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.

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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.

Bread is full of goodness because a woman put it there

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

What is the significance of the woman in the leaven parable (see earlier post)? Many theologists ask if she is incidental or essential? Most of them see her role as being incidental as traditionally, men’s work was sowing and harvesting, whereas making bread was mainly seen as a woman’s work. However if she was incidental why mention her at all? Jesus could have merely said the leaven was placed in the meal without saying who put it there.

The Bible often uses the figure of a woman to represent kingdoms or cities:

The two women represent to covenants. The one whose children are born in slavery is Hagar, and she represents the covenant made at Mount Sinai. Hagar, who stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia, is the figure of the present city of Jerusalem, in slavery with all its people. But the heavenly Jerusalem is free, and she is our mother.
[Gal. 4.26]

In this way, women in the Bible can represent authority and management, especially in the role of hospitality. The Church is often spoken of as a mother and Catholics often refers to Mother Church. When  women are spoken of in a matriarchal role they are granted great responsibility. For instance, the Virgin Mary was entrusted with giving birth to the messiah. Therefore, the woman may have been trusted to place the leaven in the meal as she was perceived as being caring and conscientiousness. If the leaven represents Christianity, it appears that she has been entrusted with it.

Madonna with the Yarnwinder. Da Vinci, c1510

In practice though women were not often given roles of responsibility. There were no women among the twelve disciples or among the seventy that were commissioned and sent forth:

Take the teachings that you heard me proclaim in the presence of many witnesses, and entrust them with reliable people, who will be able to teach others.
[2 Tim.  2.2]

Perhaps because the commissioning was partly undertaken by Paul the Apostle who did not consider women to be trusted with teaching or matters arising in the church:

Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.
[1Cor. 14.34-35]

So privately women seemed to be held in high regard but publicly they were forced to be silent and not given the same privileges as men. Therefore, if making the bread is considered a domestic and caring role, then the woman could be trusted to place good leaven in the meal.

Women in the Bible are often denoted as being the source of corruption. For instance, Eve was persuaded by the serpent into eating fruit from the tree of knowledge. As a consequence of this the Lord punishes  Adam for listening to her but he also punishes Eve with the pain of childbirth and subordination to men.

Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel, 1500’s

The action of the women in the parable may be symbolic. She hid the leaven in the meal. If the leaven in this parable is associated with something good she would not need to hide it. This could suggest that if the woman was conveying positive doctrines she would boldly speak out. Jesus himself spoke openly unto the world, and his followers perhaps were expected to do the same. He said to them, “Go throughout the whole world and preach the gospel to all mankind.” It is therefore supposed that secret hiding and the spreading of false doctrine are in some way linked. In contrast to the positive message this parable first appears to be conveying some theologians believe that the woman represents a false messenger, her objective is to introduce a corrupting element into the meal. On the other hand, Jesus was condemned for his teachings therefore perhaps he is suggesting that his followers spread his message in a concealed way so they do not endure a similar persecution.  As previously mentioned, woman were discouraged  from speaking in the church or in teaching  men, so perhaps Jesus is suggesting that women should ignore these restrictions and take a more prominent role in spreading the word of the gospels.

The Sacrificial Lamb.

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

There may have been numerous reasons why ancient communities may have performed rituals and sacrifices. Perhaps they needed to address fear, uncertainty, need, respect or gratitude. Whatever the reasons, rituals are still a part of modern life and sacrifices can still form important components to some religious ceremonies, although they are more likely to be symbolic and just a distant reminder of our pagan ancestry. In the era of the Old Testament, sacrifices were a major preoccupation of Hebrew life. It seems evident that they were carried out to avoid uncertainties and as a form of thanksgiving. They were often accompanied by rituals that were performed according to specific instructions outlined in the books of the Old Testament:

When anyone offers an animal sacrifice, it may be one of his cattle or one of his sheep or goats. If he is offering one of his cattle as a burnt-offering, he must bring a bull without defects. He must present it at the entrance of the Tent of the Lord’s presence so that the Lord will accept him. The man shall put his hand on its head, and it will be accepted as a sacrifice to take away his sins.
[Lev. 1.2-4]

The Old Testament is derived from at least four literary sources that span over several decades from 950 to 587 BC. Unavoidably, some information may have been lost or contorted through subsequent translations but the most authoritative form was thought to be the Pentateuch, a word that derives from the Greek language and meaning five scrolls. The Pentateuch was adopted around 400 BC and consisted of the five books: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. The Hebrew word for these five books is the Torah, meaning law or teachings.

The Sacrificial Lamb. Ghent altarpiece by Jan van Eyck,1432.

