Kennedy, A. R. S. "Shewbread." A Dictionary of the Bible. Ed. J. Hastings.
A. R. S. Kennedy
SHEWBREAD.--'Shewbread,' formed apparently on the pattern of Luther's
Schaubrot, is the tr. first adopted by Tindale, of the Heb. MynipA(ha) MH,l, ‘bread of
the presence [of J"],' of which, accordingly, the more correct tr. is that proposed by
RVm, viz. 'presence-bread.'
It has been usual hitherto to assign the introduction of the term 'shewbread'
to Coverdale (see, e.g., Plummer's Luke, 167). But it is found as early as 1526 in
Tindale's New Testament, He 9:2 'and the shewe breed which is called wholy'
(Offor's reprint). Curiously enough, Tindale not only uses other renderings in the
Gospels ('the halowed loves,' Mt 12:4, Mk 2:26; 'loves of halowed breed,' Lk 6:4),
but retains the same inconsistency in his revised edition of 1534, after he had
adopted ' shewbred' in his Pentateuch of 1530. In the latter on its first occurrence
(Ex 25:30) be adds the marginal note: 'Shewbred, because it was alway in the
presence and sight of the Lorde' (see Mombert's reprint, in loc.). Wyclif had
naturally followed the Vulgate (see below) with 'breed of proposicioun.' The
Protestant translators and revisers who succeeded Tindale give ' shewbread' in OT,
'shewe loves," shewbreads,' and 'shewbread' in NT, the last, by the end of the 16th
cent. being firmly
established in both Testaments (the
retaining 'loaves of proposition').
1. NOMENCLATURE.--On the occasion of the earliest historical mention
of the presence-bread (MyniPAha MH,l, 1 S 21:6 [Heb.7]) it is also termed 'holy
bread' (wd,qo MH,l,. ib. 5. 6. [6. 7] RV; AV 'hallowed bread'). The former term is
that used throughout the Priests' Code (P) of the Pentateuch, with the addition of
the name 'continual bread' (dymiTA “l Nu 4:7b; cf. 'bread' only Ex 40:23). In the
post-exilic period we meet with another designation, viz. 'the pile-bread'
(tk,rAfEm.aha MH,l,) 1 Ch 9:32 23:29; Neh 10:33, but with the terms reversed 2 Ch
13:11, cf. He 9:2 ; also tkrfm alone 2 Ch 24). This name is due to the fact that
the loaves were arranged upon the table in two piles (tOkrAfEma Lv 24:6; this, the
rendering of RVm, suits the facts better than the 'rows' of the text of EV). The
tr. varies considerably in the Gr. versions, the most literal rendering of the older
designation is a@rtoi
tou? prosw<pou 1 S 21:6, 2 Es 20:33
a@r. prosw<pwn), a@r. e]nw<pioi Ex 25:30, of oi[ a@r. oi[ prokei<menoi Ex 39:18;
elsewhere most frequently a@r. th?j proqe<sewj, 'loaves of the setting forth.' This,
the term used in the Gospels (Mt 12:4, Mk 2:26, Lk 6:4), reflects the later Hebrew
designation above mentioned (cf. proqe<sewj in LXX to render j`refA ‘to set
495b Kennedy: Shewbread
in order,’ ‘set forth’ [a meal upon a table]).* The variant h[ pro<qesij t. a@rtwn
* Codex BeR (D) has prosqe<sewj, with which comp. prostiqe<nai for protiq.
in some MSS of the LXX (passim). See for D's reading, Nestle, Introd. to Text.
Criticism of Gr. NT (1901), 237.
