"...and Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst." (John 6.35)
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
(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 Old Testament, from Gen_3:19 onward, stands for food in
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.
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 Jdg_7:13; where “the cake
of barley bread” is said to be “the sword of Gideon”),
and of the poorer classes of the East in general (see Joh_6:13,
where the multitude were fed on the miraculous increase of the
“five barley loaves,” and compare Josephus, BJ, V,
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.
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 Lev_2:14,
Lev_2:16 (the Revised Version (British and American) “bruised”);
(2) The “flour” or “meal” of ordinary
use (Exo_29:2; Lev_2:2; Lev_6:15), and (3) The “fine meal”
for honored guests (see Gen_18:6, where Abraham commands Sarah
to “make ready ... Three measures of fine meal”) with
which we may compare the “fine flour” for the king's
kitchen (1Ki_4:22) and the “fine flour” required for
the ritual meal offering, as in Lev_2:1; Lev_5:11; Lev_7:12; Lev_14:10;
Lev_23:13; Lev_24:5; etc.
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 Num_11:8 it is said of
the manna “The people went about, and gathered it, and ground
it in mills, or beat it in mortars.”) It has been shown
that by a process, which is not yet extinct in Egypt, it was customary
to rub the grain between two the “corn-rubbers” or
“corn grinders,” of which many specimens have been
found by Petrie, Bliss, Macalister and others, at Lachish, Gezer
and elsewhere (PEFS, 1902, 326; 1903, 118; compare Erman, Egypt,
180, for illustrations of actual use). For detailed descriptions
of the other processes, see MORTAR; MILL.
The “flour” was then ordinarily mixed simply with
water, kneaded in a wooden basin or kneading-trough (Exo_8:3)
and, in case of urgency, at once made into “cakes”
and baked. (See Exo_12:34, “And the people took their dough
before it was leavened.”) The Hebrews called such cakes
macco¯th, and they were the only kind allowed for use on
the altar during Passover, and immediately following the Feast
of Unleavened Bread (also called Macco¯th). Commonly however
the process was as follows: a lump of leavened dough of yesterday's
baking, preserved for the purpose, was broken up and mixed with
the day's “batch,” and the whole was then set aside
and left standing until it was thoroughly leavened.
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 (1Ki_19:6 the Revised Version, margin; compare
“the cakes upon the hearth,” Gen_18:6 the King James
Version, and see Robinson, Researches, II, 406). The stones
were laid together and a fire was lighted upon them. When the
stones were well heated the cinders were raked off, and the
cakes laid on the stones and covered with ashes. After a while
the ashes were again removed and the cake was turned (see Hos_7:8)
and once more covered with the glowing ashes. It was Thus cooked
on both sides evenly and made ready for eating (compare the
Vulgate, Panis subcineraris, and DeLagarde, Symmicta, II, 188,
where e???????´a, egkouthi´a, is referred to as
“the hiding” of the cakes under the ashes). Out
of these primitive usages of the pastoral tribes and peasants
grew other improved forms of baking.
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”
(????, mah?a?bhath, Lev_2:5; Lev_7:9; compare Eze_4:3) must
have been of this species of “griddle.” The reference
in 1Ch_9:31 is probably to bread baked in this way. There it
is said that one of the sons of the priests “had the office
of trust over the things that were baked in pans.”
They 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:
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.
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 (Mat_6:30), stubble (Mal_4:1), dry twigs or
thorns (1Ki_17:12) and the like, which are placed within the
jar for firing. When the jar is Thus heated the cakes are stuck
upon the hot inside walls.
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”
(Jer_37:21). The largest and most developed form of oven is
still the public oven of the town or city of this sort; but
the primitive rural types still survive, and the fuel of thorns,
and of the grass, “which today is, and tomorrow is cast
into the oven,” are still in evidence.
5. Forms of Baked Bread
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 Exo_16:31; Exo_29:23; Lev_8:26; Num_6:19;
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 Mat_26:23).
But this “dipping in the common dish” is so accomplished
as not to allow the contents of the dish to be touched by the
fingers, or by anything that has been in contact with the lips
of those who sit at meat (compare Mackie, DCG, article “Bread”).
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 (Joh_6:9, Joh_6:13).