The Pentateuch mainly describes the story of Moses: his birth, teachings through a covenant with God and ending with his death. It begins with the book of Genesis. This book provides an in depth history of Moses’ pedigree starting with an account of primeval beginnings to how his ancestors came to live in Egypt. The next book, Exodus, recounts the most important event in Israel’s history, the escape from servitude by its people. The Hebrews were led from Egypt by Moses. While in exile from Egypt for killing a slave master, Moses formed a covenant with God. Through using Moses as a mediator, God provided laws and commandments that Hebrews had to follow to avoid returning to servitude. Leviticus, the third book, contained the rules and regulations for performing religious ceremonies in order to honour God. It includes comprehensive details of how sacrifices are to be performed.

The following are the regulations for repayment-offerings, which are very holy. The animal for this offering is to be killed on the north side of the altar, where the animals for the burnt-offerings are killed, and its blood is to be thrown against all four sides of the altar. All its fat shall be removed and offered on the altar: the fat tail, the fat covering the internal organs, the kidneys and the fat on them, and the best part of the liver. The priest shall burn all the fat on the altar as a food-offering to the Lord. It is a repayment-offering. Any male of the priestly families may eat it, but it must be eaten in a holy place, because it is very holy.
[Lev. 7.1-6]

The book of Numbers deals with the story of the Hebrews after they left Mount Sinai. It includes details of two censuses taken by Moses, one taken of those surviving the exodus on departing Mount Sinai and another taken a generation later. The final book, Deuteronomy, is a summary of Moses achievements as the people prepare to occupy Canaan. The main objective of Deuteronomy seems to be in encouraging the people to give thanks to God. This takes the form of a liturgy delivered by Moses to celebrate future harvests:

After you have occupied the land that the Lord your God is giving you and have settled there, each of you must place in a basket the first part of each crop that you harvest and you must take it with you to the one place of worship.
[Deut. 26. 1-3]

Interestingly, this type of harvest thanksgiving has been conserved through religious tradition and is still carried out today.

…every living thing is a package of consumable energy

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

Although it’s meaning still remains a mystery, Life, in itself, is hard work and requires a lot of energy. It’s now well established that the initial source of this energy is provided by the Sun in the form of light, which is absorbed by a photosensitive pigment called chlorophyll found in plants and other photosynthetic organisms. The energy is then trapped in molecules of glucose, a carbohydrate compound composed by a series of chemical reactions involving carbon dioxide and water. Plant consumers then transfer the energy stored within the glucose carbon source along the food chain. When the glucose is broken down it produces adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the compound required to release the energy that powers most cellular functions. The most efficient way for an organism to synthesise ATP, thereby releasing energy, is by an oxygen requiring process called cellular respiration. In humans oxygen is transferred into the body from the surrounding atmosphere by respiring, it is extracted from air in the lungs by haemoglobin, which is then circulated around the system in the blood.

Chloroplasts visible in the cells of Thyme-moss. Image by Kristian Peters.

As it contains the oxygen required for anaerobic energy production humans cannot survive without blood. Blood was therefore considered of extreme importance in the Biblical era, as it was the substance thought to contain an animal’s character and life force.

Every living thing is a package of consumable energy but not every organism can boast a sophisticated circulatory system that enables cellular respiration. Microbes and other lower life forms have to adopt fairly basic means to generate their energy. The energy generating processes of yeast produces by-products that have been exploited by human civilisations for centuries. One of the ways yeast requires its solar produced energy is by fermentation; a biochemical transformation that converts carbon sources such as glucose or sucrose into energy, producing alcohol, giving off carbon dioxide as a by-product.

Fermentation is not as efficient in producing ATP as aerobic respiration but enables yeast to convert glucose into energy without the aid of oxygen. Scientifically defined, fermentation is a catabolic process that makes a limited amount of ATP from glucose without an electron chain (supplied by oxygen) producing a characteristic end product, such as, ethyl alcohol or lactic acids. During fermentation, yeast not only generates energy from the carbon source but it also breaks it down into an industrially and socially important commodity, namely alcohol. Yeast also has the ability to perform aerobic respiration to give off carbon dioxide but this process does not produce alcohol. Being able to live with or without oxygen is undoubtedly ecologically advantageous to this microbe. Certainly explaining why it inhabited the Earth long before humans did and why it will still be here long after our fragile species has disappeared.

The mysteries surrounding fermentation were once, and to some extent still are, the subject of great scientific endeavour. It was mainly assumed that the reaction was chemically induced because investigators were unaware that miniscule creatures unseen by the human eye could exist. The yeast commercially responsible for transforming carbohydrate rich ingredients, like flour and fruit juice, into loaves of bread or alcoholic drinks is predominately Saccharomyces cerevisiae also known as baker’s, brewer’s or budding yeast. When sugar is plentiful the metabolic route that this type of yeast chooses is fermentation. During fermentation cells multiply rapidly by budding, when all carbon resources are depleted cells either enter a stationary phase of non-division or produce spores. Budding yeasts can also reproduce sexually. Adjacent cells of opposing mating types fuse together, in response to pheromones, by forming protruded structures called shmoos. The end product is a slightly larger round diploid cell that contains two sets of chromosomes; this is a way in which genetic variability is introduced into the cell. This diploid cell can either continue budding or enter meiosis to produce four ascospores.

