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Category Archives: The exodus

Jewelry Speaks

For 3,300 years, King Tutankhamun secretly rested in the Valley of the Kings. In 1922 archeologists discovered his tomb and years later displayed his mummified body in a climate-controlled glass box. When researchers removed the burial linens that wrapped the king’s body, they found magnificent jeweled collars, bracelets, rings, amulets and daggers of gold, and semi-precious stones—all confirming the skill of ancient Egyptian jewelers. “The Egyptians loved their jewelry, and their craftsmen produced some of the most colorful and lovely jewelry the world has ever seen. Elaborate pendants with bead chains were made from semi-precious stones—deep blue lapis lazuli, turquoise, and red carnelian, quartz and colored glass in dazzling blues and reds set in gold and silver.”[1] 

English: Winged scarab of Tutankhamun with sem...

English: Winged scarab of Tutankhamun with semi-precious stones. This pectoral is composed of Tut’s Prenomen name: “NebKheperU-Ra”, the hieroglyphs of: Basket, Scarab-(in Plural-strokes), and Re. (The “James, 2000, Picture Book, Tutankhamun, describes this pectoral in the section of ‘Necklaces and Pectorals’, as: “Pectoral with Royal Prenomen and Lotus Fringe”, p. 234.) (Two other hieroglyphs are on the pectoral, the Eye of Horus, and the Ankh.) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the stunning burial items found in the king’s coffin is the Collar of Nekhebet, a flexible piece that lay across the king’s chest. Made of 256 small gold plaques threaded together and inlaid with colored glass, the collar forms an image of the white vulture Nekhebet, the patron goddess of Pharaoh. In her talons the vulture clutches two orbs that symbolize the eternal protection thought to be in her power.

Symbolic of Power

The Collar of Nekhebet and other of the king’s treasures recall a time when Egyptian jewelry played an important role in Israel’s history. Jacob (Israel) and his family had moved to Egypt because of a famine in Canaan. There the Israelite population grew large, and Pharaoh eventually forced them into slavery.  God had compassion on the slaves and delivered them under the leadership of Moses. In preparation for leaving Egypt, the Israelites “asked from the Egyptians articles of silver, articles of gold, and clothing” (Exodus 12:35). Note that the jewelry taken from King Tutankhamun’s tomb is dated roughly within 100-150 years of the time of the Exodus. So it’s probable that the riches Israel carried out, while not royal treasures, reflected the artistry of the tomb pieces.

God required an offering from the people. Under His inspiration, they built a tabernacle for the LORD from the clothing, jewelry, silver, and gold that once belonged to Egypt (Exodus 36-40). The tabernacle represented God’s presence with His people, and the end of Egypt’s power to enslave them.

Symbolic of Love

In an account pre-dating the Exodus, Rebekah accepted two gold bracelets and a nose ring from the servant of Abraham. In attaching the nose ring and slipping the bracelets on her wrists, the servant claimed Rebekah for his master’s son, Isaac. This formality of giving and receiving jewelry was the first step in a marriage negotiation.  Similar to wearing an engagement ring, Rebekah’s wearing of the nose ring and bracelets indicated her willingness to discuss terms of marriage (Genesis 24).

Through the prophet Ezekiel, God expressed His love in terms of giving jewels to His bride, Jerusalem.

“. . . I clothed you with fine linen and covered you with silk. I adorned you with ornaments, put bracelets on your wrists, and a chain on your neck. And I put a jewel in your nose, earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen, silk and embroidered cloth . . . you were exceedingly beautiful”  (16:10-13).

If negotiations had broken down between Rebekah’s parents and the servant representing Isaac’s interests, I believe Rebekah would have returned the nose ring and bracelets. They were given and received as a prelude to marriage with the hope that Isaac and Rebekah would build an enduring relationship with one another, which they did.  Isaac had no other wives, and the marriage between Isaac and Rebekah was characterized by affection.

That’s not how it turned out for God and ancient Israel, however. Ezekiel tells of God’s incredulity: Jerusalem (Israel) gladly received His gifts of material wealth and health, but failed to love Him. Shamelessly she used the presents to go after others.

Symbolic of Position

King Saul customarily wore a broad gold bracelet on his upper arm and a crown to signify his royalty. When an Amalekite killed Saul and took his crown and bracelet to show David, he made a fatal error in thinking David would be pleased with proofs of Saul’s death (2 Samuel 1:10-16).

