Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Bible

Verse 7 (Leviticus 2:7)

The frying-pan - מרחשת marchesheth , supposed to be the same with that called by the Arabs a ta - jen , a shallow earthen vessel like a frying-pan, used not only to fry in, but for other purposes. On the different instruments, as well as the manner of baking in the east, Mr. Harmer, in his observations on select passages of Scripture, has collected the following curious information.

"Dr. Shaw informs us that in the cities and villages of Barbary, there are public ovens, but that among the Bedouins, who live in tents, and the Kabyles, who live in miserable hovels in the mountains, their bread, made into thin cakes, is baked either immediately upon the coals, or else in a ta - jen , which he tells us is a shallow earthen vessel like a frying-pan: and then cites the Septuagint to show that the supposed pan, mentioned Leviticus 2:5 , was the same thing as a ta - jen . The ta - jen , according to Dr. Russel, is exactly the same among the Bedouins as the τηγανον , a word of the same sound as well as meaning, was among the Greeks. So the Septuagint, Leviticus 2:5 ; : if thy oblation be a meat-offering, baken in a pan, ( απο τηγανου ), it shall be of fine flour unleavened, mingled with oil.

"This account given by the doctor is curious; but as it does not give us all the eastern ways of baking, so neither does it furnish us, I am afraid, with a complete comment on that variety of methods of preparing the meat-offerings which is mentioned by Moses in Leviticus 2. So long ago as Queen Elizabeth's time, Rauwolff observed that travelers frequently baked bread in the deserts of Arabia on the ground, heated for that purpose by fire, covering their cakes of bread with ashes and coals, and turning them several times until they were baked enough; but that some of the Arabians had in their tents, stones, or copper plates, made on purpose for baking. Dr. Pococke very lately made a like observation, speaking of iron hearths used for baking their bread.

"Sir John Chardin, mentioning the several ways of baking their bread in the east, describes these iron plates as small and convex. These plates are most commonly used, he tells us, in Persia, and among the wandering people that dwell in tents, as being the easiest way of baking, and done with the least expense; the bread being as thin as a skin, and soon prepared. Another way (for he mentions four) is by baking on the hearth. That bread is about an inch thick; they make no other all along the Black Sea from the Palus Maeotis to the Caspian Sea, in Chaldea, and in Mesopotamia, except in towns. This, he supposes, is owing to their being woody countries. These people make a fire in the middle of a room; when the bread is ready for baking they sweep a corner of the hearth, lay the bread there, and cover it with hot ashes and embers; in a quarter of an hour they turn it: this bread is very good. The third way is that which is common among us. The last way, and that which is common through all Asia, is thus: they make an oven in the ground, four or five feet deep and three in diameter, well plastered with mortar. When it is hot, they place the bread (which is commonly long, and not thicker than a finger) against the sides, and it is baked in a moment.

"D'Arvieux mentions another way used by the Arabs about Mount Carmel, who sometimes bake in an oven, and at other time on the hearth; but have a third method, which is, to make a fire in a great stone pitcher and when it is heated, they mix meal and water, as we do to make paste to glue things together, which they apply with the hollow of their hands to the outside of the pitcher, and this extremely soft paste spreading itself upon it is baked in an instant. The heat of the pitcher having dried up all the moisture, the bread comes off as thin as our wafers; and the operation is so speedily performed that in a very little time a sufficient quantity is made.

"Maimonides and the Septuagint differ in their explanation of Leviticus 2:5 ; for that Egyptian rabbi supposes this verse speaks of a fiat plate, and these more ancient interpreters, of a ta - jen . But they both seem to agree that these were two of the methods of preparing the meat-offering; for Maimonides supposes the seventh verse speaks of a frying-pan or ta - jen ; whereas the Septuagint, on the contrary, thought the word there meant a hearth, which term takes in an iron or copper plate, though it extends farther.

"The meat-offerings of the fourth verse answer as well to the Arab bread, baked by means of their stone pitchers, which are used by them for the baking of wafers, as to their cakes of bread mentioned by D'Arvieux, who, describing the way of baking among the modern Arabs, after mentioning some of their methods, says they bake their best sort of bread, either by heating an oven, or a large pitcher, half full of certain little smooth shining flints, upon which they lay the dough, spread out in form of a thin broad cake. The mention of wafers seems to fix the meaning of Moses to these oven pitchers, though perhaps it may be thought an objection that this meat-offering is said to have been baked in an oven; but it will be sufficient to observe that the Hebrew words only signify a meat-offering of the oven, and consequently may be understood as well of wafers baked on the outside of these oven pitchers, as of cakes of bread baked in them. And if thou bring an oblation, a baked thing, of the oven, it shall be an unleavened cake of fine flour mingled with oil, or unleavened wafers anointed with oil. Whoever then attends to these accounts of the stone pitcher, the ta - jen , and the copper plate or iron hearth, will enter into this second of Leviticus, I believe, much more perfectly than any commentator has done, and will find in these accounts what answers perfectly well to the description Moses gives us of the different ways of preparing the meat-offerings. A ta - jen indeed, according to Dr. Shaw, serves for a frying-pan as well as for a baking vessel; for he says, the bagreah of the people of Barbary differs not much from our pancakes, only that, instead of rubbing the ta - jen or pan in which they fry them with butter, they rub it with soap, to make them like a honeycomb.

"Moses possibly intended a meat-offering of that kind might be presented to the Lord; and our translators seem to prefer that supposition, since, though the margin mentions the opinion of Maimonides, the reading of the text in the sixth verse opposes a pan for baking to a pan for frying in the seventeenth verse. The thought, however, of Maimonides seems to be most just, as Moses appears to be speaking of different kinds of bread only, not of other farinaceous preparations.