Performing meiosis is a risky business to budding yeast as it has to temporarily stop increasing population size therefore it only faces this challenge when nutrients are low and its survival is threatened. In this state cells become resistant to stress and can remain dormant for several months, years, decades or even centuries. While dormant they lie at the bottom of the fermenting vessel to form a thick layer of pale brown sediment. Some yeast cells die but many retain the ability to begin dividing again when conditions improve, for instance when more sugar becomes available. This mode of survival allows them to remain viable in the face of adversity.  They are well suited to harsh industrial conditions and, also,  the arid  environment that forms the backdrop of the Biblical Testaments.

…big bang, creation and other theories

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

Leaven, the term commonly found in the English translation of the Bible, is often used to describe fermented dough or sourdough. It’s called sourdough because, along with yeast cells, it contained acidifying bacteria that produce lactic and acetic acid, giving the bread a unique tangy flavour. It’s believed natural microbial contaminants of milled grains and fruit were probably used for alcohol production and leavening in the Biblical era. This microbial flora would have included wild yeasts that were associated with cultivated crops. In just 100 grams of flour there are 1 to 10 billion microbes of these about 30,000 are natural yeast.

The historical steps taken to elucidate the metabolic processes and characteristics associated with yeast and fermentation follow an intriguing journey of scientific discovery that spanned nearly four centuries. A journey that commenced with the discovery of microscopy in the 17th century to the 21st century and  in to the complex science of molecular biology. This chapter looks at the history of Science in relation to the discovery of yeast, exploring how Biblical text has influenced the principles and directions of the scientific investigation. For instance, the Biblical version of Creation greatly differs from scientific theories of evolution. The ensuing debate this creates typically illustrates divides that exist between religious and scientific theory.

It’s generally accepted that for an enquiry to be viewed as scientific it must involve the gathering of observable, empirical and measurable evidence. The Scientific Method involves the collection of this data to formulate and test hypotheses. A number of proven hypotheses, from various published and recorded sources, can then be strung together in a wider context to form theories. The practice of distributing and therefore sharing data is often referred to as full disclosure; it permits evidence to be scrutinised by others thereby allowing the interpretation of results to be challenged.

The Bible suggests that a divine being must have in some way directed the creation of Life in order to account for its complexity. An understandable viewpoint as even a simple single-celled microscopic organism such as yeast is an intricate living structure encoded by over 6000 genes. It’s difficult to visualise that this could have happened gradually over time. The 21st century scientific method would not defend the concept of human origin as presented in the Bible as it’s largely based on theories without being supported by any tangible evidence. Though it may have  been defended when it was written, given the lack of scientific research at the time.

The Creation of Adam, Michelangelo c1511

Ultimately, it is impossible for anyone living in the 21st century to know, with any certainty, how the World was created without use of a time-machine.  Therefore, various scientific and theological arguments must be considered before determinate conclusions are reached.

The molecular, vegetative animalcule

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

Yeast is a domesticated organism that has become almost indispensable in modern society. Although unessential to the staple diet, supermarket shelves are crammed with products that require yeast fermentation. Bread, chocolate and alcohol production all involve the metabolic activity of these simple single-celled microbes. Restaurants, bars, clubs and many aspects of social behaviour revolve around yeast products.

Throughout the centuries yeast has been the focus of domestic and industrial life. While it’s fermenting ability has  been the focus of many different hypotheses and paradigm shifts. Fermentation was once thought to be the consequence of a chemical reaction by some kind of substance and not the metabolic activity of a living organism. During the Biblical era there would have been no conception that the metabolic pathway of a microscopic bug was the source of fermentation.

Yeasts are naturally abundant in the environment especially in the soil where they are transferred, by insects or other means, on to the skins of fruit and animals, including humans. The environment contains many different types of yeast, from those that cause fungal infection (Candida spp.) to others that are used in the baking industry and in wine-production (Saccharomyces spp.). Yeast belongs to the kingdom Fungi and the division Ascomycota. In recent times it has become a major player in biological research and is now one of the most studied organisms on Earth. It was the first eukaryotic organism to have a fully sequenced genome. The majority of its genes have been researched and functionally analysed and, as many of these have analogues in other multicellular organisms, it is therefore possible to study molecular processes from mammalian systems within a unicellular model eukaryote. It is also well established as a favourable alternative to animal model systems.

Large-scale experiments involving computers, robotics and new molecular techniques, such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to amplify genes and DNA micro-arrays, that arrange hundreds of these genes onto a small grid, have generated such a large amount of data that new scientific disciplines, eg., genomics, transcriptomics,  have evolved in order to process it all into meaningful results. The simplicity of the yeast life-cycle has made it invaluable to medical and biotechnological research. Certainly, yeast has had a great impact on 21st century society that has inflicted on social behaviour and medical research. Anthropology would have evolved differently if this organism ceased to exist.