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The making of showbread

Photos of an experiment to recreate Showbread.
Contributed by Bill & Shelley Houser
On the Sabbath day the Levites made twelve loaves, or cakes, of unleavened bread. These freshly-baked cakes were placed on the golden table of Showbread in the sanctuary of the Tabernacle and later the Temple, (Leviticus 24:8; 1 Samuel 21:3-6; Matthew 12:3-4). The loaves represented the 12 tribes of Israel and in some translations it is called ‘the bread of the Presence.’ After a week, the bread was removed and eaten by the priests. – Slide 1
Researcher Shelley Houser shows the process of making showbread. Her research on the hin, omer, and ephah, concludes that the recipe for the showbread in Leviticus 24 is 8 cups (960g) of wheat flour for each loaf. This would be two omers, or two tenths of an ephah. Moses’ base unit is the ephah, which translates into 10 US quarts. – Slide 2
Leviticus 2:13 states that all grain offerings are to be seasoned with salt. Shelley writes, ‘I add 1 tablespoon of salt to each loaf. It is salted to my taste, as there is not a specific amount of salt mentioned in the Bible.’ – Slide 3
The salt and the flour are mixed. Salt adds strength to the dough. – Slide 4
‘In the recipe for the showbread listed in Leviticus 24:5-9, there is no mention of oil. When I baked a first set of showbread with just the flour, salt, and water, the resulting loaves were so hard, the priests could never have eaten them. So, I added 1/3 of a hin (2/3 of a cup) of olive oil, the amount of olive oil specified for a ram offering (see Numbers 15:6).’ – Slide 5
‘The oil and flour are mixed and then water added. When a white coating appears on the dough ball, and strings of gluten form, then there is enough water added.’ – Slide 6
‘If you add too much water, it will be too sticky to knead. If you don’t add enough water, it will be dry and crumbly, and the dough will not stick together enough to make the bread.’ – Slide 7
‘The mixture is then kneaded to turn it from a clumpy, unevenly wet dough …’ – Slide 8
‘… into a smooth, satiny ball.’ – Slide 9
The Mishna says the loaves were 10 etzba long, by 5 etzba wide, with 7 etzba rims/horns. The ‘etzba’ is translated as ‘finger’ width in Jeremiah 52:21. The ‘standard’ finger width size, determined by engineering standards is 0.75 inches (19mm). The Egyptian ‘deben’, or ‘finger’ measurement was 0.74 inches. Moulds were made to shape the dough to this size. The Mishnah states that the loaves were moulded into shape by three different gold moulds, one while the loaves were just dough, another while baking the bread and a third after baking, to protect the shape. – Slide 10
Shelley adds, ‘In this experiment, the dough was baked 3 hours at 300 degrees F (148 degrees C), but when I sliced the loaf, it was still a little wet inside, and probably should have been baked another ½ hour or hour.’ – Slide 11
Twelve loaves were baked each week.  The loaves are very dense, and need a long, low-temperature baking time. – Slide 12
Pure frankincense was put on the loaves and in between the rows  (Leviticus 24:7). Frankincense had the benefit of acting as a mold retardant. It may also act as a bug/rodent repellant, too. – Slide 13
An example of a loaf that has turned moldy as a result of not having pure frankincense to protect it. Shelley suggests, ‘The ‘rims/horns’ on the top of the loaves may well have the purpose of holding the frankincense so it would not roll off the bread.’ – Slide 14
An example of a 4-week-old loaf that has dry white patches inside but has no mold, due to the pure frankincense. The priests ate the loaves after it had been displayed for one week in the sanctuary. – Slide 15
A baked loaf was 10 etzba (7.5 inches, 19 cm) long. – Slide 16
It was 5 etzba (3.25 inches, 8.2 cm) long, with 7 etzba (5.25 in, 13.3 cm) rims/horns. – Slide 17
It was 7 etzba (5.25 inches, 13.3 cm) high. – Slide 18
The 12 loaves, representing the 12 tribes of Israel, were placed in two rows of six loaves. Bread with these dimensions 36 inches (91 cm) long x 18 inches (45.7 cm) wide, (or 2 cubits by 1 cubit) had the dimensions to fit on the table of showbread. – Slide 19
In Exodus 25:29, God told Moses to make spoons and dishes to go on the table of showbread.  Some of the dishes were called ‘covers’ to ‘cover withall’. The dishes were to be made of gold, and this is Shelley's artistic representation of what some of the dishes and spoons and covers might have looked like. – Slide 20
The finished loaves on the table of showbread in the Tabernacle or Temple. Here they are shown with the golden covers over them. – Slide 21
A modern-day reconstruction of the Tabernacle at Timna in Israel. – Slide 22
Slide 23