Is vinegar considered leavened?

[The Leaven – exploring the relationship between science and religion (cont)]

The Jewish word for leaven is chametz. This is not normally thought to be yeast but naturally fermenting grain, particularly wheat, barley, rye, spelt or oats. In this respect, wine being fermented from grapes would not be considered leavened but beer probably would, as it is likely to contain barley. Sour wine or vinegar was also likely to be considered leavened. The Hebrew for vinegar is chometz meaning sour. This is almost the same as the word chametz which is probably derived from a similar meaning. Vinegar is made by fermenting an alcoholic substance, such as wine, a second time with acetic acid bacteria to convert ethanol  into acetic acid. Turning wine into vinegar can be avoided by excluding air from the process as these bacteria are predominately aerobic. It is likely that wine frequently turned to vinegar in the Biblical era as a consequence of contamination and therefore it was thought to simulate corruption in a similar way to  leaven. It has been suggested that when the term chometz is used in the Bible it refers to both leaven and vinegar as they are both considered to be sour. The Hebrew word for wine was yayin derived from the word yaneh meaning to squeeze or press. Sour wine was usually referred to as chometz yayin or chometz yin.

It is believed that vinegar or sour wine was offered to Jesus before and after the crucifixion:

And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, the place of the skull, they gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink. They crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, they parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots. And sitting down they watched him there; And set up over his head his accusation written, THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
Mt 27:33-37

Golgotha was thought to be called the place of the skull because it was a hill that resembled a skull although it may have also been called this because it served as a place for executions. It was located at the entrance of Jerusalem.  Some translations say that Jesus was offered  vinegar while bearing the cross to Golgotha whereas others say it was wine containing gall. Gall was often referred to as anything that was bitter so it was more likely to be sour wine or vinegar.  In his gospel, Matthew states that this was done to fulfil a prophecy. The particular prophecy that Matthew refers to is in the Old Testament. It describes the demeaning  manner by which vinegar is offered to quench a thirst. The guards further demean Jesus by removing his clothing in order to share them between themselves. This is also predicted in a prophecy:

When I was hungry they gave me poison. When I was thirsty they offered me vinegar.
Ps 69:21

The gamble for my clothes and divide them among themselves.
Ps 22:18

In the Gospel according to John, Jesus drank vinegar just before he died whilst on the cross in order to fulfill the prophecy.

Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Jn 19:28-30

The disrobing Of Christ, Cattura di Cristo. Guercino 1621.

It would seem that vinegar could be more likely to be viewed as a leavened drink than either wine or grape juice as it was synonymous with a corruptive influence in the same way as leaven.

Spontaneously generated wine

[The Leaven – exploring the relationship between science and religion (cont)]

The inexplicable nature by which grape juice turned into wine was at one time the subject of much speculation. In 15th century England leaven used in brewing was known as barm. In the Brewers Book of Norwich, written in the 15th century, the barm is referred to as goddisgoode because it was thought to be provided by Gods blessing. In the absence of understanding, God was invoked as the great provider. It seem inevitable that wine could be associated with miracles, given the mystery surrounding its existence.

The Wedding at Cana. Preti c1655

Perhap one of the most controversial miracles that Jesus performed was at a wedding in Cana in front of his disciples. It was claimed by John to be his first miracle:

There was a wedding in the town of Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine had been given out, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no wine left.”
“You must not tell me what to do.” Jesus replied, “My time has not yet come.”
Jesus’ mother then told the servants, “Do what ever he tells you.”
The Jews have rules about ritual washing, and for this purpose six stone water jars were there, each one large enough to hold about a hundred litres Jesus said to the servants, “Fill these jars with water.” They filled them to the brim, and then he told them, “Now draw some water out and take it to the man in charge of the feast.” They took him the water, which now had turned to wine, and he tasted it. He did not know where the wine had come from but of course the servants who had drawn the water knew; so he called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone else serves the good wine first, and after the guests have had plenty to drink, he serves the ordinary wine. But you have kept the best wine until now!”
[Jn. 2. 1-12]

This miracle seems to differ from others in that its main purpose is to demonstrate that he had a divine gift that distinguished him from ordinary people. The wedding guests have already had their fill of wine and yet desire more. Here is a miracle that does not address any spiritual issues other than to appease Jesus’ mother, who seems distressed at this lapse in hospitality. This story is only mentioned in the gospel according to John. The first three gospels in the New Testament by Matthew, Mark and Luke show many common elements and have verbal similarity they are thought to be the more accurate records of Jesus’ ministry and have been written about the same time. Collectively they are known as the Synoptics as they share a common perspective. The fourth gospel according to John tends to show Jesus as a messiah and therefore may exaggerate some of the miracles performed. The objective of this first miracle according to John was for Jesus to manifest his glory and for the disciples to believe in him:

