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Before attacking the Midianite camp, Gideon does a little spying:

When Gideon came, behold, a man was telling a dream to his comrade. And he said, “Behold, I dreamed a dream, and behold, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian and came to the tent and struck it so that it fell and turned it upside down, so that the tent lay flat.” And his comrade answered, “This is no other than the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel; God has given into his hand Midian and all the camp.”—Judges 7:13-14 (ESV)

I imagined there might be a pun in Hebrew between Gideon (גִּדְעוֹן <H1439>) and barley (שְׂעֹרָה <H8184>), but I don't see it. Lacking a linguistic connection, I don't see how a cake of barley bread would conjure up a connection to Gideon. The best guess I have is that since Gideon was involved in wheat processing (see Judges 6:11) he was somehow associated with baking. Is that the most-likely solution or am I missing something?

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@JonEricson +1 Fabulous question. "Gideon ... associated with baking. Is that the most-likely solution" I can't see it as a likely solution. Who would've known his baking skills outside his immediately locality? And I doubt that he owned a multinational baking conglomerate. :) – Monika Michael Sep 8 '12 at 14:18

4 Answers 4

The barley cake does not have the gluten content of wheat, so it does not stick together like wheat bread. In this case it is not even a proper leavened loaf, an "ugah", just a lowly "tslil', unleavened, roasted dough eaten only by the poorest of the poor. As it rolls towards the camp of Midian it breaks into crumbs, just as Gideon's forces are progressively broken down from 32 thousand to just 300, not even a battalion. Yet the crumbs overturn the tent of Midian, laying it flat like the unleavened cake that the "tslil" was when it started.

[From the Ladino of Jacob Culi's Me-Am Loez, with some embellishments of my own.]

There is also an element "mida c'neged mida" (tit for tat), as the Midianites are earlier mentioned as stealing the harvest and leaving the Israelites destitute, now the crumbs of this harvest return to take their revenge.

The barley continues the symbolism of lowliness, following the seemingly irrational selection of the 300 men who lapped the water like dogs.

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Very interesting. So it's possible that the Midianites were associating the poverty of Gideon and his people with the substandard barley cake. That makes some sense assuming Gideon had established himself as an adversary. On the other hand, God might have just given the companion the interpretation which he repeated (unknowing in the presence of Gideon). Thanks! – Jon Ericson Sep 8 '12 at 20:18

There isn’t any historical consensus regarding the origins of leavened bread. However, the earliest archaeological evidence that we have happens to be from ancient Egypt:

The development of leavened bread can also probably be traced to prehistoric times. Yeast spores occur everywhere, including the surface of cereal grains, so any dough left to rest will become naturally leavened. Although leavening is likely of prehistoric origin, the earliest archaeological evidence is from ancient Egypt. Scanning electron microscopy has detected yeast cells in some ancient Egyptian loaves (Wikipedia).

Whether or not Egyptians invented the technology of “thick bread,” the Pentateuch suggests that yeast and leavening were strongly associated with Egyptian culture:

17 “Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread, because it was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt. Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. 18 In the first month you are to eat bread made without yeast, from the evening of the fourteenth day until the evening of the twenty-first day. 19 For seven days no yeast is to be found in your houses. And anyone, whether foreigner or native-born, who eats anything with yeast in it must be cut off from the community of Israel. 20 Eat nothing made with yeast. Wherever you live, you must eat unleavened bread” (NIV Exodus 12:17-20).

One way of understanding the law to have no yeast in one’s house from the 14th to the 21st of the first month, is that Egypt and Egyptian culture was associated with the unique type of bread that they ate which was more thick and airy than the other types of bread eaten in the Middle East at that time. Therefore, the act of eating only non-leavened bread for the holiday of Passover (“the Festival of Unleavened Bread”) was a gesture of completely rejecting Egyptian culture as a whole.

The Midianite dialog in Judges 7 corroborates this theory: the Israelites took from Egypt the technology and cultural convention of baking large and round loaves of bread and this was distinct from all the surrounding cultures. Therefore, a cake of barley bread which is able to roll would unambiguously evoke the culturally unique Israelite nation and their Egyptian origins.

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The pun, if one is intended, is that of Gid'on (his name), and the verb gimmel-dalet-ayin, which means "breaking up". The barley loaf, as mentioned above in Eli Rosencruft's comment, ("The barley cake does not have the gluten content of wheat, so it does not stick together like wheat bread.") could break up, both itself, and break up the unity the invaders.

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Only livestock, beggars, lepers partook of barley flour. Any self respecting soul would feed his family on the fine flour milled from the finest wheat. But barley bread - who but the lowest would dine on such crude, humble fare?

According to W. Phillips Keller

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We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

Can you edit this to add a link to where you got this from? – curiousdannii Oct 21 '14 at 6:35
Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange! Be sure to take our site tour to learn more about us. We're a little different from other sites. This doesn't show its work, which is a requirement on this site. Don't just tell us what you know, tell us how you know it. Your citation is incomplete, it contains insufficient information to help others find the specific reference. – Dan Oct 21 '14 at 23:11

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