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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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BARLEY.—In the Gospels, barley is mentioned only in the account given by St. John (John 6:5-14) of the miraculous feeding of the five thousand with five barley loaves and two fishes. The word occurs twice (John 6:9; John 6:13), and in both cases represents the adjectival form κρίθινος in the original. The noun κριθή (in ordinary Gr. usage almost invariably in the plur. κριθαί), which is employed in the LXX Septuagint to render the Heb. שִעֹרָה, occurs only once in NT (Revelation 6:6). Barley was one of the most important of Biblical food-products. According to the elder Pliny (HN xviii. 72), it was the most ancient nutriment of mankind. It certainly dates back to a very remote antiquity. It was cultivated by the Canaanites prior to the time of the Hebrew conquest (Deuteronomy 8:8), and by the ancient Egyptians, as appears from Exodus 9:31 and from the representations on the oldest Egyptian monuments. Among the Jews it was used for making bread (Ezekiel 4:9), and it seems to have been the principal food of the poorer classes (Ruth 2:17; Ruth 3:15, 1 Kings 4:22, John 6:9). This is confirmed by Judges 7:13, where a cake of barley-bread is the symbol of an army of peasants, and is also in accordance with modern usage. Thus Dr. Thomson says: ‘Barley bread is only eaten by the poor and the unfortunate. Nothing is more common than for these people, at this day, to complain that their oppressors have left them nothing but barley bread to eat’ (Land and Book [1878 ed.], p. 449). He also mentions that the Bedawin often ridicule their enemies by calling them ‘eaters of barley bread’ (l.c.). Barley was also grown as a forage crop. Its employment as provender for horses is mentioned in 1 Kings 4:28, and the chopped straw from the threshing-floor was likewise used as fodder. This practice continues to the present day, oats and hay being unknown.

In Palestine the normal time for sowing barley is about the beginning of October: when the winter is exceptionally cold and wet, sowing takes place early in February. In the Jordan Valley, the harvest begins in April, but it varies according to the elevation of the different regions. At the highest altitudes the crop is not ripe till July or even August.

Hugh Duncan.

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

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Barley'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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