The Bible Wine Tour
In January of 2011, archaeologists announced the discovery of the oldest known facility for producing grape wine. Working in a network of caves in Armenia, they found fermentation jars, a 15-gallon basin for treading grapes, and the remains of crushed grapes, leaves, and vines. They dated the site's age at about 6,100 years. This is not the oldest evidence of grape wine—that would be the 7,400-year-old chemical residues recovered in the Zargos Mountains in Iran. The Armenian site, however, is the oldest known wine production facility.
Why mention this in Christianity Today? Because the "winery" was just about 60 miles from Mount Ararat, where, the Bible says, Noah's ark landed and thus near where he planted the first vineyard. "After the flood, Noah began to cultivate the ground, and he planted a vineyard. One day he drank some wine he had made, and he became drunk and lay naked inside his tent" (Gen. 9:20-21, NLT).
In Divine Vintage,Hebrew Bible scholar (and former wine importer) Randall Heskett joins with oenologist (and president of the Institute of Masters of Wine) Joel Butler to trace the Bible's "wine trail" from Mount Ararat in the north to Egypt in the south. They devote the first half of their book to the wine trail documented in the Bible and other ancient texts, awakening the reader to the significance that wine plays in the economy of the ancient world and in the religious and economic life of Israel. The wine trail in the book's second half is literal rather than literary: the authors visit contemporary wineries in the lands of the Bible, providing a helpful guide for wine tourists in the Middle East.
The authors argue that wine is "a key protagonist for the evolution of society from rootless and nomadic to settled, spiritual, and cultured." Wine, they say, "is the heart, soul, and body of Western civilization." While they don't quite prove that exalted status, they do link developments in ancient civilization to the evolution of viticulture. Wine also played a very important role, both theologically and culturally, in Israelite history. The authors have no time for the conservative Christian belief that in the Bible, wine is always a bane and never a blessing. (On the second page of the preface, they announce that they simply will not treat "all of the pointless claims that promote abstinence from alcohol or assertions that wine in the Bible was not fermented.") Their ultimate, light-hearted goal is to answer the question WWWJD: What Wine Would Jesus Drink? The authors saved their answer for the end of the book—so I'll save it for the end of this review.
In the Bible, wine appears far more frequently as a vehicle of God's blessing than an occasion of human folly. When Noah planted a vineyard, it was an act of faith in God's promises. So argues biblical scholar Peter Green (currently pursuing a PhD at Wheaton College). After the flood, the God who had just destroyed (or "de-created") the earth promised to permanently establish regular agricultural seasons. "As long as the earth remains, there will be planting and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night" (Gen. 8:22, NLT). A vineyard requires at least three years to produce its first usable crop of wine grapes. Planting one means betting on a long run of the right kind of weather and climate conditions. So when Noah took up his role as a second Adam to cultivate the garden and populate the earth, he was demonstrating faith in God's blessing.