Thomas R. Sinclair and C. J. Sinclair

Bread, Beer and the Seeds of Change

CABI 2010

New Books in Arts & LettersNew Books in FoodNew Books Network May 24, 2011 Allen Salkin

The men, women and beasts aboard Noah’s Ark almost certainly were drunk a lot of those 40 days and 40 nights, according to Thomas...

The men, women and beasts aboard Noah’s Ark almost certainly were drunk a lot of those 40 days and 40 nights, according to Thomas R. Sinclair, a professor of Crop Science at North Carolina State University, and his wife Carol Janas Sinclair, a researcher, the authors of Bread, Beer and the Seeds of Change (CABI, 2010). “Noah was a beer trader on the Euphrates River,” Professor Sinclair said. The book manages to link man’s thirst for beer with nearly every important moment in history, from the invention of democracy in ancient Greece to the advent of the industrial revolution.

As to Noah, the Sinclairs argue as do many historians that the Biblical story of a man in a boat surviving a great flood probably stems from an earlier Sumerian tale. Because good clean water was very hard to find in ancient civilizations, many people regularly drank a form of beer made from grain soaked in water and fermented. The alcohol killed the pathogens in the water. (Hops were a later addition in the middle ages). Noah was most likely selling kegs of beer from his boat in ancient Sumeria, the Sinclairs told me in the hourlong interview posted here. “His boat was caught was in one of those flash floods and taken out to the Persian Gulf and there he floated for 40 days. And of course he had to have some animals in there and some family members and barrels of beer, critically, so they could survive those 40 days. The classical story never does tell you what they drank for those 40 days. They had to have that beer. The people of the time wouldn’t drink water.”

Noah? Original Noah, the guy from the Bible who built an ark and floated around for 40 days with lots of animals — was a really a beer trader? “Yes,” Ms. Sinclair said. “The precursor of that story probably was a beer trader in Sumeria.” The book also contains a recipe George Washington used for beer, and a Sumerian drinking song from the Third Millennium B.C.E. Add your own music and you might just be singing what Noah sang to his pairs of sheep and goats.

What makes your heart feel wonderful
Makes (also) our heart feel wonderful
Our liver is happy, our heart is joyful
I will make cupbearers, boys (and) brewers stand by,
While I turn around an abundance of beer,
Drinking beer, in a blissful mood,
Drinking liquor, feeling exhilarated
With joy in the heart (and) a happy liver.

Modern medical science would quibble with how happy beer makes the liver, but the Sinclairs don’t mind. Since their book has come out, they have become a strange pair of crossover academic stars, being asked to appear at beer festivals across the country.

The only place they’ve met trouble is Harvard, where students who now idealize the farming lifestyle do not cotton to the book’s portrayal of the farming life as much duller and less fulfilling than the lives lived by early hunter-gatherers. The only thing that broke up the drudgery of farming, the authors say, is the very stuff that caused man to give up the relatively carefree hunter-gather lifestyle in the first place, the desire to brew mood-altering substances. Farming made the widespread production of beer possible and beer made farming tolerable.

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