Wine in the Bible: wine and the mind

Source: https://www.abarim-publications.com/Dictionary/y/y-w-nfin.html

Wine in the Bible

— Wine and the mind —

Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary

יון  יין  ינה

There are two roots יון (ywn), which are officially not related, and the fact that they are identical is generally considered a coincidence. But for the poetic writers of the Bible, similar words with different meanings always allows for playful phrasing, and additional meaning should certainly be expected.

Then there is the word יין (yayan), meaning wine, which is also not officially related to either of the roots יון (ywn), but the letters ו (waw) and י (yod) very often interchange; roots spelled with a ו often spawn nouns with a י and vice versa, and some verbs occur spelled both with a ו and a י. Our English word "wine" comes from the Latin vinum, which in turn comes from a very old proto-Indo-European root, which also formed the Arabic equivalent wain. All of these wine-words seem to follow the form יון (ywn) rather than יין (yyn), which again argues their kinship.

All these considerations bring our little root cluster close to the pervasive symbolic structure that associates tranquility, primitivity, muddiness (the intermediate state between water and dry land) and the color red, as demonstrated by the root clusters אדם ('adam) and חמר (hamar).


The masculine noun יין (yayan) means wine, but there's a big "however" tied to it.

In the Bible, the cultural side of humanity is most commonly depicted as a vineyard (כרם, kerem; Genesis 9:20, Isaiah 5:1, John 15:1), and "wine" is humanity's culture's software; the things we talk about to each other, the stories we tell, the wisdoms we have, the trades we engage in. This image of the vineyard, which produces grapes, which are gathered and mushed together to make wine, appears to tap into one of the Bible's primary reality-describing principles, and, once recognized, can be recognized everywhere.

The verb ירה, (yara) appears to describe the actual action of this principle, which we here at Abarim Publications summarize as "many little impulses [grapes] that cause a larger and unified event [wine]". In cosmology we recognize the same principle in the patterns of gravitational waves (wine) produced by rotating black holes (grapes). And in biology (or philosophy, depending on one's leanings), we see the elusive "soul" emerge as the "wine" drawn from the "grapes" that are an organism's separate cells.

Wine in the Bible

Wine in the Bible appears to be mostly a medium via which something that ought to have happened can be brought about, mostly by placating whoever is in the way.

Wine is first mentioned in the Bible as the intoxicating produce of the vineyard that led to Noah's passing out, which led to Ham's cursed impertinence (Genesis 9:21-21), which explained the reason for the Exodus out of Mizraim (one of Ham's sons) and justified the invasion of Canaan (also one of Ham's sons).

Secondly, wine is mentioned as one of the two gifts (the other being bread) that Melchizedek, priest of El Elyon, had for Abraham. This transaction resulted in Abraham giving ten percent of his loot to Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18), which resulted in the law of tithing, the recognition of the priestly order of Melchizedek, and possibly also ties into the communion rite (Hebrews 7).

Lot's daughters used wine to sedate their father and have him impregnate them; this gave rise to Israel's national neighbors of the Ammonites and Moabites (Genesis 19:32; note that David's great-grandmother Ruth was Moabite). And wine may have helped Jacob dupe Isaac into believing he was blessing Esau (Genesis 27:25 — although the old man knew probably very well what was going on; see Hebrews 11:20).

Wine and the mind

All this brought the image of wine so close to reason and the act of reasoning (perhaps seeing wisdom as wine drawn from the grapes of observations and deductions) that Elihu could tell Job that his spirit was full of words like a belly full of fermenting wine (Job 32:19), and Moses could exclaim about "nations lacking in counsel" that their grapes were grapes of poison, their clusters bitter, their wine the venom of serpents (נחש, nahash) and the deadly poison of cobras (Deuteronomy 32:28-33).

Wine is, quite literally, a mind-changer and serves in the Biblical symbolic jargon as a symbol for anything that changes one's mind. Hence "wine" can cause joy but also induce vain visions (Isaiah 29:9, 51:21) and fill one's mind with false convictions in the same way a prostitute's surrogate affections would (Hosea 4:11). Dread can cause feebleness as if by vinolent intoxication (Jeremiah 23:9); the prophet Jeremiah speaks of the wine of God's wrath (Jeremiah 25:15, also Revelation 14:10, 16:19). The Psalmist speaks of wine of hardship (60:3) and of judgment (75:8), and Solomon speaks of wine of violence (Proverbs 4:17).

But Solomon also speaks of the wine of wisdom (Proverbs 9:2, 9:5). When Jacob blessed his sons, and in them the tribes of Israel, he said of Judah that he would tether his donkey (a peace-symbol) to the vine, wash his garments in wine (Genesis 49:11) and have darkened eyes because of wine (49:12); all this seems to foretell Judah's talents in the diplomacy department. Probably not coincidental is Nehemiah's profession at the court of king Artaxerxes of Persia: he was the king's wine steward (Nehemiah 2:1). Likewise, the dismissal of queen Vashti occurred when the "royal wine was plentiful, according to the king's bounty" (Esther 1:7, 1:10). This allowed Esther to take the queen's place and avert the holocaust designed by Haman, again with a clear wine-connection (Esther 5:6, 7:2-8).

