Ezekiel Bread and Reading Comprehension

4 min read

Food for Life Baking Company makes sprouted whole-grain “Ezekiel 4:9 Bread”.  The southern California-based company characterizes its product as “crafted in the likeness of the Holy Scripture verse Ezekiel 4:9 to ensure unrivaled honest nutrition and pure, delicious flavors”.

Who is Ezekiel?

Ezekiel was an ecstatic prophet of doom in 6th-century BCE Judah.  Canonicity of the scripture attributed to him was controversial among Second Temple Jews; but, it was ultimately included in the Hebrew Bible.  Consequently, Ezekiel is considered a major prophet in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

The Book of Ezekiel is filled with fanciful, proto-apocalyptic imagery.  In Jewish tradition, the opening chapter’s strange, psychedelic vision is so “dangerous” that it should only be read by (male) adults.  The majority of the famously-bizarre New Testament Book of Revelation is borrowed directly from The Book of Ezekiel (along with borrowings from the Book of Isaiah, Book of Daniel, Book of Psalms, and several extra-canonical Jewish apocalyptic scriptures).   

What does Ezekiel 4:9-13 actually say?

Ezekiel is four chapters into describing an extended religious vision:  The angry Israelite god, Yahveh, tells Ezekiel to make bread from a combination of then-common cereal grains and legumes, to be baked over human feces.  Yahweh explains that Ezekiel’s suffering from eating this offensive bread constitutes a divine sign to all the Israelite people – symbolizing their imminent, horrific divine punishment for incomplete devotion to Yahveh.  Yahveh says his wayward people will experience the demolition of Jerusalem, violent death of 2/3 of the population, foreign exile, and having to eat ritually impure food while in exile.  In subsequent chapters, Ezekiel goes on to preach to the Israelites that they must accept impending annihilation by the Babylonians as just punishment for their transgressions against Yahveh.

The bread recipe in Ezekiel 4:9 is explicitly for punishment, not nourishment.

What should Biblically-accurate “Ezekiel bread” contain?

  1. hitta = durum wheat
    • Food for Life’s Ezekiel 4:9 Bread substitutes modern common wheat
  2. seorah = barley
  3. pol = fava beans (aka broad beans)
    • Food for Life’s Ezekiel 4:9 Bread substitutes soybeans, which weren’t grown in the Near East / Middle East until a few centuries after The Book of Ezekiel was written
  4. adasa = lentils
  5. dohan = probably millet (the Paleo-Hebrew word is a hapax legomenon – i.e., occurs only once in known writings — so its meaning had to be inferred by scholars from an Akkadian homolog)
  6. kussemet = emmer wheat (aka true farro)
    • Food for Life’s Ezekiel 4:9 Bread substitutes spelt, which is a softer-hulled hybrid of emmer

The Hebrew text says nothing about sprouting the grains.  Pre-soaking has always been a technique to make edible food from unmilled grain.  However, the Hebrew text says nothing about whether to keep the grain whole or mill any of the bread ingredients.

The Hebrew text also says nothing about yeast or salt, which are ingredients in Food for Life’s Ezekiel 4:9 Bread. 

Health claims

Ezekiel bread is certainly healthy – but not because it follows a (misinterpreted) 2500-year-old Bible verse. 

First, commercial Ezekiel bread doesn’t contain any additives or preservatives — which is why it’s sold in the refrigerated section of grocery stores.  It is widely understood that is likely healthier — though impractical for mass distribution and feeding the planet.

Second, Ezekiel bread uses some “ancient grains” that were long-ago displaced by much higher-yielding, hybrid grain species that can tolerate a wide range of climates and require less processing effort.  That critical crop innovation (combined with irrigation) made possible the past few thousand years of rapid human civilization growth.  Today, wealthy Westerners are re-discovering these grains because they’re tasty and also have higher protein content relative to gluten.  But, a bread recipe using high carbon-footprint cereal grains and vegetables (and baked using smog-creating excrement fuel) cannot feed the world – and neither reflects lost natural wisdom nor evidences divine knowledge about human nutrition.  (Note that Hebrew biographers of the omniscient Yahveh didn’t record him mentioning the gluten-free “superfood” grains amaranth and teff, which were thriving crops in the Americas and Africa during Biblical times.)

For all of human history, coarse foods were for poor people and refined foods were for rich people.  However, humans have recently realized that whole grains are more nutritious than refined grains (bran and germ removed).  In a relatively abrupt reversal of millennia of food economics, whole-grain bread is now more expensive than refined-flour bread.  So, if Ezekiel 4:9 implies use of whole grain flour (it doesn’t) or unmilled whole grains (it doesn’t), that would have been meant to convey low quality – not purity.  Accuracy in Biblical literalism requires reading the text through the lens of the time period in which it was written.

(Note: Anachronistic reading of the New Testament Gospel of Mark and Gospel of Matthew leads to similar interpretive confusion:  Just before being crucified, Jesus declines wine (oinos) laced with bitters.  That sounds awful…unless you know that, at that time, wine adulterated with bitter substances was used to dull pain.  Is the story writer’s point that Jesus declines the drink because it’s unappetizing (i.e., offered to him out of cruelty), or because its anesthetic properties would fog his experience of suffering (i.e., offered to him out of sympathy)?  We have no way of knowing.  Later, Jesus is offered “sour wine” (oxos) in a contextually-clear gesture of sympathy.  This is also confusing for modern readers unless you know that, at that time, sour wine was a common beverage perceived as refreshing.)

Background on wheat species

  • Einkorn wheat (aka “farro piccolo”)

Triticum monococcum

Hulled diploid wheat

Domesticated ~8000 BCE

  • Emmer wheat (aka “farro medio” or “true farro”)

Triticum turgidum dicoccum

Hulled tetraploid wheat; natural hybrid of two wild grasses

Domesticated ~8000 BCE

  • Durum wheat

Triticum turgidum durum

Naked (no hull) tetraploid wheat

Developed by human artificial selection from emmer wheat ~7000 BCE

5% of today’s global wheat crop

  • Spelt wheat (aka “farro grande”)

Triticum aestivum spelta

Soft-hulled hexaploid wheat; natural hybrid of emmer and another unknown grass

Domesticated ~5000 BCE

  • Common wheat

Triticum aestivum aestivum

Naked hexaploid wheat; hybrid of durum and spelt wheat

Developed ~1000 BCE; cultivars of this species then bred for increasingly higher gluten content

95% of today’s global wheat crop

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