Manners & Customs : Bread


Baking Bread and Ovens Baking of bread. The most primitive method of baking bread was the laying of cakes of dough on heated stones.11 A Scriptural example of this is from the experience of Elijah. (I Kings 19:6): "And he looked, and, behold, there was a cake baken on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head." Another simple method of baking is the digging in the ground of a hole four or five feet deep, and three feet in diameter, and after this oven is heated, the dough is rolled out until it is no thicker than a person's finger, and then it is struck against the oven's sides where it instantly bakes. Sometimes a great stone pitcher is used as an oven. In the bottom of it a fire is made among small flints that retain the heat. The dough is placed on these and is quickly baked. Sometimes the dough is rolled out quite thin and is stuck on the outside of the hot pitcher where it bakes. Some have thought that it was this pitcher-oven that was meant in Leviticus 2:4, where two types of unleavened bread were to be baked. The cakes of fine flour would be baked inside the pitcher-oven, and the wafers would be baked on the outside of it. Another type of simple oven is a large earthenware jar, into which the fuel is placed, and when the jar is hot enough the thin cakes are laid on the outside to cook.14 When bread was baked individually by each family in Bible days, some such method as has been described was probably used by the ordinary homes. But often today, as in the days of Sacred Writ, bread was and is baked in either a semipublic oven, or in the oven of a public baker. Sometimes each town might have several of these ovens. One type of such an oven consists of a big earthen tube, some three feet in diameter, and about five feet long. It is sunk in the ground inside a hut. The women take their turn in baking their bread. The fuel is thrown into the tube, and when the fire gets hot, and billows of smoke and tongues of flame come from the deep hole, the hut, without any chimney in it, begins to resemble an active crater. Malachi must have seen such an oven when he wrote the words, "For behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven: and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble" (Malachi 4:1).15 Another type of Oriental oven "is a long, low, stonebuilt vault, like half a railway-engine's boiler, with a stone pavement down the middle, and a long narrow strip at each side for the firewood."16 Each night the ashes are taken out, and often the children of poor families will bring a piece of tin, or of a broken water jar, and carry home on this some of the embers of the fire with which to start the fire at home for the evening meal. Hosea makes mention of "an oven heated by the baker" (Hosea 7:4). This would indicate that some of the people brought their bread to a baker to do the baking. The city of Jerusalem had its Baker's Street in the time of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 37:21). [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]

Kinds of Bread Kinds of bread used. Two kinds of bread were in use in the days when Bible events were being enacted: wheat bread, and barley bread. Both of these are in use in Israel today. There is this distinction between them: barley bread is used by the poorer classes, whereas if a family is able to have wheat bread, it is considered to have arrived at a place well up in the comfort scale.8 This same distinction was true in the Old Testament days and also New Testament times. When the "cake of barley bread tumbled into the host of Midian" in the dream of the Midianite soldier (Judges 7:13), it was an indication that the enemy despised Israel, as a more favored people eating wheat bread would despise eaters of barley bread, and yet GOD was to use the despised Israelites of Gideon's army to overpower those proud Midianites. The lad who had his five barley loaves and gave them to Jesus, and saw Him multiply them to feed five thousand (John 6:9), must have come from the poorer class, but his humble contribution made possible a great miracle, and the crowd was satisfied with that kind of bread. [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]

Loaves of Bread Form of loaves. In the Holy Land where the old customs prevail, bread takes three forms: First, there are the small loaves which somewhat resemble the light bread biscuits of this country. It was this kind the lad had and gave to Jesus. Second, there are the larger loaves, nearly as heavy as the modern loaves of the West, but round instead of rectangular. The ten loaves which Jesse sent by David to the camp of Israel were probably of this form (I Samuel 17:17). Third, there are the flat loaves which are thin like paper. These are something like American hot cakes only bigger around and much thinner. When served some of these, one man from the West thought they were napkins and started to use them as such. This kind of bread is used to take the place of the knife, fork, or spoon of the Occidental; Easterners "cup it up" and use it to dip into the food sauces (see Chapter 6). It is quite pliable; and the men fold it up and put it in their scrip, and take it with them, so they can eat it as needed. [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]

Traveling with Food Food taken by travelers. Travelers going a distance will carry food with them, which will include bread, parched grain, dried olives, dried figs, and dates. Most travelers in the East now, as in the days of JESUS, will not go any distance from home without taking barley bread or meal or parched grain sufficient to last for one or two days. When JESUS performed the miracle of feeding the four thousand, he said, "I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with me now three days, and have nothing to eat: and I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way" (Matthew 15:32). According to custom, the multitude would have a day or two's supply of food with them when they flocked to hear JESUS. But on the third day, seven loaves and a few small fish was all that was left. [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]