This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
[Jn. 2.11]

Through the disciples, the miracles were used to persuade others to follow Jesus’s teachings. The miraculous transformation of water into wine at the wedding of Cana is taken as a sign that Jesus sanctioned alcoholic beverages and their consumption was viewed as a socially accepted activity. Simultaneously,  Jesus acknowledged the sanctity of marriage. This miracle was seen by some as an indication that Jesus’s actions would enrich the lives of the community by benefiting their social needs. According to John the news of this miracle filtered through the local community. When Jesus later visited Cana he was greeted by a government official who thought his son was critically ill and dying:

Jesus said to him, “None of you will ever believe unless you see miracles and wonders.”
“Sir,” replied the official, “Come with me before my child dies.”
Jesus said to him, “Go your son will live!”
The man believed Jesus’ words and went. On his way home his servants met him with the news, “Your boy is going to live!”
[Jn. 4. 46-51]

This second miracle symbolised that not only could Jesus benefit the social needs of the community he could also protect them from harm. Jesus had the power to heal and to create. These two examples of miracles have a common denominator they both exploit social views of uncertainty. The first miracle exploits the views of uncertainty surrounding wine fermentation the second exploits the uncertainty of fear associated with disease and death. Two situations that, although are beyond the control of society, could be resolved by divine interaction.

Be filled with the spirit

[The Leaven – exploring the relationship between science and religion (cont)]

The words for wine used in the New Testament are oinos, a Greek term for completely fermented wine, and gleukos, used to denote new or sweet wine with less alcohol content. Gleukos as a reference to wine that has been drunk is only mentioned one time in the New Testament [Acts 2.13]. In the context of this passage the apostles were behaving in an unusual way because they were full of the Holy Spirit. Onlooker’s accused them of behaving as if they were drunk on gleukos because of how their behaviour had changed with no alcohol being present.

Biblical society viewed wine in a similar way to how it is currently perceived. They were aware that over indulgence could be harmful  but generally it was socially accepted. The New Testament attempts to rescue individuals from a drunken abyss by suggesting that they should be filled with a different kind of spirit:

Do not get drunk with wine, which will only ruin you; instead, be filled with the Spirit.
[Eph. 5.18]

In a comparatively brutal manner the Old Testament illustrates and blatantly condemns the consequences of intoxication:

The Lord God said to me, “Jeremiah, tell the people of Israel that every wine-jar should be filled with wine. They will answer that they know every wine-jar should be filled with wine. Then tell them that I, the Lord, am going to fill the people in the land with wine until they are drunk: the kings, who are David’s descendants, the priests, the prophets, and all the people of Jerusalem. Then I will smash them like jars against one another, old and young alike. No pity, compassion, or mercy will stop me from killing them.”
[Jer. 13.12-15]

The Roman’s took wine very seriously, to the extent that they even had a deity assigned to it, Bacchus. Even so some social groups were discouraged from drinking alcohol. For instance, women, in the early day of the Republic, were forbidden from drinking ordinary wine but were permitted to drink those with low alcohol content. There were a number of ways that the alcoholic content of wine could be reduced. Fermentation could be inhibited by increasing sugar content. The Romans called this beverage defrutum. Grape juice with enough sweetness to remain unfermented can be made by pressing dried grapes. Pliny refers to a raisin-wine, made from grapes dried to half their weight. Roman women also drank a wine alternative made of raisins called passum. Another method to reduce wine alcoholic content was to prevent the yeast from growing. Vinous fermentation occurs only within a certain temperature range, the lower limit is about 15°C. If cooled wine were allowed to sit undisturbed, the clear juice could be removed from the sediment and would remain unfermented. Another method of making a nonalcoholic wine was by adding salt, a process favoured by the Greeks and described by several classical authors (Cato, Columella and Pliny), this method was also used to preserve the must. Alcohol evaporates at below 100°C, so could be physically removed from the wine by heating. Pliny describes another drink called adynamon, made by adding water to wine and boiling the mixture until the quantity was considerably reduced. This provided a fortifying drink for invalids.