(He 9:2) follows 2 Ch 13:11, 2 Mac 10:3. Still another rendering, oi[ a@r. th?j
prosfora?j, is confined to some MSS of the Greek of 1 K 7:48 (Lucian has
proqe<sewj). The Vulgate also reflects both the Hebrew designations with panis
The table of shewbread has likewise in Hebrew a twofold nomenclature: in
MyniPAha nHal;wu in P 'the presence-table' (Nu 4:7), but in Chronicles tk,rAfEma.ha “w
(2 Ch 29:18) ; in both we also find rOhFAh “w 'the pure table' (Lv 24:6, 2 Ch
13:11, probably because overlaid with pure gold. For other designations now
disguised in MT see next section.
ii. THE SHEWBREAD IN THE PRE-EXILIC PERIOD.
--The earliest historical mention of the shewbread occurs in the account of David's
flight from Saul, in which he secures for his young men, under conditions that are
somewhat obscure, the use of the shewbread from the sanctuary at NOD (1 S
21:2ff). It is here described, as we have seen, both as 'presence-bread' (v.6) and
as 'holy' or 'sacred bread' (vv.4. 6 [8-7]), in opposition to ordinary or
unconsecrated bread (lOH). The incident appears to have happened on the day on
hich the loaves were removed to be replaced by fresh or ' hot bread' (MHo MH,l,)
It must not be inferred from this narrative that the regulation of the Priests'
Code, by which the stale shewbread was the exclusive perquisite of the priests,
was already in force, although this, naturally, is the standpoint of NT times (see.
Mt 12:4 and paralls.). Ahimelech, in requiring and receiving the assurance that
David's young men were ceremonially 'clean' (see art. UNCLEANNESS), seems
to have taken all the precautions then deemed necessary. The narrative is further of
value as giving us a clear indication of the meaning originally attaching to the
expression 'presence-bread; for the loaves are here expressly said to have been
‘removed from the presence of J"’ (“ ynep;li.mi
expression Ex 25:30). We next meet with the rite in connexion with Solomon's
temple, among the furniture of which is mentioned in our present text ' the table
whereupon the shewbread was' (1 K 7:48 RV). This table is here further said to
have been 'of gold,' by which we are to understand from the context 'of solid gold'
(cf. Ex 25:24 in LXX, and Josephus' [Ant. VIII. iii. 7] description of the temple).
But it is well known that in this section of the Book of Kings the original narrative
has been overlaid with accretions of all sorts, mostly, if not entirely, post-exilic;
these are due to the idea of this latertime, that the interior decoration of Solomon's
temple, and the materials of its furniture, could in no respect have been inferior to
those of the tabernacle of P. See Stade's classical essay, ' Der Text des Berichtes
ueber Salomo's Bauten,' in ZATW, 1883, 129-177, reproduced in his Akad. Reden
u. Abhandlungen (1899), 143ff. Stade's results have been accepted in the main by
all recent scholars. Thus he shows that the original of 1 K 6:20b. 21 probably read
somewhat as is still given in the middle clause of the better Gr. text of A
(e]poi<hsen qusiasth<rion ke<drou . . . kata> pro<swpon tou? dabi<r)
viz. rybiD;ha ynEp;li zrAx, HBaz;mi Wfaya.va ‘and he [Solomon] made an altar of cedar-
wood (to stand) in front of the sanctuary (the ' Holy of Holies' of P).' Whether we
should retain or discard the words 'and overlaid it with gold,' is of minor import-
The altar, therefore, of v. 20b is not to be understood of the altar of incense,
which first appears in the latest stratum of P (see TABERNACLE), but, as in the
passage of Ezekiel presently to be considered, of the table of shewbread. The
express mention of the latter by name in 1 K 7:48b is also part of an admittedly
late addition to the original text (see authorities cited in footnote). The same desire
to enhance the glory of the Solomonic temple is usually assigned as the ground
for the tradition followed by the Chronicler, who states that Solomon provided the
necessary gold for ten tables of shewbread (1 Ch 28:16 ; cf. 2 Ch 48:19). This
writer, however, is not consistent, for elsewhere we read of ' the ordering of the
shewbread upon the pure table (2 Ch 13:11).' In his account, further, of the
cleansing of the temple under Hezekiah, only ' the table of shewbread, with all
the vessels thereof' is mentioned (ib. 29:16),--a view of the cage which is
undoubtedly to be regarded as alone in accordance with the facts of history.
