l’Égypte ancienne, depuis l’Ancien Empire jusqu’à l’époque byzantine, que sur la Mésopotamie ancienne, l’Anatolie hittite et le Levant ancien.



Food and religion interact in several ways, each holding a large share in the other. They offer in fact two excellent ways of questioning the societies in which they develop, insofar as the concept of norm is at the heart of each; in both cases the importance of norms is enacted through a number of codified behaviors and rites.

Anthropologists have been interested in food and religion for a fairly long time - as evidenced for instance by the work of Claude Levi-Strauss (Mythologiques III, Les manières de table, Paris, 1962) and of Mary Douglas (Food in the Social Order. Studies of Food and Festivities in Three American Communities, New York, 1984); they shed light on the deep bonds that exist between eating habits, cultural habits and beliefs. Sociologists are not to be left aside, most particularly Pierre Bourdieu (La distinction. Critique sociale du jugement, Paris, 1979), who showed that eating habits are also dependent on social classes. However, the major importance of food in religion and religion in food is a field of investigation that has largely been ignored by researchers working on the Ancient Near East, with the notable exception of the specific themes of sacrifice and taboo. Many other links between food and religion would then need to be addressed. Thus, religion is a normative environment for eating habits; it is possible to tackle this environment through the role given to the sacred in the food supply chain – from the field to the kitchen –, its influence on table manners, and the way foods are considered pure/edible or impure/unfit for consumption. As long as food is a criterion for defining the identity of a group, studying food in myths allows addressing the question of the distance between divine identity and human nature. Food necessarily plays a paradoxical role in the field of rituals: indeed, if it is a gift from the gods, it is nonetheless at the same time the fruit of human labor. It is through food offerings that a link, mainly based on relations of interdependence, can be created between the human and the sacred.

 Very recent collective works have allowed researchers to make significant progress in this area concerning Near Eastern cultures (L. Milano (ed.), Mangiare divinamente. Pratiche e simbologie alimentari nell'Antico oriente, Eothen 20, 2012). We would like to build bridges between this work and those initiated on other parts of the Oriental Antiquity and try to break down the tight partitions between our respective disciplines. Thus, the purpose of the book Food and Religion in Egypt and in the Ancient Near East that will be edited at the Ifao, is to determine the role of food in religion – myths and ritual practices – as well as to try and define how religion impose its mark on eating habits. Based on a comparative approach, it will bring together case studies and synthesis works, which will include Egypt, Mesopotamia, Anatolia and Levant, from the IIIrd millennium B.C. until late Antiquity. Although they relate to different cultural areas, they deal with common concerns and shared questions.

Main themes

The proposals should revolve around those themes and those concerning the first part would be preferred:

Introduction. Food habits as a basis for socio-religious identity
I. Religion in food

I.1. Religion in food preparation
            I.1.a. Harvest of plants, slaughter of animals, preparations before cooking
            I.1.b. Cooking, a sacralized practice; the kitchen, a sanctified space
I.2. Religion in food consumption: meals and table manners
I.3. Religious dietary obligations and restrictions
            I.3.a. Restrictions related with attitudes regarded as inconvenient (exaggerated)
            I.3.b. Restrictions related with categories of food
            I.3.c. Fasting

II. Food in religion

II.1. Food in myths
II. 2. Food in rituals
            II.2.a. The temple and the altars: food for the god(s)
            II.2.b. The domestic space: food for the god(s) and the ancestors
            II.2.c. The tomb: food for the dead
II.3. Commensality: constructing the sacred

Submission guidelines

Proposals (title and abstract, 250-300 words) are to be submitted

before the 30th of October 2014

to mlarnette@ifao.egnet.net. The articles should be submitted before the 28th of February 2015 to the same address, and should follow the editor’s guidelines (to be downloaded on Calenda). Eacg article will then be reviewed (anonymously) by two specialists of the field. 

Langages: French, English. 

Scientific editor

Marie-Lys Arnette (Ifao, scientific member).


  • Thursday, October 30, 2014


  • religion, alimentation, Égypte ancienne, Orient ancien, anthropologie historique


  • Marie-Lys Arnette
    courriel : mlarnette [at] ifao [dot] egnet [dot] net

Information source

  • Marie-Lys Arnette
    courriel : mlarnette [at] ifao [dot] egnet [dot] net

To cite this announcement

« Food and religion in Egypt and in the Ancient Near East », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Friday, August 22, 2014, https://calenda.org/296699

Archive this announcement

  • Google Agenda
  • iCal