BREAD. The “staff of life,” generally baked from dough made of wheat flour that has been leavened (raised by means of fermenting yeast) and made into loaves of various shapes and sizes. At the time of the Passover (
In the more primitive parts of Syria today there are several sorts of wheat bread. In some villages a barrel-shaped hole in the ground is used as an oven; the women adroitly knead the bread into large thin sheets that they lay on cushions and slap against the hot wall of the oven. Though dried dung mixed with straw is used as fuel to preheat the oven, the taste is not impaired. In other villages of Syria, a convex sheet of iron is placed over an open fire and the bread is similarly baked; but in the larger towns and cities there are bakeries to which the people bring their loaves for baking. The long stone oven is heated for hours, then the raised loaves, about eight to ten inches (twenty-one to twenty-six cm.) in diameter and one-fourth inch (about one cm.) thick, are placed inside by means of a long wooden paddle. The heat quickly bakes the surface, and gas forming inside splits the loaves, which are then turned and soon removed (
The word “bread,” depicting the most universal solid food, is often used figuratively for food in general.
Bread as ordinary daily food.
The NT emphasis is placed on the necessity of bread for the daily life, as seen in the ministry of Jesus when He quoted a portion of
The amount of bread thought to be needed as an adequate daily supply is understood to include at least three loaves for a man, his family, and a guest according to
Bread was thought to be part of the divine provision for the physical needs of man (
The nature of bread and its production.
The flour made from grain could be a coarse kind (“crushed new grain,”
The process of making the bread included taking the measures of meal, getting it ground, mixing it with liquid, and then kneading the dough. For this purpose the Israelites at the time of the Exodus used “kneading bowls” (
Persons responsible for the making of bread included the wife of the family (in the case of Sarah,
Bread normally was made at home (
In the time of the NT, the purchase of large quantities of bread could be contemplated, as the 200 denarii worth of bread, or normally about thirty-six dollars worth, what was considered necessary for each of the 5,000 people to have a small amount (
The use of bread in ancient society.
It was customary in the ancient home for the father of the household to open a meal by taking a loaf of bread, giving thanks, breaking it, and distributing it to the members present (cf. Billerbeck IV, 620ff.). Evidences of this can be seen in the service of the
Bread used as a general term for food.
The term bread used in a figurative sense.
Figuratively the Bible uses the concept of bread to indicate a living made by acts of wickedness (
R. A. Macalister, The Excavation of Gezer II (1912), 42, 43; J. B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts (1955); J. P. Free, Archaeology and Bible History, 5th ed., rev. (1956), 76; W. Foerster,” TDNT, II, 590-599; H. L. Strack and P. Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament, IV (1965), 620-622.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
I. DIETARY PREEMINENCE
3. Three Kinds of Flour
(1) Hot Stones
(2) Baking Pans
(1) The Bowl-Oven
(2) The Jar-Oven
(3) The Pit-Oven
5. Forms of Baked Bread
6. Work for Women
IV. SANCTITY AND SYMBOLISM OF BREAD
The art of bread-making is very ancient. It was even known to the Egyptians at a very early day (Wilkinson, Ancient Egyptians), to the Hebrews of the Exodus (Nowack, Lehrbuch der hebr. Archaologie) and, of course, to the Greeks and Romans of a later day. Bread played a large part in the vocabulary and in the life of the ancient Hebrews.
I. Dietary Preeminence.
(1) In the East bread is primary, other articles of food merely accessory; while in the West meat and other things chiefly constitute the meal, and bread is merely secondary. Accordingly "bread" in the
(2) Moreover in ancient times, as now, most probably, when the peasant, carpenter, blacksmith or mason left home for the day’s work, or when the muleteer or messenger set out on a journey, he wrapped other articles of food, if there were any, in the thin loaves of bread, and thus kept them ready for his use as needed.
(3) Often the thin, glutinous loaf, puffed out with air, is seen today, opened on one side and used so as to form a natural pouch, in which meat, cheese, raisins and olives are enclosed to be eaten with the bread (see Mackie in DCG, article "Bread"). The loaf of bread is thus made to include everything and, for this reason also, it may fitly be spoken of as synonymous with food in general. To the disciples of Jesus, no doubt, "Give us this day our daily bread" would naturally be a petition for all needed food, and in the case of the miraculous feeding of the multitude it was enough to provide them with "bread" (
Barley was in early times, as it is today, the main bread-stuff of the Palestine peasantry (see
But wheat, also, was widely used as a breadstuff then, as it is now, the wheat of the Syrian plains and uplands being remarkable for its nutritious and keeping qualities.
3. Three Kinds of Flour:
Three kinds, or qualities, of flour, are distinguished, according to the way of making:
(1) a coarser sort, rudely made by the use of pestle and mortar, the "beaten corn" of
(2) the "flour" or "meal" of ordinary use (
(3) the "fine meal" for honored guests (see
After thoroughly sifting and cleaning the grain, the first step in the process was to reduce it to "meal" or "flour" by rubbing, pounding, or grinding. (In
The "flour" was then ordinarily mixed simply with water, kneaded in a wooden basin or kneading-trough (
We find in the Old Testament, as in the practice of the East today, three modes of firing or baking bread:
(1) Hot Stones:
That represented by Elijah’s cake baked on the hot stones (
(2) Baking Pans:
An ancient method of baking, prevalent still among the Bedouin of Syria and Arabia, is to employ a heated convex iron plate, or griddle, what we would call a frying pan, in lieu of the heated sand or stones. The Hebrew "baking-pan" (machabhath,
(compare Arabic), no doubt were used by the Hebrews, when they settled in Palestine, as they were used by the settled populations of the Orient in general, more and more as they approached civilized conditions. These "ovens" were of various kinds:
(1) The Bowl-Oven:
The simplest used by the ancients were hardly more primitive than the kind quite commonly used in Palestine today. It may be called the "bowl-oven." It consists of a large clay-bowl, which is provided with a movable lid. This bowl is placed inverted upon small stones and then heated with a fuel distinctly oriental, consisting of dried dung heaped over and around it. The bread is baked on the stones, then covered by the inverted oven, which is heated by the firing of the fuel of dung on the outside of the cover.