This table fell a prey to the flames which consumed the temple in the 19th
year of Nebuchadrezzar (2 K 25:8, Jer 52:18). The tale related by the Byzantine
chronicler (Syncellus, 409), that it was among the furniture concealed by Jeremiah
which we already find in 2 Mac 2:1ff. Notwithstanding these uncertainties, the
continuance of the rite under the monarchy is sufficiently assured.
iii. THE POST-EXILIC PERIOD.-Ezekiel in his sketch of the ideal
sanctuary likewise contemplates the perpetuation of the rite, for in a passage
of his book, which on all hands is regarded as
* See besides Stade, op. cit., the commentaries of Kittel and Benzinger, esp. the
latter's Introduction. xvi if., where an interesting study will be found of the gradual
growth of the accretions with which 1 K 6:16-21 is now overgrown; also Burney's
art. KINGs in the present work, vol. ii. 863b, and his Notes on the Hebrew Text of
the Books of Kings, in loc.
496a Kennedy: Shewbread
corrupt, but capable with the help of the LXX of easy emendation, we read thus as
emended): 'In front of the sanctuary [this also=P's 'Holy of Holies'] was
something like an altar of wood, three cubits in height, and the length thereof two
cubits, and the breadth two cubits ; and it had corners, and its base and its sides
were of wood. And he said unto me: This is the table that is before J" (Ezk
41:21, 22 ; so substantially Cornill and all recent commentators). Here, then, we
have not the altar of incense, but once more the table of shewbread. The twofold
circumstance that it is here expressly termed an altar, and is of plain wood without
a gold covering, is a strong argument in favour of Stade's restoration of the text of
1 K, discussed above. Ezekiel's table of shewbread resembled in its general outline
the similar altar-tables so often seen on the Assyrian monuments (see last section)
its height was half as much again as its length, and in section it formed a square of
at least 3 ft. in the side. The projections or 'horns' were, no doubt, similar to those
of the Assyrian altars (see, e.g., Perrot and Chipiez, History of Art in
516), the table of shewbread, we may safely infer, had its place in the outer
sanctuary, although we have no information as to whether or not it was modelled
on Ezekiel's altar-table. After the introduction of the Priests' Code it may have
been remodelled according to the instructions there given (Ex 25:23f .); we may
at least, with some measure of certainty, suppose that it was then overlaid with
gold, since Antiochus Epiphanes, when he carried off the spoils of the temple (1
Mac 1:22), would scarcely have taken the trouble to remove a plain wooden altar.
The well-informed author of 1 Maccabees, in the passage cited, includes among
the spoils not only the table itself, but 'the flagons and chalices and censers of
gold' used in the ritual of the table (see for these art. TABERNACLE, section on
Table of Shewbread). The provision of the shewbread, it should be added, was one
of the objects to which were devoted the proceeds of the tax of one-third of a
shekel instituted by Nehemiah (1032, cf. Jos. Ant. III. x. 7, § 255).
