ABSTRACT: Improvements in Nutrition during the Second Temple Period

Moreshet Israel, 6 (2009), pp. 31-50  Meir Bar-Ilan


It is long been observed that during the Second Commonwealth (ca. 5th century BCE – 1 century CE), there was a population growth in the Land of Israel. However, the explanation for this growth is not clear. After dismissing several possible explanations of this growth (conversion, immigration, and change in the age at marriage), it is argued that the main factor of this growth is the improvement in nutrition among the Jews in the Land of Israel, an improvement that took place, unnoticed, in the course of several hundred years until it became evident in the Rabbinic sources.

Following Y. Felix it is argued that several new agricultural crops penetrated the Land of Israel. Among these new crops were: rice, carob (Ceratonia Siliqua), honey-bees and hens (Gallus). It is argued that these are samples only, and as a matter of fact the number of new crops was much higher.

The methodological problem is discussed: how can one deduce ex silentio, especially when there is some “contra” evidence (such as the case of the cock on a seal from the 8-7 century BCE).

It is argued that the growth in the amount of available food, made longer the shelf-time of products, improved the nutrition of the population (in calories, vitamins and protein), and this lowered the mortality rate, especially among children. In other words: the improvement in nutrition was the main cause of population growth in Antiquity.