(2) The Jar-Oven:
The jar-oven is another form of oven found in use there today. This is a large earthen-ware jar that is heated by fuel of grass (
(3) The Pit-Oven:
The pit-oven was doubtless a development from this type. It was formed partly in the ground and partly built up of clay and plastered throughout, narrowing toward the top. The ancient Egyptians, as the monuments and mural paintings show, laid the cakes upon the outside of the oven (Wilkinson, Ancient Egyptians); but in Palestine, in general, if the customs of today are conclusive, the fire was kindled in the inside of the pit-oven. Great numbers of such ovens have been unearthed in recent excavations, and we may well believe them to be exact counterparts of the oven of the professional bakers in the street named after them in Jerusalem "the bakers’ street" (
5. Forms of Baked Bread:
(1) The large pone or thick, light loaf of the West is unknown in the East. The common oriental cake or loaf is proverbially thin. The thin home-made bread is really named both in Hebrew and Arabic from its thinness as is reflected in the translation "wafer" in
(2) It is still significantly customary at a Syrian meal to take a piece of such bread and, with the ease and skill of long habit, to fold it over at the end held in the hand so as to make a sort of spoon of it, which then is eaten along with whatever is lifted by it out of the common dish (compare
(3) Such "loaves" are generally today about 7 inches in diameter and from half an inch to an inch thick. Such, probably, were the lad’s "barley loaves" brought to Christ at the time of the feeding of the 5,000 (
(4) Sometimes large discs of dough about 1 inch thick and 8 inches in diameter are prepared and laid in rows on long, thin boards like canoe paddles, and thus inserted into the oven; then, by a quick, deft jerk of the hand, they are slipped off upon the hot pavement and baked. These are so made and baked that when done they are soft and flexible, and for this reason are preferred by many to the thinner cakes which are cooked stiff and brown.
(5) The precise nature of the cracknels of
6. Work for Women:
(a) Every oriental household of importance seems to have had its own oven, and bread-making for the most part was in the hands of the women. Even when and where baking, as under advancing civilization, became a recognized public industry, and men were the professional bakers, a large part of the baker’s work, as is true today, was to fire the bread prepared and in a sense pre-baked by the women at home.
(b) The women of the East are often now seen taking a hand in sowing, harvesting and winnowing the grain, as well as in the processes of "grinding" (
IV. Sanctity and Symbolism of Bread.
It would seem that the sanctity of bread remains as unchanged in the Orient as the sanctity of shrines and graves (compare Mackie, DCG, article "Bread," and Robinson’s Researches). As in Egypt everything depended for life on the Nile, and as the Nile was considered "sacred," so in Palestine, as everything depended upon the wheat and barley harvest, "bread" was in a peculiar sense "sacred." The psychology of the matter seems to be about this: all life was seen to be dependent upon the grain harvest, this in turn depended upon rain in its season, and so bread, the product at bottom of these Divine processes, was regarded as peculiarly "a gift of God," a daily reminder of his continual and often undeserved care (
(a) In partaking of the hospitality of the primitive peasants of Palestine today, east and west of the Jordan, one sees what a sign and symbol of hospitality and friendship the giving and receiving of bread is. Among the Arabs, indeed, it has become a proverb, which may be put into English thus: "Eat salt together, be friends forever." Once let the Arab break bread with you and you are safe. You may find the bread the poorest barley loaf, still marked by the indentations of the pebbles, with small patches of the gray ash of the hearth, and here and there an inlaid bit of singed grass or charred thorn, the result of their primitive process of baking; but it is bread, the best that the poor man can give you, "a gift of God," indeed, and it is offered by the wildest Arab, with some sense of its sacredness and with somewhat of the gladness and dignity of the high duty of hospitality. No wonder, therefore, that it is considered the height of discourtesy, yea, a violation of the sacred law of hospitality, to decline it or to set it aside as unfit for use.
(b) Christ must have been influenced by His knowledge of some such feeling and law as this when, on sending forth His disciples, He charged them to "take no bread with them" (
(c) It has well been pointed out that God’s gift of natural food to His people enters in for the praises of the Magnificat (
Wilkinson. Ancient Egypt, 1878, II, 34; Erman, Aegypten und aegyptisches Leben, 1885, 191 ff; Nowack, Lehrbuch der hebr. Archaologie, 1894; Maimonides, Yadh, Temidhin U-Mucaphin, v, 6-8; Bacher, Monats-schrift, 1901, 299; Mishna B. M., II, 1, 2; Robinson, Biblical Researches in Palestine, II, 416; Doughty, Travels in Arabia Deserta, I, 131; Josephus, BJ; and Bible Dicts. on "Bread," "Dietary Laws": "Matstsoth," "Challah," etc.
George B. Eager