Here attention may be called to two non-canonical Jewish writers who
allude to the subject of this article. The earlier of the two, is pseudo-Hecataeus,
whose date is usually assumed to be the 3rd cent. B.C. (Schurer, GJV 3 iii. 465;
period). This writer, in a passage preserved for us by Josephus (c. Apion. i. 22),
describes the second temple as ' a large edifice wherein is an altar (bwmo<j), and a
candelabrum both of gold, two talents in weight.' The former term, in the light of
what has been said above with regard to the altar-tables of Solomon and Ezekiel,
we must identify with the table of shewbread. The other writer referred to is
pseudo-Aristeas, whose date falls within the century 200-100 B.C.. In his famous
letter, purporting to give an account of the origin of the Alexandrian version of the
OT, he gives the rein to a lively imagination in his description of a shewbread
table of unexampled magnificence--all of gold and precious gems, and of
unsurpassed artistic worlananship--which Ptolemy Philadelphus is said to have
presented to the temple at
Aristeas' letter-tr. by the former in Kautzseh's Apolcryphen u. Pseudepigraphen,
ii. 6 ff.). This table is admitted to have had no existence outside the pages of
To resume the thread of our narrative, we find that on the re-dedication of
the temple (B.C. 165) Judas Maccabaeus had new furniture made, including the
shewbread table (1 Mac 449),--now, we may be sure, constructed in entire
conformity to the requirements of Ex 25:23ff.--upon which the loaves were duly
set forth (v.51). This table continued in use till the destruction of the temple by
Titus in A.D. 70. Rescued from the blazing pile, it figured along with the golden
candlestick and a lull of the law in the triumph awarded to the victorious general
(Jos. BJ vii. v. 3-7, esp. 5, § 148). Thereafter, these were all deposited by
Vespasian in his newly built
the triumph formed a conspicuous part of the decoration on the Arch of Titus,
erected subsequently. Few remains of classical antiquity have been so frequently
reproduced as the panel of the arch on which are depicted the table and the
candlestick, borne aloft on the shoulders of the Roman veterans (see illustration
under Music, vol. iii. p. 462). Both seem to have
the city by Genseric, king of the Vandals, in 455, by whom they were transferred
were transferred to
figured. On this occasion a Jew, it is said, working on the superstitious awe felt by
Justinian for these sacred relics, induced the emperor to send them back to
the Persian, in 614 (see Reinach, ' L'Arc de Titus,' in REJ 20, p. lxxxv f., in book
form, 1890; Knight, The Arch of Titus, 112 ff.).
iv. PREPARATION OF THE SHEWBREAD.--According to the express
testimony of Josephus (Ant. III. vi. 6), the Mishna, and later Jewish writers, the
shewbread was unleavened. Nor does there seem to be any valid ground for the
assertion, frequently made by recent writers, that it was otherwise in more
primitive times. The absence of leaven best suits the undoubted antiquity of the
rite, and, moreover, is confirmed by the Babylonian practice of offering 'sweet'
(i.e. unleavened) bread on the tables of the gods (see below). The material in
all periods was of the finest of the flour (Lv 24:5), which was obtained, according
to Menahoth (vi. 7), by sifting the flour eleven times. The kneading, and firing of
the loaves in the time of the Chronicler was the duty of the 'sons of the
Kohathites,' a Levitical guild (1 Ch 9:32) ; in the closing days of the second temple
their preparation fell to the house or family of Gamin (Yoma iii. 11, Shekal.
viii. 1). The quantity of flour prescribed by the Priests' Code for each loaf (hl.AHa
halls) was 'two tenth-parts of an ephah' (Lv 24:5 RV), which reckoning the ephah
roughly at a bushel-represents about 4/5ths of a peck (c. 7 ¼ litres), a quantity
sufficient to produce a loaf of considerable dimensions, recalling the loaves which
gave their name to the Delian festival of the Megala<rtia.
496c Kennedy: Shewbread
In the earlier period, at least, the loaves were laid upon the table while still
hot (I S 21:6). The later regulations required that they should be arranged in two
piles (tOkrAfEma, see sect. i. above). On the top of each pile, apparently,--on the
table between the piles, according to another tradition, stood a censer containing
'pure frankincense for a memorial (hrABAz;xa, for which see comm. on Lv 24:7),
even an offering by fire unto the LORD.' Alexandrian writers give salt in addition
(Lv l.c. in LXX; hence, doubtless, Philo, Vit. Mos. ii. 151). The stale loaves, by
the same regulations, were removed and fresh leaves substituted every Sabbath.
