The history of humankind begins practically with an act of eating – the fateful consumption of the mysterious fruit of the tree of knowledge, at least according to the Bible. We all eat, and from that first consumption of the forbidden fruit, the Bible is stuffed with references to food, as sustenance and as symbol of the sacred (or profane).
Of course, as the Bible is written in ancient tongues, we don't always know what it's referring to. Two thousand years ago Jewish sages were already arguing about the identity of some of the more arcane biblical foods. Today's scholars piece together what people ate back then by relying on sources as varied as the Talmud and the ancient Greek food writer Epicurus and the Roman Apicius, for instance.
Some of what they ate would be horrid to the modern palate, but much is healthy – and can be recreated in your kitchen today. Of course, you may want to leave out an ancient ingredient or two.
Ezekiel's bread, sans the condiment
One such is "Ezekiel’s Bread". If the name sounds familiar it’s because you may have seen it at your health food store. It's full of healthful sounding ingredients like “barley, beans, lentils and millet” (Ezekiel 4:9).
God told Ezekiel to bake this bread and eat it, reclining on his side no less, for the exact number of days Jerusalem was to be besieged. So far so good. Well, at least so far, so healthy. But the marketers of the modern “Ezekiel’s bread” probably didn’t read down as far as Ezekiel 4:12, when the recipe takes an unappetizing turn.
To drive the point home that things were going to be unclean in exile, God tells Ezekiel to bake the bread: “with dung that cometh out of man.”
Scholars say the Hebrew is unclear as to whether that meant bake it over a dung fire – that was a common fuel, although it was usually cow dung – or include that ingredient in the flour.
When Ezekiel protests how downright disgusting that would be, God relents and tells the prophet cow dung will be sufficiently symbolic. But again, whether under or in is a big question. In any case, if this were a reality cooking show, this would give new meaning to the term “elimination round.”
Now, it’s time to forget that bit of biblical overshare and enjoy a modern rendition of the recipe for “Ezekiel’s multi-grain bread.” One ingredient, spelt, is a kind of ancient wheat that’s available in health food stores but is otherwise hard to find, so we’ve done without it below.
Also, in the Bible they didn’t have yeast as we know it today and so for authentic leavening, we’ve suggested left-over dough from your last round of bread, freshly pressed grape juice or freshly made applesauce – the skins of these fruits have natural yeast.
Information and recipe from Food at the Time of the Bible: From Adam's Apple to the Last Supper (www.palphot.com), by Miriam Feinberg Vamosh.
½ C barley flour
¼ C finely ground broad bean (fava bean) flour
¼ C millet flour
1 C durum wheat flour
½ C finely ground lentil flour
1 tsp salt
¼ C olive oil
1 tsp “biblical leavening” as above
Mix the dry ingredients. Add the olive oil, leavening and water as needed to form the dough. Knead and allow to rise for two hours in a warm place. Knead again. Form into flat round loaves the size of pita bread and bake on coals until golden brown, for about 10 minutes.