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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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MILK. Milk was at all times an important article of diet among the Hebrews, and by ben-Sira is rightly assigned a prominent place among the principal things necessary for man’s life ( Sir 39:26 ). It was supplied by the females of the ‘herd’ and of the ‘flock,’ the latter term including both sheep and goats ( Deuteronomy 32:14 , where render ‘sour milk [ chem’âh ] of the herd, and milk [ châlâb ] of the flock’), probably also by the milch camels ( Genesis 32:15 ). At the present day goats’ milk is preferred to every other.

In Bible times, as now, milk slightly soured or fermented was a favourite beverage. The modern Bedouin prepares this sour milk, or leben , as it is called, by pouring the fresh milk into a skin (cf. Judges 4:19 ‘she opened the milk-skin (EV [Note: English Version.] ‘a bottle of milk’), and gave him drink’), to the sides of which clots of sour milk from a previous milking still adhere. The skin is shaken for a little, when the process of fermentation speedily commences, and the milk is served ‘with that now gathered sourness which they think the more refreshing’ (Doughty, Arabia Deserta , i. 263). Such was the refreshment with which Jael supplied Sisera. ‘He asked water, she gave him milk; she brought him sour milk ( chem’âh ) in a lordly dish’ ( Judges 5:26 , where EV [Note: English Version.] has ‘butter,’ but one does not drink butter; cf. Judges 4:19 cited above).

In several OT passages, however, this word, chem’âh , does evidently signify butter , as in Proverbs 30:33 ‘the churning (lit. as RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ‘pressing’) of milk bringeth forth butter.’ So Psalms 55:21 RV [Note: Revised Version.] , ‘his mouth was smooth as butter,’ where ‘sour milk’ is clearly out of place. The former passage suggests the procedure of the Arab housewife whom Doughty describes ( op. cit . ii. 67) as ‘rocking her blown-up milk-skin upon her knees till the butter came; they find it in a clot at the mouth of the skin.’ Butter cannot be kept sweet under the climatic conditions of Palestine, but must be boiled, producing the samn or clarified butter universally prized throughout the East.

Cheese is mentioned three times in our AV [Note: Authorized Version.] ( 1 Samuel 17:18 , 2 Samuel 17:29 , Job 10:10 ); in each case the original has a different word. The clearest case is the last cited; the text of 2 Samuel 17:29 , on the other hand, is admittedly in disorder, and we should perhaps read, by a slight change of consonants, ‘dried curds ’; these, when rubbed down and mixed with water, yield a refreshing drink much esteemed at the present day. From the Mishna we learn that rennet and the acid juices of various trees and plants were used to curdle ( Job 10:10 milk. After being drained of the whey ‘the water of milk’ the curds were salted, shaped into round discs, and dried in the sun. The TyropÅ“on valley in Jerusalem received its name, ‘the valley of the cheese-makers,’ from the industry there carried on.

There has been much discussion of late as to the origin of the popular expression ‘ flowing with milk and honey ,’ so frequently used in OT to describe Palestine as an ideal land abounding in the necessaries and delicacies of life. Many recent scholars demur to the traditional view that this is expressed by the words ‘milk and honey,’ on the principle of the part for the whole, and favour a more recondite origin in a forgotten Palestinian mythology. This explanation would bring the phrase in question into line with the equally familiar ‘nectar and ambrosia’ of Greek mythology.

Even more obscure is the significance of the thrice-repeated command: ‘Thou shalt not see the a kid in his mother’s milk ’ ( Exodus 23:19; Exodus 34:26 , Deuteronomy 14:21 ). Opinion is still divided as to whether we have here a piece of purely humanitarian some would say sentimental legislation, or the prohibition of a magical rite incompatible with the religion of J″ [Note: Jahweh.] . For the latest exposition of this view, see J. G. Frazer, ‘Folk-lore in the OT,’ in Anthropotogical Essays , etc. (1907), 151 ff.

A. R. S. Kennedy.

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Milk'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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