According to Sukka (v. 7 f.), one half went to the outgoing division of priests, the
other to the incoming division, by whom they were consumed within the sacred
precincts.* In order to avoid repetition, further examination of the details given
by post-biblical Jewish writers--many of them clearly wide of the mark—
regarding the shape and size of the loaves and their arrangement on the table, as
well as regarding the nature and purpose of the vessels mentioned, Ex 25:21, Nu
4:7, is reserved for the section on P's table of
* It is a mere conjecture that the shewbread was originally burned (Stade,
Akadem. Reden, etc., 180, note 15).
shewbread and its vessels in the general article TABERNACLE.
v. SIGNIFICANCE OF THE RITE.--The rite of ‘the presence-bread’ is one
of the fairly numerous survivals from the pre-Mosaic stage of the religion of the
Hebrews, and goes back ultimately to the native conception that the god, like his
worshippers, required and actually partook of material nourishment. No doubt, as
W. R. Smith has pointed out, this idea 'is too crude to subsist without modifica-
tion beyond the savage state of society' (RS1 212). In the case of the shewbread, it
may be suggested that the odour of the 'hot bread' (MHo MH,L,) 1 S 21:6) was
regarded in ancient times as a 'sweet savour,' like the shell of the sacrifice to J"
(Gn 8:21, Lv 23:13). In any case the custom of presenting solid food on a table as
an oblation to a god is too widespread among the peoples of antiquity to permit of
doubt as to the origin of the rite among the Hebrews.
The lectisternia,which the Romans borrowed from the Greeks, afford the
most familiar illustration of this practice (see
Smith's Dict. of Gr. and
Antiqs.3 s.et). In the OT itself we hear of Jeremiah's contemporaries kneading
cakes for the queen of heaven (Jer 7:18), and, at a later date, of the table which
even Jews spread to Fortune (GAD, Is 65:11 RV). In the religious literature of the
ancient Babylonians, again, particularly in the ritual tablets to which the attention
of scholars has lately been turned, we find numerous references to the various
items of food and drink to be presented to the deities of the Babylonian pantheon.
The tables or altars, also, on which the food was set out are frequently represented
on the monuments (see, e.g., Eenzinger, Heb. Arch. 387; Riehm's HWB 2 1. 148,
etc.). And not only so, but, as Zimmern has recently shown, the loaves of sweet or
unleavened bread thus presented are, frequently at least, of the number of 12, 24,
or even as many as 36 (see the reff. in Zimmern's Beitrage zur Kenntnis der
astronomical significance, 12 being the number of the signs of the Zodiac, 24 the
stations of the moon, and 36 those of the planets (see 2 K 23:5 RVm, Job 38:32,
of offering food on the tables of the gods survived to a late period; see Epist. of
Jeremy, v.28ff and the fragment of Bel and the Dragon (esp. v. 11; note also that
the food of Bel comprised 'twelve great measures of fine flour'). Hence, if the
loaves of the presence-bread were 12 in number from the earliest times,--though of
this we have no early testimony,--we should have another of the rapidly increasing
instances of early Babylonian influence in the West (cf. Josephus' association of
the 12 loaves with the 12 months,
While, however, it must be admitted that the rite of the presence-bread had
its origin in the circle of ideas just set forth, it is not less evident that, as taken up
and preserved by the religious guides of
significance. The bread was no longer thought of as J"s food (“ MH,l,) in the sense
attached to it in an earlier age, but as a concrete expression of the fact that J" was
the source of every material blessing. As the 'continual bread' (dymiTA MH,l,
497b Kennedy: Shewbread
Nu 4:7), it became the standing expression of the nation's gratitude to the Giver of
all for the bounties of His providence. The number twelve was later brought into
connexion with the number of the
by Sabbath, the priestly representatives of the nation renewed this outward and
visible acknowledgment of man's continual dependence upon God. The presence
of the shewbread in the developed ritual, therefore, was not without a real and
worthy significance. It may here be added, in a word, that the explanation of the
shewbread hitherto in vogue among the disciples of Bahr, according to which ‘the
bread of the face' was so named because it is through partaking thereof that man
attains to the sight of God, accords neither with the true signification of the term,
nor with the history of the rite.
by A. R. S. KENNEDY.
Please report any errors to Ted