Bacchus, Roman God of Wine. Caravaggio, 1596

It is believed that the Hebrews were also familiar with preserving wine by boiling down grape juice to a thick syrup like molasses. The boiling process would also remove any microbial contaminants from the grapes. The syrup would be diluted with water as a drink or added to wine must.  Some of the Biblical references to honey debash could be referring to a sweet grape syrup. The Hebrew debash is similar to Arabic dibs, a sweet syrup made by boiling down the juice of grapes, raisins or dates.

In moderate use the social impact of yeast is beneficial but alcoholism is becoming a modern scourge of the 21st century replacing the problems caused by microbial diseases. In a recent study conducted by the World Health Organisation, the long-term health burden of alcohol related disease surpasses smoking and malnutrition. The countries that produce the highest quota of alcohol last century were the USA (beer), China (spirits) and France (wine). The leading exporter of alcohol was Great Britain, which exports nearly twice as much as France in second place. The total consumption of alcohol increased in Great Britain between the 1970’s and 1990’s while in France it decreased. However, in the 1990’s the French were still more likely to consume more alcohol per capita than the British, 14% compared to 9%.  In general, the Bible portrays the message that drinking wine is an acceptable part of every day life  but its increased accessibility by modern preservation and production methods seem to have created new social challenges.

Is wine considered leavened?

[The Leaven – exploring the relationship between science and religion (cont)]

As leaven was seen as an impurity that symbolised corruption only unleavened bread is used to celebrate the Passover and to symbolise the body of Christ. The symbolic use of wine in the present Eucharist originated from the words of Jesus at the last supper, which occurred during the feast of unleavened bread:

As the disciples were eating, Christ took bread and blessed it, he broke it and shared it amongst the disciples saying “Take and eat it,” he said; “ this is my body.” He then took the cup, gave thanks to God and passed it to them. “Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
[Mt. 26.26-29; Mk. 14.22-26; Lk. 22.14-20; 1 Cor. 11.23-25]

At this stage Jesus was committed to his fate, he would be condemned to death. He persistently associated with people that were unclean; he did not observe strict ritual procedures such as hand washing; he disrupted the traditions of the Temple; and was constantly defamatory towards the policies of the Pharisees and Sadducees. He was a negative influence that had to be eliminated. It was the role of the High Priest to sanction and condemn those that had not obeyed the Torah. Jesus already knew that one of his disciples had betrayed him to the high priest so took it upon himself to play the role of Passover sacrificial lamb. It is evident from Biblical accounts that Jesus was condemned before the Passover as it was against Jewish tradition to execute during a religious festival or on the Sabbath:

Then the chief priests and the elders met together in the palace of Caiaphas, the High Priest, and made plans to arrest Jesus secretly and put him to death. “We must not do it during the festival,” they said, “or the people will riot.”
[Mt. 26.3-5; Mk. 14.1-2; Lk. 22.1-2; Jn. 11.45-53]

Ironically, this meal is far more poignant as it takes place just before a festival that commemorates the Jews freedom from persecution. Jesus refers to himself as the sacrificial animal used in the traditional ceremony and to the wine as the sacrificial blood but in this instance the destroyer did not pass over (see previous post). Following the meal, Jesus and his disciples retired to the Mount of Olives . Here, the High Priest’s servants apprehended Jesus  after being  led to him by the disloyal disciple Judas Iscariot. He was brought before the High Priest and the Sanhedrin, the Jewish court that tries those who disobey the Torah, and charged with threatening to destroy the Temple and with blasphemy

Behold the man. Bosch c1475

The Sanhedrin delivered Jesus to the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate, on the grounds that he was claiming to be the King of the Jews and a potential rebel. Roman and Jewish religions would probably have had a very contrasting outlook and therefore Pilate was reluctant to condemn Jesus. Perhaps Pilate shared many viewpoints with Jesus in regard to the Jewish religion and therefore asked the crowd if he should be set free. The crowd responded unfavourably. He was condemned to death by crucifixion, a Roman method of execution. Fearing  retribution the disciples denied their beliefs when interrogated by the Pharisees, but following the death of Jesus continued to preach his teachings in exile.

The modern Eucharist was established to serve as a reminder of how Jesus gave his life in return for his convictions. In many aspects this religious ceremony seems to go against the philosophies of Jesus by its ritual connotations and sectarian exclusiveness. Perhaps serving  more as a means of retaining ceremonial sacrifices and symbolic worship favoured by the Pharisees that were originally rejected in the teachings of Jesus. In the Eucharist, wine is used to symbolise the blood of Christ but grape juice is sometimes substituted on moral grounds. Many disagree with this principle and regard grape juice as a leavened drink because it has the potential to ferment. Some believe it  is  impure and it gives rise to objections when it is used symbolically to represent the blood of Christ. Their argument is that wine that has fermented is physically separated from the yeast containing sediment. It is seen as having had the leaven removed and no longer has the potential to ferment, it is predominately thought of as unleavened. Those that follow the doctrines of a Christian religion but strongly object to the moral use of alcohol put forward the argument that the wine used by Christ to represent his blood is a non-alcoholic grape juice.