Women of royalty wore bracelets on the upper arm, though more commonly their bracelets were narrow gold bands worn at the wrists. Anklets favored by women of high rank were hollow and “filled with pebbles, so that the rattling sound could be heard when they walked.”[2]

Packer and Tenney state that nose jewels were “one of the most ancient ornaments of the east” and were made of ivory or gold and set with stones. . . . At times these nose jewels were more than 6 cm (2.5 in.) in diameter and hung down over the women’s lips.”[3]

A silver coin dowry necklace or headdress was “one of the most prized pieces of jewelry worn by a bride.”[4] A woman’s dowry and jewelry belonged to her and formed a kind of insurance policy when her husband died, or if the marriage failed. It is suggested that the lost coin in Jesus’ parable may have been part of a dowry necklace or headdress, although Jesus did not specify the coin constituted part of the woman’s dowry.

Symbolic of Pride

The prideful wearing of jewelry usually brings undesirable consequences. Isaiah wrote of God’s displeasure with the arrogant women who made an ostentatious display of themselves.

“. . . Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with outstretched necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, making a jingling with their feet; therefore the Lord will strike . . . in that day the Lord will take away the finery, the jingling anklets, the scarves, and the crescents, the pendants, the bracelets, and the veils; the headdresses, the leg ornaments and the headbands; the perfume boxes, the charms, and the rings; the nose jewels, the festal apparel, and the mantles; the outer garments, the purses, and the mirrors; the fine linen, the turbans, and the robes” (Isaiah 3:16-23).

 It may have been in response to the heavily adorned female attendants at the Temple of Diana, that Paul and Peter advised Christian women to be moderate in their wearing jewelry and in their dress. Peter stated that a woman has both an outer and an inner adornment to consider in light of God’s preference.

“Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God” (1 Peter 3:3-4; see also 1 Timothy 2:9).

With all that can be studied in the scriptures about jewelry and adornment, my favorite passage about jewels has to do with conversation among believers. Malachi says that God listens to the conversations going on among those who fear the LORD. He takes note of their discussions in a book of remembrance. These people will be His “in the day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spares his own son that serves him” (Malachi 3:16-17).—Mary Hendren


[1] NIV Pictorial Bible, Zondervan publishers, l978, p. 128

[2] Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible, J.I. Packer and M.C. Tenney, p. 484

[3] Same resource, p. 484

[4] The Women’s Study Bible, NKJV, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006, p. 116

Bread

The first Biblical reference to a woman doing specific work (other than childbirth) refers to a task done four thousand years ago. Abraham entertained unexpected guests, and Sarah made cakes for them.

So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quickly, make ready three measures of fine meal, knead it and make cakes.”

 Women made cakes from meal, or fine meal (flour), and “roasted the dough in the ashes” or “under the coals” or on hot stones.[1] The ancient people used four kinds of grain to make meal: millet, oats, barley and wheat. Sarah could have made cakes from any of the grains, although barley and wheat were preferred. Barley meal made healthful roasted flatbread and became a symbol of Israel’s strength.

“Nowhere—not even in Homer—is there written so forcible a tribute to barley as in the Book of Judges, where an Israelite dreams of a cake of barley bread tumbling into the Midianites’ camp and destroying all of Israel’s enemies.”[2]

Barley

Barley (Photo credit: freefotouk)

While barley, millet and oats make satisfying flatbreads, these grains have little or no gluten, which is necessary for making raised bread. Millet is gluten-free; oats contain a little gluten; and barley has less gluten than wheat. Because of its high gluten content, wheat flour makes exceptional raised bread. Kneading dough made from wheat flour develops strands of gluten. Gluten is stretchy and traps the gas generated during leavening. It enables bread to rise and hold its structure. Raised bread can be made with other grains if they are combined with wheat flour or another gluten source. Because of wheat’s baking qualities, it “became the king of grains—and remains so to this day.”[3]

Sarah’s Cakes

Did Sarah know how to make raised bread from air-borne yeast? She might have. Historians believe that Egyptians “invented” raised bread about 500 years before the time of Abraham.