Wine and rituals

Wine became part of several offerings (Leviticus 10:9, 23:13, Numbers 15:5-10, 28:14, 1 Samuel 1:24, 10:3), including the daily offering (Exodus 29:40), but consuming wine prior to entering the tabernacle could lead to death (Leviticus 10:9, also see Ezekiel 44:21). A person bound by either the Nazirite vow or the Rechabite vow was not to drink wine (Numbers 6:3, Judges 13:7, Jeremiah 35:6, Luke 1:15) but wine was by no means a controlled substance or considered anything bad (Deuteronomy 14:26). Wine symbolized peace, prosperity and collective merriment (Deuteronomy 28:39, Psalm 104:15, Ecclesiastes 9:7, Song of Solomon 1:2, Isaiah 16:10, Jeremiah 48:33) but drunkenness, as any over-indulgence, was frowned upon and condemned (1 Samuel 1:14, 25:37, Proverbs 20:1, 21:17, 23:20-21, 23:29-35, Isaiah 5:11-12, Ephesians 5:18, Titus 2:3).

When mankind urbanized, people discovered quickly that water was an excellent source of infections and drinking it a great way to get really sick. This led to people largely avoiding the consumption of water, and replacing it with beer and wine (which back in the day had far less alcohol to it than modern wines; the absence of beer in the Bible, by the way, suggests that our word יין, yayan, also covers beer). But the most essential nutritional package consisted of bread and wine/beer (Joshua 9:4, Judges 19:19, 1 Samuel 16:20, 25:18, 2 Samuel 16:1, 2 Chronicles 2:10, Nehemiah 5:15-18, Daniel 1:5), even to the extent that wages were commonly paid in wine or beer (we know from Egyptian records). Note that the noun שכר (seker), meaning wage, is spelled identically to the noun שכר (shekar), meaning alcoholic drink.

All this makes Jesus' famous saying about the new wine in old wineskins (Matthew 9:17) perhaps also a statement about the compatibility of new convictions (say, a scientific theory) and traditional models (religious rituals and customs), and the urge to separate things carefully and purposefully.

One of the more familiar stories of the New Testament is Jesus' turning water into wine at the wedding of Cana, but what is little emphasized is that the water that was in the vats was meant for washing (of feet; see John 2:6) and not for human consumption. Jesus didn't only change the substance of the liquid but also the applicability and function of it (and the vats it sat in).

Nowadays it's becoming increasingly clear that Christianity didn't become its own religion until well into the fourth century. Up until then, Christians simply were Jews who went to synagogues and observed the Sabbath and feasts, but who did not put the wine of Jesus "new teachings" (Mark 1:27, John 13:34, Acts 17:19) into the time-honored wineskin of Judaism.

יון I

The unused and assumed root יון (ywn I) yields the masculine noun יון (yawen) meaning mire. This noun is used only twice in the Bible, in Psalm 40:2 and 69:2, and on both occasions the mire serves as metaphor for the absence of a stable foothold. Note that a typical effect of intoxication is just that: loss of a stable foothold (Job 12:25, Psalm 60:3, 107:27, Isaiah 19:14).

יון II

The unused and assumed root יון (ywn II) yields a word that's much more common in the Bible: the feminine noun יונה (yona), meaning dove or pigeon (Leviticus 1:14, Isaiah 38:14).

Perhaps the flight of the dove — rather erratic and not very vigorous — reminded the Hebrew poets of the course of a drunken person, and in turn of the mire in which no foothold is found. When Noah released a dove from the Ark, she found no foothold (Genesis 8:9). The prophet Hosea likened Ephraim to a silly dove (Hosea 7:11) because Ephraim ran after Egypt, then after Assyria. Even the prophet Jonah (whose name is identical to the word יונה, yona, meaning dove) vacillated between Tarshish and Nineveh after God had called him (Jonah 1:2-3).

Solomon likened the eyes of the bride with doves (Song of Solomon 1:15), and that is remarkable because Jesus besmirched the eyes of the blind man with mud (John 9:6). In addition Paul writes that God's works can be clearly understood by what can be seen (Romans 1:20). By Law of Moses, people who could not afford a lamb were allowed to offer two doves for purification (Leviticus 5:7). As much as doves are associated with sight, ravens are associated with hearing (see our article on ערב, 'oreb, raven).

But the grand finale of this word יונה (yona) is the descension of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus; in the form of a dove (Matthew 3:16). For a long look at why the Holy Spirit might come in the form of a dove, see our article on the Greek word περιστερα (peristera), meaning dove.

The functions of the Holy Spirit are legion of course but possibly he chose the appearance of a dove to indicate that God brings people together by their weaknesses and not by their strengths, and the fabric of Truth is uncertainty, contrary to deterministic certainty. The mind of Christ is not about knowing all things down to the minutest facts, but being alive in a whole new way. Being able to waver is a quality of life; lifeless objects travel by straight, predictable lines.


Curiously similar to the word for dove, the verb ינה (yana) is used about twenty times in the Bible, and it generally means to do someone wrong or to oppress someone (Exodus 22:21, Jeremiah 46:16). In Leviticus 19:33 the verb ינה (yana) stands opposite the phrase "love him as yourself".

Associated Biblical names