In the New Testament messages are communicated so that they are accessible to those that they are expected to influence. If there were a spiritual objection to drinking alcoholic wine than surely these ideals would be put forward in Biblical teachings? Additionally, if this were the case,  why not  use water as the pure and sinless drink in the last supper? The Hebrews seemed to have an innate sense of disease prevention. In sacrifices they used animals that had no blemishes, they ostracised those individuals that were viewed as unclean, they removed potential microbial contaminants, such as leaven, from food. Water in that era would have been the source of many contaminants and likely to contain as many microbes as leaven, therefore wine would be less likely to cause disease. Water could therefore be interpreted, as a disease-causing agent in contrast wine would have been  associated with disease prevention. As the processes behind diseases were unknown they were attributed to acts of retribution by angry deities. In the disease-ridden Biblical era,  a gift of wine to the Lord would perhaps have been perceived as more suitable than a gift of murky water.

The Blood of Christ

[The Leaven – exploring the relationship between science and religion (cont)]

In the molecular era, it is now known that fermentation is not only responsible for the leavening of bread but it is also the principle process in brewing and wine making. It ‘s worthwhile taking time to consider how wine was perceived in the biblical era and how its use is viewed in current religious ceremony. Present society now understands that the intoxicating agent of wine is alcohol, a by-product of the yeast fermentation process. It is also understood that unfermented fresh grape juice, or must, is relatively free from alcohol. These principles were not understood by ancient societies, as the knowledge behind the biology of fermentation did not exist. When leaven is used in making bread it is viewed as an impurity and therefore omitted from many sacrificial ceremonies. In contrast wine, which is also produced by a similar fermentation process involving yeast, was not only permitted in sacrifices but was sometimes a principal component.

Monk drinking wine. Grod c1800.

Wine production occurs naturally in the environment. Grape skins are covered with yeasts and bacteria, mainly members of  the yeast family Saccharomyces. When grapes are crushed they ferment, especially in warm climates as yeast fermentation occurs between 20 and 40°C with an optimum growth temperature of around 30°C. The main fermentation is aerobic and takes a few days. It then  continues anaerobically at a slower rate for some time. When fermentation is complete the resulting wine is racked from the sediment, a substance containing precipitated organic matter and yeast. In the biblical era wine is produced in animal skins or in jars designed specifically for the fermentation process. In the New Testament the fermentative characteristics of wine were well recognised as is evident in some of the passages. The following parable uses the properties of fermentation to describe how a flexible way of thinking was needed to accept new and fresh ideas:

Nor does anyone pour new wine into used wineskins, for the skins will burst, the wine will pour out, and the skins will be ruined. Instead, new wine is poured into fresh wineskins, and both will keep in good condition
[Matt. 9.17; Mk. 2.22; Lk. 5.37]

Wine is not referred to in the Bible as leaven or unleavened although it does feature in sacrifices and rituals. In the Old Testament it is used in large quantities as part of a daily sacrificial offering that also included animals and unleavened bread [Ex.29.38-46; Num. 28.1-8]. Wine is also offered on the Sabbath and on the first day of the month, where the quantity varies depending on the type of animal used in the sacrifice . Most notably, wine was offered in the daily sacrifice during the festival of the unleavened bread:

The proper wine-offering is two measures of wine with each bull, one and a half measures with the ram, and one measure with each lamb.
[Num. 28.9-15]

It does seem, in respect to sacrifices, that leaven was not associated with wine in the same way as it is associated with bread. Perhaps this is because the process of wine production was not as accessible to the overall population as bread making, therefore it is less likely to be used in domestic ceremonies due to lack of availability. Also as wine is intoxicating and bread is not,  perhaps fermentation in bread was simply thought of as a different process. In addition wine is rarely associated with food poisoning although it is possible for some microbial toxins to be found in wine. Generally if wine becomes contaminated during fermentation it is undrinkable and becomes cloudy, perhaps at this stage it might have been viewed as impure and corrupt. Pathogenic microbes usually require an optimal pH similar to that found in animals, this is why ethanol with a high pH is normally used in sterilisation. In fact this could be the reason why alcohol, similarly to salt, is used in these sacrifices, for its ability to sterilise and remove contamination.