chapter  2
THE GRAECO-ROMAN BACKGROUND
Pages 25

The Christian message was carried from Roman Syria-Palestine through cities and towns of the eastern Mediterranean and inland Asia Minor. As evidenced by the extant texts, it seems to have been carried in its beginnings and for some time to come by Greek-speaking apostles to Greekspeaking peoples. Even when it reached Rome and the West, the language of Christianity remained predominantly Greek until the late second century or the beginning of the third, the time of the first surviving Christian writings in the Latin language. However varied the ethnic and cultural character of the vast areas through which the early Christian messengers travelled,1 they shared two conditions: the Greek language, which carried with it, at least potentially, shared cultural habits and assumptions; and Roman rule. The more Christianity distanced itself from the Jews, the more it became pressed by the Graeco-Roman cultural milieu. Christian converts born into this culture shared with their non-Christian neighbours experiences, ideas and customs that the adoption of a new faith did not touch directly or, even if it did, could not eradicate completely or change. Early Christian sources reveal the various strategies Christians developed that would allow them to reject some of these cultural influences and to acknowledge others, and in both instances to demonstrate their own superiority.2 The present chapter will focus attention on ideas and practices concerning food and drink in this Graeco-Roman ‘pagan’3 milieu. First the role of food in religion and civic ceremonial will be examined; then we shall survey ideas concerning the importance of food in health and the ‘good life’ in the discussions of philosophers, sophists, physicians and other self-appointed guardians of public health and decency.