Desert Dining: Dietary Restrictions in Early Monasticism

While within an ancient Jewish context, the text of Leviticus 11 offers proscriptions that appear definitive, even readers who accepted these guidelines as authoritative faced significant choices about how to interpret them. In a similar manner, monastic regulatory texts outline strict parameters of dietary observance. However, the question of how these guidelines were interpreted is more difficult to assess. This paper examines the particular foods specified in extant regulatory and narrative descriptions, and the rationales that govern inclusion in, or exclusion from, the monastic table. Paying particular attention to recurring controversies aimed at delineating a proper monastic stance towards dietary parameters, it considers the degree to which articulated norms may have been defined, embraced and/or legislated relative to broader questions of identity and belief.