"These oven pitchers mentioned by D'Arvieux, and used by the modern Arabs for baking cakes of bread in them, and wafers on their outsides, are not the only portable ovens of the east. St. Jerome, in his commentary on Lamentations 5:10 , describes an eastern oven as a round vessel of brass, blackened on the outside by the surrounding fire which heats it within. Such an oven I have seen used in England. Which of these the Mishnah refers to when it speaks of the women lending their ovens to one another, as well as their mills and their sieves, I do not know; but the foregoing observations may serve to remove a surprise that this circumstance may otherwise occasion in the reader of the Mishnah. Almost every body knows that little portable handmills are extremely common in the Levant; movable ovens are not so well known. Whether ovens of the kind which St. Jerome mentions be as ancient as the days of Moses, does not appear, unless the ta - jen be used after this manner; but the pitcher ovens of the Arabs are, without doubt, of that remote antiquity.

"Travellers agree that the eastern bread is made in small thin moist cakes, must be eaten new, and is good for nothing when kept longer than a day. This, however, admits of exceptions. Dr. Russel of late, and Rauwolff formerly, assure us that they have several sorts of bread and cakes: some, Rauwolff tells us, done with yolk of eggs; some mixed with several sorts of seed, as of sesamum, Romish coriander, and wild garden saffron, which are also stewed upon it; and he elsewhere supposes that they prepare biscuits for travelling. Russel, who mentions this stewing of seeds on their cakes says, they have a variety of rusks and biscuits. To these authors let me add Pitts, who tells us the biscuits they carry with them from Egypt will last them to Mecca and back again.

"The Scriptures suppose their loaves of bread were very small, three of them being requisite for the entertainment of a single person, Luke 11:5 . That they were generally eaten new, and baked as they wanted them, as appears from the case of Abraham. That sometimes, however, they were made so as to keep several days; so the shew-bread was fit food, after lying before the Lord a week. And that bread for travelers was wont to be made to keep some time, as appears from the pretences of the Gibeonites, Joshua 9:12 , and the preparations made for Jacob's journey into Egypt, Genesis 45:23 . The bread or rusks for travelling is often made in the form of large rings, and is moistened or soaked in water before it is used. In like manner, too, they seem to have had there a variety of eatables of this kind as the Aleppines now have. In particular, some made like those on which seeds are strewed, as we may collect from that part of the presents of Jeroboam's wife to the Prophet Ahijah, which our translators have rendered cracknels, 1 Kings 14:3 . Buxtorf indeed supposes the original word נקדים nikkuddim signifies biscuits, called by this name, either because they were formed into little buttons like some of our gingerbread, or because they were pricked full of holes after a particular manner. The last of these two conjectures, I imagine, was embraced by our translators of this passage; for cracknels, if they are all over England of the same form, are full of holes, being formed into a kind of flourish of lattice-work. I have seen some of the unleavened bread of the English Jews made in like manner in a net form. Nevertheless I should think it more natural to understand the word of biscuit spotted with seeds; for it is used elsewhere to signify works of gold spotted with studs of silver; and, as it should seem, bread spotted with mould, Joshua 9:5-12 ; how much more natural is it then to understand the word of cakes spotted with seeds, which are so common in the east! Is not לבבות lebiboth , in particular, the word that in general means rich cakes? a sort of which Tamar used to prepare that was not common, and furnished Amnon with a pretense for desiring her being sent to his house, that she might make some of that kind for him in the time of his indisposition, his fancy running upon them; see 2 Samuel 13:2-8 . Parkhurst supposes the original word to signify pancakes, and translates the root לבב labab to move or toss up and down: 'And she took the dough, ( ותלוש vattalosh ), and kneaded ( ותלבב vattelabbeb , and tossed) it in his sight, ותבשל vattebashshel , and dressed the cakes.' In this passage, says Mr. Parkhurst, it is to be observed that לבב is distinguished from לש to knead, and from בשל to dress, which agrees with the interpretation here given.

"The account which Mr. Jackson gives of an Arab baking apparatus, and the manner of kneading and tossing their cakes, will at once, if I mistake not, fix the meaning of this passage, and cast much light on Leviticus 11:35 . "I was much amused by observing the dexterity of the Arab women in baking their bread. They have a small place built with clay, between two and three feet high, having a hole in the bottom for the convenience of drawing out the ashes, somewhat similar to that of a lime-kiln. The oven, which I think is the most proper name for this place, is usually about fifteen inches wide at top, and gradually grows wider to the bottom. It is heated with wood, and when sufficiently hot, and perfectly clear from smoke, having nothing but clear embers at the bottom, which continue to reflect great heat, they prepare the dough in a large bowl, and mould the cakes to the desired size on a board or stone placed near the oven. After they have kneaded the cake to a proper consistence, they pat it a little, then toss it about with great dexterity in one hand till it is as thin as they choose to make it. They then wet one side of it with water, at the same time wetting the hand and arm with which they put it into the oven. The side of the cake adheres fast to the side of the oven till it is sufficiently baked, when, if not paid proper attention to, it would fall down among the embers. If they were not exceedingly quick at this work, the heat of the oven would burn their arms; but they perform it with such amazing dexterity that one woman will continue keeping three or four cakes in the oven at once, till she has done baking. This mode, let me add, does not require half the fuel that is made use of in Europe."

See more in Harmer's Observat., vol. i., p. 414, etc., Edit. 1808.

- Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Bible