Egyptian Bowl with Bread

Egyptian Bowl with Bread (Photo credit: feministjulie)

 “Around 2,500 B.C. the Egyptians learned how to exploit the gluten in wheat flour making the first raised breads from yeast. This discovery alone pushed wheat to the forefront ahead of the other prized grains of the day, oats, millet, rice and barley. The Egyptians grew huge amounts of wheat. They eventually started exporting wheat to other parts of the new world.”[4]

The Egyptians “made an enormous contribution to civilization” by setting aside their dough until it fermented, and “were known as the bread eaters…[because it was] the principal good of all Egyptians.”[5]

How the Egyptians first discovered the activity of invisible air-borne yeast is not known. Was an Egyptian woman called away from mixing her dough long enough that yeasts began to ferment it? When she returned and found a slightly bubbly mess, did she throw up her hands and say, “I’ll have to bake it anyway.” It’s lost to us.

Learned skill

 It is likely that the Israelites learned to make raised bread while they were slaves in Egypt. At the time of Moses, Egyptians already had brick ovens and were capable of making raised breads in various shapes, a skill attested to by Egyptian tomb paintings.  Earlier Hebrews, nomadic peoples like Abraham who lived in tents and followed their herds, “could not be bothered transporting such ovens through the land…either they parched the grain, like the reapers in the Book of Ruth, or they set flat cakes to bake” on a hearth or under coals.[6]

Adam Clarke states that Sarah made cakes on a hearth as was common among the Bedouin tribes. “When the hearth is strongly heated by the fired kindled on it, they remove the coals, sweep off the ashes, lay on the bread, and then cover it with hot cinders.”[7] Commentators John Gill and Jamieson, Fausset and Brown agree with Clarke that Sarah made cakes from sifted meal and cooked them on a hot surface under embers.

Time to Rise

It is stated on some Jewish websites that flour made from any of five basic grains (wheat, oats, rye, barley and spelt) and mixed with water begins to be leavened by natural yeasts in 18 minutes. Orthodox Jews, who seek to avoid any chance of dough beginning to ferment, bake their Passover matzohs quickly. Wild yeast will begin fermenting sugar when it settles on hydrated flour. But it takes more than 18 minutes of yeast activity to achieve dough sufficiently strong for baking a sizable raised loaf.

Peter Reinhart in The Baker’s Apprentice describes preparing an initial “seed culture” of wild yeast, flour and water over a period of one to four days. A small portion of this starter culture is mixed into a measure of flour and water to make a loaf of sourdough bread. After the dough is kneaded to develop gluten, it rests two to four hours as the yeast works. After resting, the dough is shaped and rises a final time before being baked.[8]

No Time to Rise

Ancient Israel had to leave Egypt quickly. After God administered the tenth plague, He wanted Israel out in a hurry. They couldn’t wait the hours to leaven, knead, shape, rise and bake their dough in Egyptian ovens. As stated in Exodus 12:33-34, the Israelites left with unused kneading bowls on their shoulders. Their daily bread was leavened but they didn’t have time to prepare it.

And the Egyptians urged the people, that they might send them out of the land in haste. For they said, “We shall all be dead.” So the people took their dough before it was leavened, having their kneading bowls bound up in their clothes on their shoulders.”

 A remarkable sign

Israel learned to make leavened bread in Egypt. Women baked it every day. It was a staple of their diet.

It was a remarkable sign for the Israelites to leave the land of “bread eaters,” the people who “invented” raised bread, who built brick ovens, who made fanciful shaped loaves, who baked bread for their gods and ancestors—to depart without any of the bread of Egypt.—Mary Hendren

 


[1] Six Thousand Years of Bread, H.E. Jacob, p.35.

[2] Same source, p. 15.

[3] Same source, p. 15.

[4] http://www.aaoobfoods.com, “Grain Information”

[5] Six Thousand Years of Bread History, pp. 26, 31

[6] Ibid, p. 35

[7] Adam Clarke’s Commentary, note on Gen.18:6, p. 42

[8] The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, Peter Reinhart, pp. 227-235

The Many Facets of Miriam

Caregiver

Miriam was born in Egypt. Her parents, Amram and Jochebed, were Hebrew slaves in Pharaoh’s work force. Miriam was the oldest of their children, and she helped care for her younger siblings. As a child, she was responsible, nurturing, and assertive.

Sometime after Amram and Jochebed married, Pharaoh ordered a massive infanticide. He intended to control the slave population by systematically killing Hebrew male infants. Amram’s second child, Aaron, may have been born before the edict went into effect because he was already three years old when the story begins.  The edict was in force, however, when the second son was born. Sympathetic midwives did what they could to save the infants, but Pharaoh eventually required all Egyptians to take part in the killings. When all Egyptians were on the lookout, it was difficult to conceal any boys the midwives saved. Read the rest of this entry

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