Hieronymus, Commentary on Isaiah 7.19-5-11

‘et erunt irrigua eius flaccentia, omnes qui faciebant lacunas ad capiendos pisces.’ Hoc significat, quod omnes insidiae Aegypti piscatorum destruantur, et permeant. [. . .] notandum quod pro lacunis LXX ζῦθον transtulerunt, quod genus est potionis ex frugibus aquaque confectum et vulgo in Dalmatiae Pannoniaeque provinciis gentili barbaroque sermone appellatur sabaium. Hoc maxime utuntur Aegyptii, ut non puras aquas bibentibus tribuant, sed turbidus, et commixtarum fecium similes, ut per huiuscemodi potionem haereticae pravitatia doctrina monstretur.

“His soaked things will be soft, and all who were making ponds for capturing fish.” This means that all the Egyptian treacheries for the fishermen will be destroyed and disappear. [. . .] it must be noted that instead of pond, they translate [in the Septuagint, from the Hebrew] it as “beer.” This is a type of drink made from grains and water; and, in the common and barbaric speech of the locals from the provinces of Dalmatia and Pannonia, it is called “sabaium.” The Egyptians drink this very much, because they do not allow pure water for drinking; instead, turbid [water], like it is mixed with feces, and with a drink of this type, the depraved teaching of heresy is denounced.

This is from a commentary (scholarly explanation and notes) on the biblical Book of Isaiah. This passage tickles me; It touches on two previous BCS passages: Ammianus Marcellinus’s late 4th. century CE passage about sabaium in Dalmatia and Pannonia and the mistranslation of zythos in the Septuagint’s Book of Isaiah. Also, Hieronymus includes two words for beer that I have defined previously (sabaium and zythos). Please click the embedded links to refresh your memories about all of these.

This passage shows that sabaium was still a drink of choice among the Dalmatians and Pannonians in the fifth c. CE. Hieronymus surely is an authoritative source: he is from the border region of these provinces and a native Illyrian speaker. This likely explains his interpolating a the description of “sabaium” during a discussion of Egyptian beer. In this text, he draws an analogy between these beverages, confirming that sabaium was alcoholic and that this beer is not greatly dissimilar from the contemporary beverage in Egypt (where he traveled when he was young).

Unfortunately, Hieronymus does not provide much information about the make-up of this beer. He does mention, however, that the beer was rather turbid–like poop. Feces-water? No wonder the Romans were skeptical of this drink. Clearly, “shitty beer” can’t be attributed entirely to some of the mass-produced swill that is sold throughout this planet.

This passage also attests to the continued use of the word zythos for several centuries.

Author’s Note
Eusebius Hieronymus, aka Saint Jerome (ca. 347-420 CE)
An Illyrian by birth, Hieronymus wrote extensively about theology and Christian matters in the Late Antique period of the Roman Empire

Nelson. M. 2001. “Beer in Greco-Roman Antiquity.” Ph.D. dissertation, U. of British Columbia. (for the text)

Image source: Saint Jerome having a vision of Ezechiel, Domenico Ghirlandaio or his workshop (1449-1494). Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.



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