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How did the Ancient Israelites make bread?

As a woman in ancient Israel, it was her duty to prepare the meals. Bread was such a common part of their diet that it was often referred to as food in general. Thus milling and preparing the wheat or flour was also a major responsibility. Each house made their own, and it took possibly 2-3 hours of hard labor every day to make enough to feed a family with five. The first recorded milling was done with a pestle and mortar (stone quern). This usually left tiny bits of grit inside the flour.  On occasion, the dough was made with the flour from legumes (Ezekiel 4:9). In The Mishna (Hallah 2:2) talks about dough formed with fruit juice in place of water. The sugar from the juice worked with the flour and water to add leavening and made it taste sweeter. The Israelites at times included fennel and cumin in the dough, then dipped it in vinegar, olive or sesame oil for more taste (Ruth 2:14).

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After the flour was ready, it was combined with water and kneaded inside a large trough. With dough made out of wheat flour, starter (seor) was added. The starter was made by setting aside a tiny amount of dough from the last batch to soak up the yeasts in the air and contribute to leavening the current dough. That is where the sourdough flavor comes from. This can be referred to as wild yeast. Here is a link that has more information on how to catch it.

Once the dough was made, it was cooked in different ways: At first it was put right on the hot stones of a cooking fire or in a griddle or pan formed from clay or iron (Leviticus 7:9). During the time of the First Temple, there were 2 ways the oven was used for baking bread: the ‘jar oven’ and the ‘pit oven’. The jar-oven was a huge clay pot that was smaller at the opening in the top; a fire was started on the inside to get it hot, and the dough was put against the outer part to cook. The pit-oven was a pottery lined hole in the ground that was heated with a fire that was put aside, and the dough was baked on top of the hot clay. Others started a ‘convex dome’ that began as earthenware and afterward metal, above the pit-oven and baking the flatbreads on top of the dome instead of on the clay covered in ash; which was most likely the machabat referred to in the Bible. It is usually interpreted to mean “griddle”.

Persians brought about a clay oven known as ‘tanur’ (much like the Native American word ‘tandoor’), that had an opening in the bottom for heat. Then the dough was put there to be cooked in the inside wall of the top section from the fire of the oven and ashes when the fire had gone out. This was used until the Yemenite Jews cooked bread in today’s day. Remnants of the ovens and pieces of cooking trays have been discovered in many places.

The Romans came up with a stove referred to as a ‘furn’ (Talmudic Aramaic – ‘purni’).  This was a big wood-burning oven lined with stone and the baking pan was placed on the bottom to cook. This was a key upgrade in baking and made it possible to form thicker loaves of bread.

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6 thoughts on “How did the Ancient Israelites make bread?

  1. Tandoor is not a native American word but is a word commonly used in India and Indian cuisine to describe this type of oven and cooking.

  2. 5 his was very helpful. Thank you for sharing

  3. god provided it to them

  4. Very helpful as I want to teach on JESUS being the bread of life

  5. Nice answers in return of this matter with solid arguments and describing all concerning that.

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