Tag Archives: baking

Cooking at 4th century Qatzrin

Golan in Bashan is first mentioned in the Bible in connection with the priestly cities of refuge that were appointed to Israel east of the Jordan (Deuteronomy 4:43; cf. Joshua 20:8; 1 Chronicles 6:71).

After modern Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967, considerable efforts was made to identify Jewish villages that may have existed in the area. One such village was Qatzrin (pronounced kats-REEN). Archaeologist Anne Killebrew spent a decade or more working at the site and directing the reconstruction of the site which included a synagogue and several houses.

Qatzrin was originally built in the 4th century A.D. and remained in use till the mid-8th century. I wanted to show you the oven that we have from that village. The photo below shows a small clay oven placed within a mud-brick chimney. The chimney took the smoke out of the house and provided heat for the second floor bed room as well as for the kitchen. Not quite a microwave, but it wasn’t terribly different from the wood-burning stoves I knew as a child. (No, not in the 4th century!)

An oven inside a chimney at Qatzrin. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

An oven inside a mud-brick chimney at Qatzrin. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Killebrew and Steven Fine wrote about “Qatzrin—Reconstructing Village Life in Talmudic Times” in Biblical Archaeology Review 17:03 (May/June 1991). The reconstruction of the oven and chimney are explained in a sidebar to the article.

The kitchen of the House of Rabbi Abun, seen on our cover, can be understood as a microcosm of the painstaking effort that went into the reconstruction of the whole house. The small domed oven at center stands within a mudbrick chimney. Excavated remains of this indoor oven—employed both for heating the house and for cooking in bad weather, when outdoor cooking was difficult—indicated the size and shape of the oven, a type still used by the Druze (a Moslem sect residing in the area). A portion of the chimney exits the roof in the corner, behind the period pottery on the chimney’s mantle, and rises high enough above the roof to create a draw that effectively pulls smoke out of the house. No remains of the original chimney were found, but the reconstruction was built, as was the rest the house, by Druze workmen using traditional styles and methods. Experiments have shown that this chimney works well.

Both Matthew and Luke record the statement of Jesus,

But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? (Matthew 6:30; cf. Luke 12:28 ESV)

The Greek word for oven or furnace (in a few English versions) is klibanos. According to BDAG it is used of “an oven (made of pottery),” exactly what you see in the photo.

Louw-Nida explains further:

a dome-like structure made of clay, in which wood and dried grass were burned, and then after being heated, was used for baking bread – ‘oven.’… ‘the grass of the field which is alive today and tomorrow is cast into the oven’ Mt 6.30. The function of klibanos may be described as ‘a place heated for baking bread,’…

After one gets the fire going with grass or other kindling, it was often kept going with dung cakes. See Ezekiel 4:15 for a biblical example.

Baking bread in Bible times

The Druze are especially noted in Israel for baking bread on a convex griddle. There are Druze villages on Mount Carmel and in the Golan Heights where the border with Israel and Syria come together. The photo below slows a woman preparing the dough for baking at a restaurant in the north of the Golan Heights at Birket Ram.

Druze woman preparing bread for baking at Birket Ram. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Druze woman preparing bread for baking at Birket Ram. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

She will first place the dough on a rounded cushion which looks like a pillow (at the bottom of the photo).

After that she will turn it over on the griddle at the top of the photo. There you see bread cooking. To the left there is bread that has been taken from the griddle. Your chosen ingredients of meal and/or vegetables will be rolled in the thin bread.

Druze woman preparing bread for baking at Birket Ram. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Druze woman preparing bread for baking at Birket Ram. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

I certainly am not an expert on cooking, nor even an expert on how this type of cooking might compare with some bread baking in Bible times. Ovens were often used by people of the Bible world, but some bread was cooked on a plate or griddle made of clay or iron.

King and Stager say,

“When a griddle (mahabat) of clay or iron (Ezek. 4:3) was used, it was set on stones over a pit in which a fire was kindled; then the dough was baked directly on the griddle” (Life in Biblical Israel, 66).

There are a few biblical references in which this type of griddle seems to be in mind.

And if your offering is a grain offering baked on a griddle, it shall be of fine flour unleavened, mixed with oil. (Leviticus 2:5; see also 6:21; 7:9 ESV)

For a visual aid, Ezekiel was told to take an iron griddle (plate, frying pan) and use it as an iron wall between himself and the city.

And you, take an iron griddle, and place it as an iron wall between you and the city; and set your face toward it, and let it be in a state of siege, and press the siege against it. This is a sign for the house of Israel. (Ezekiel 4:3 ESV)

Holladay’s Hebrew lexicon defines the Hebrew word for griddle as “(metal) plate, griddle for roasting & frying.”

I would write more, but I think I will go eat.

Enjoying the local customs

One of the joys of travel is learning about the customs of the local people. Of course, I have a special interest in finding customs that remind us of customs in Bible times. In many places the local entrepreneurs realize that tourist enjoy this so they make it possible for you to see and participate in the customs. This woman at a restaurant near Memphis, Egypt, is baking bread as it has been done for centuries in Egypt. Yes, the bread was delicious.

Perhaps you can recall the episode in Genesis 40 about “the cupbearer and the baker for the king of Egypt.”