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Hosea 3:1 reads (ESV):

And the LORD said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the LORD loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.”

The translators of the NLT took this interpret "love cakes of raisins" to mean love of the worship of other gods:

Then the LORD said to me, “Go and love your wife again, even though she commits adultery with another lover. This will illustrate that the LORD still loves Israel, even though the people have turned to other gods and love to worship them.”

This seems to be a good interpretation, but could someone connect the dots for me? In what manner were cakes of raisins used in cultic practices? What's the back story here?

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The link to Strong H809 in Kazark's answer brings three other references:

  1. II Sam 6:19
  2. I Chron 16:3
  3. Song 5:2

In addition see Isaiah 16:7.

None of the contexts gives a clearer idea of what "ashishim" are. Different words but similar general imagery to Hosea 3:1 in Amos 6:6 provided a basis for some commentators.

"anavim" are grapes, but in this context could mean raisins.

"Ashishim" appears in the Babylonian Talmud tractate Pesahim 36b and in the Jerusalem Talmud Oaths 10:14 where it means cakes of roasted bean flour with honey, like our halvah.

It might be that a raisin halvah offering was part of the Baal worship (Cassutto), but it is not clear, either from the context or from the grammar whether the "lovers of raisin cakes" were the Israelites or the "other gods".

The ancient commentators had trouble with this too, translating variously "raisin cakes", meaning wheat cakes with raisins, "caked raisins" meaning little bricks of compressed raisins, "pressed grapes" - an oblique reference to wine itself perhaps because "anavim" is literally grapes and not raisins, and even "wine goblets" (possibly by comparison with Amos 6:6) and none of them can say convincingly why this imagery is appropriate.

A similar sounding phrase meaning grape juices or wines is "Asise anavim", spelled with the letters ayin and sin instead of aleph and shin.

I guess that we will have to wait for the Tishbi to answer this one.

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The Hebrew of "raisin cakes" is

אֲשִׁישֵׁ֥י עֲנָבִֽים

Strong's: 809, 6025.

The old rendering is "flagons of wine" (KJV). If that interpretation is taken, then he is criticizing their drunkenness, as elsewhere in Hosea. Calvin and Henry both follow the flagon translation. However, this appears to be a mistranslation; the word seems to come from a root associated with the idea of pressing down.

Gill says that if it is taken to mean cakes of raisins, this probably indicates the debauched feasts in the temples of idols. Presumably, the food was offered to the idols and then eaten; this is the interpretation taken by the NET Bible:

They turn to other gods and love to offer raisin cakes to idols.

I do not yet have a modern commentary on Hosea (hoping to buy one in the next few months). Unfortunately it seems like the old commentators are less help on this point because of the mistranslation of ashishey. More answers/comments welcome.

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  • Foundation אֲשִׁישֵׁ֥י or burning אש man יש of me י, Form the formation it suggests that they love the fruit of themselves, They worship self. From the allegorical method, the dried grape is a picture of the dead Christ. They celebrate his death, not his resurrection. – Bob Jones Jul 24 '18 at 15:23
  • If used as 'foundation of grapes' then it is the presumption of grace; drinking too much wine (grace) and sinning because you presume God will cover it. No matter how you look at it, it has the same meaning of self-worship; original sin. – Bob Jones Jul 24 '18 at 15:38
  • *formation of words is called: Notarikon - Interpretation by dividing a word into two or more parts in the 32 rules of Rabbi Eliezer ben Jose de Galili – Bob Jones Jun 27 '20 at 14:41
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Raisin cakes were an item used in pagan worship1. The NET Bible makes this explicit:

...although they turn to other gods and love to offer raisin cakes to idols.

The same practice is spoken of in Jeremiah 7:18

Children are gathering firewood, fathers are building fires with it, and women are mixing dough to bake cakes to offer to the goddess they call the Queen of Heaven. They are also pouring out drink offerings to other gods. They seem to do all this just to trouble me. (NET Bible)

Would you find it offensive if your wife kept a picture of her old boyfriend by her bedside? We expect our spouses to make a clean break with their old flames. God expects a complete break with our old loves, and a total devotion to Him.


1John Brown's Commentary, and also Jamieson, Fausset & Brown :: Commentary on Hosea

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Raisin cakes were not uncommon in the time of the Hebrews as raisins themselves weren't, being that raisin cakes were just raisins pressed into cake form. They were sweet, being a compressed form of sugar. They were eaten as a delicacy in SoS. This probably has more to do in Hosea with Israel turning to the things they love, instead of God who they should love and other women and raisin cakes being two examples, one adultury and the other just a food item. God's remark is alomost comical in that he is telling Hosea that the Israelites will once again go and follow after women and a small tasty cake.

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I think some of the answer can be found in the other scriptures, 2 Samuel 6. David uses this cake as a mass produced gift from him to bless each man and woman of Israel. It is also worth considering that it's reference here may have had a local understanding, one that was transient but understood by those of the time, and soon thereafter lost, thus it doesn't make sense to us. E.g. We now nickname people as "fruitcakes" we mean daft, off the wall, crazy!

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The verse already disparages the "children of Israel" who sometimes stray from the flock by "turn(ing) to other gods", so to "love cakes of raisins" as a reference to idol worship would be redundant, and the scripture rarely is. Not to mention, that that interpretation is a huge stretch, when you think of the often symbolic euphemisms used throughout the Bible, the true meaning is clear. Imagine what a cake solely made of raisins would look like? Many believe this line refers to sodomy.

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  • It doesn't say "solely made of raisins" though, does it? Also, your claim that scripture is rarely redundant needs some support, especially considering the concept of parallelism and the fact that this is a poetic text. – user2672 Jan 26 '19 at 9:40
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"love the sacred raisin cakes" could possibly relate to the pleasant or appealing aspect of a sweet palatable acceptance of an offering made to represent one's acceptance of that form of worship and to be filled with adoration and inspiration while participating in that form of worship. The fact that it is "sacred" implies that these raisin cakes have a distinctive, if not divine, purpose. In context, it appears that GOD is saying that its okay to love others even though they do not reciprocate that exact love in return and their behaviors represent a love for the materialistic ego-centric world that they take part in. Though they are in the world and part take in worldly deeds as a way to win and influence others, they are still worthy of being loved.

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