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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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LEAVEN. The leaven both of OT and of NT may be assumed to have always consisted of a piece of fermented dough from a previous baking. There is no clear trace, even in the Mishna, of other sorts of leaven, such as the lees of wine or those enumerated by Pliny ( Hist. Nat . xviii. 26). In ordinary cases, in the preparation of the household bread, the lump of dough, above referred to, was either broken down into the water in the kneading trough (see Bread) before the fresh flour was added, or it might be ‘hid’ in the latter and kneaded along with it, as in the parable, Matthew 13:33 . The bread made from dough thus prepared was ‘leavened bread’ ( Exodus 12:16 and oft.); cakes made from flour without the addition of leaven received the special name mazzoth , ‘unleavened cakes,’ which gave their name to’ the feast of unleavened cakes’ ( Exodus 23:15 = etc, EV [Note: English Version.] ‘unleavened bread’).

The prohibition of leavened bread during the continuance of this Feast, including the Passover, is probably another illustration of conservatism in ritual, the nomadic ancestors of the Hebrews, like the Bedouin of the present day, having made their bread without leaven. The further exclusion of leaven from the offerings placed upon the altar of J″ [Note: Jahweh.] although admitted when the bread was to be eaten by the priests (Leviticus 7:13 ; Leviticus 23:17 ) is to be explained, like the similar exclusion of honey, from the standpoint that fermentation implied a process of corruption in the dough. The antiquity of this prohibition is attested by its occurrence in the earliest legislation ( Exodus 34:35 ; Exodus 23:18 ). It does not seem to have been observed, however, in Amos’ day in the Northern Kingdom (see the Comm. on Amos 4:5 ).

This antique view of leaven as (in Plutarch’s words) ‘itself the offspring of corruption, and corrupting the mass of dough with which it has been mixed,’ is reflected in the figurative use of ‘leaven’ in such passages as Matthew 16:6 ||, and especially in the proverbial saying twice quoted by St. Paul, ‘a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump’ ( 1 Corinthians 5:8 , Galatians 5:9 ; cf. 1 Corinthians 5:7 f.). In Matthew 13:33 , however, it is the silent but all-pervading action of leaven in the mass of the dough that is the point of comparison.

A. R. S. Kennedy.

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

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