Even thinner cakes, of both leavened and unleavened bread, are
sometimes made now, as of old, especially at times of religious
festivals. Often they are coated on the upper surface with olive
oil and take on a glossy brown color in cooking; and sometimes
they are sprinkled over with aromatic seeds, which adhere and
impart a spicy flavor. They may well recall to us the “oiled
bread” of Lev_8:26 and “the wafers anointed with
oil” of Exo_29:2 and Lev_2:4.
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.
The precise nature of the cracknels of 1Ki_14:3 (the American
Standard Revised Version “cakes”) is not known.
A variety of bakemeats (Gen_40:17, literally “food, the
work of the baker”) are met with in the Old Testament,
but only in a few cases is it possible or important to identify
their nature or forms (see Encyclopedia Bibl, coll. 460 f).
A cake used for ritual purposes (Exo_29:2 and often) seems,
from its name, to have been pierced with holes, like the modern
Passover cakes (compare Kennedy, 1-vol HDB, article “Bread”).
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”
(Ecc_12:3; Mat_24:41; Luk_17:35), “kneading” (Gen_18:6;
1Sa_28:24; 2Sa_13:8; Jer_7:18) and “baking” (1Sa_8:13),
and doubtless it was so in ancient times to an equal extent.
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 (Mat_5:45;
consider in this connection the Lord's Prayer, “Give us
this day our daily bread,” Mat_6:11; compare Luk_11:11).
Travelers generally note as a special characteristic of the Oriental
of today that, seeing a scrap of bread on the roadside, he will
pick it up and throw it to a street dog, or place it in a crevice
of the wall, or on a tree-branch where the birds may get it. One
thing is settled with him, it must not be trodden under foot in
the common dust, for, in the estimat ion of all, it has in it
an element of mystery and sacredness as coming from the Giver
of all good.
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.
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” (Mar_6:8).
Not to have expected such hospitality, and not to have used what
would Thus be freely offered to them by the people, would have
been a rudeness, not to say an offense, on the part of the disciples,
which would have hindered the reception of the good tidings of
the Kingdom. (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 (Luk_1:53), and that when Christ called Himself “the
bread of life” (Joh_6:35) He really appealed to all these
endeared and indissoluble associations connected in the eastern
mind with the meaning and use of bread. Most naturally and appropriately
in the inauguration of the New Covenant Christ adopted as His
memorial, not a monument of stone or brass, but this humble yet
sacred article of food, familiar and accessible to all, to become,
with the “wine” of common use, in the Lord's Supper,
the perpetual symbol among His disciples of the communion of saints.
Chosen extracts of the Bible
1:29 : "And God said, Behold, I have given you every
herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and
every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed;
to you it shall be for meat."
3:19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till
thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for
dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
25:34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentiles;
and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus
Esau despised his birthright.
28:20 And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with
me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread
to eat, and raiment to put on,
12:8 And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast
with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall
13:7 Unleavened bread shall be eaten seven days; and
there shall no leavened bread be seen with thee, neither shall
there be leaven seen with thee in all thy quarters.
17:28 Brought beds, and basons, and earthen vessels,
and wheat, and barley, and flour, and parched corn, and beans,
and lentiles, and parched pulse,
4:9 Take thou also unto thee wheat, and barley, and beans,
and lentiles, and millet, and fitches, and put them in one vessel,
and make thee bread thereof, according to the number of the days
that thou shalt lie upon thy side, three hundred and ninety days
shalt thou eat thereof.
The bread which was Ezekiel's support,
was to be made of coarse grain and pulse mixed together, seldom
used except in times of urgent scarcity, and of this he was
only to take a small quantity. Thus was figured the extremity
to which the Jews were to be reduced during the siege and captivity.
Ezekiel does not plead, Lord, from my youth I have been brought
up delicately, and never used to any thing like this; but that
he had been brought up conscientiously, and never had eaten
any thing forbidden by the law. It will be comfortable when
we are brought to suffer hardships, if our hearts can witness
that we have always been careful to keep even from the appearance
of evil. See what woful work sin makes, and acknowledge the
righteousness of God herein. Their plenty having been abused
to luxury and excess, they were justly punished by famine. When
men serve not God with cheerfulness in the abundance of all
things, God will make them serve their enemies in the want of