Sunday, May 29, 2016

Beer and Bible

Quoting next essay in this his first essay collection:

"I remember* a pamphlet by that able and sincere secularist, Mr. G. W. Foote, which contained a phrase sharply symbolizing and dividing these two methods. The pamphlet was called "Beer and Bible", those two very noble things, all the nobler for a conjunction which Mr. Foote, in his stern old Puritan way, seemed to think sardonic, but which I confess to thinking appropriate and charming."

And the Holy Writte actually speaks of beer too. Some miss it:

There are two major opinions concerning the literal meaning of verse 1: "Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again." Some believe it refers to maritime commerce, advising to send ships selling grain out to many different ports, for some are bound to gain success. Others believe it refers to casting seed on the shallow areas of a river, with the hope that some will take root. Whatever the literal meaning, the figurative lesson seems to be that a daring, seemingly foolish, distribution of your assets will yield returns in the future.

Scripture Studies forgot the third one. Take a large container of fresh water, throw bread (perhaps old bread even) on it, and after some days you will find liquid bread in the basins : when cereal content of bread has first been dissolved into the water and the liquid then fermented into an oriental (and Russian/East European) type of beer.

In Russian it is called KWAS. In Hebrew it is called Shekor.

Someone missing it may come to wrong conclusions:

First, What does this mean? Try to imagine someone throwing bread upon some water. It could be a pond, pool, or even a lake. At first, it seems innocent enough and even harmless. Maybe the person is feeding some fish or there are some cute ducks nearby and the bread-feeding is a nice picture of serenity and giving. OK, that sounds plausible. We like it. Be nice and throw some bread to the poor fish and birds once in a while. But the rest of the verse says, “and after many days you will find it again.” Now we are confused because when have you ever thrown bread into the water and found it again later on? Or an even more important question would be, why would you want to find it again? I can’t speak for everyone, but bread that comes out of the water is usually pretty wet and soggy and quite unappealing. Have you ever tried eating wet and soggy bread? Yuck! So far this proverb isn’t making too much sense.

When bread is only soggy, that means there are not enough days gone, you have still not found liquid bread in return for the bread which was lost by drying out even before throwing it on the waters.

First bread goes soggy.

Then the remaining crumbs turn to fine flakes and fall to the bottom of the container. The liquid is now no longer clear.

Then the liquid starts to ferment.

Both for taste of final product and for more rapid fermentation, adding fruit is recommended.

  • Classic oriental shekor involves dates. (A shekor or "beer" which is kosher for passover is dates without the bread content).
  • Sometime in Gaul, the shekor seems to have involved apples. The word "cider" is a loan from shekor. It is now a drink made without the bread.
  • Kwas may involve peppermint flavouring ... but I was wrong to suppose it involved dried raisins, unlike Swedish "svagdricka" which according to a recipy I saw does.

"Farbe und Geschmack von Kwas sind mit Malzbier vergleichbar, allerdings ist Kwas nicht so süß. Er besitzt dafür einen leichten Zitronengeschmack, der an Radler erinnert. Der Geruch erinnert an frisches Brot. "

Colour and taste of Kwas are comparable to beer made by malt, though Kwas is less sweet (word means "sour" and might perhaps be comparable to Belgian air fermented beers, like Lambik?). On the other hand, it has a light taste of lemon, reminding of shandy. The smell reminds of fresh bread.

Yes, "the smell reminds of fresh bread". Throw thy bread on the waters, and after many days thou shalt find it again!

The word shekor actually occurs more than once in the Bible - Samson and St John the Baptist had a personal convenant with God forbidding them to drink shekor. As well as wine.

Chesterton said of such, he admired the monk who fasted on water and bread, so others might feast his day with cider and beer, on the other end of the world.

Returning to the advice of King Solomon. Sending grain to diverse places by ship is or was usually not a possibility for the common man. And Proverbs are hardly just advice for kings, inapplicable to commons.

Seeing your bread go dry, perhaps moldy and then reuse it by making bread-beer usually is.

The moral point about generosity is, that what you don't need, giving it away is no more a loss than throwing old bread on water. And getting the return for your generosity, in this life or even better in eternity, on Judgement Day is like finding that fermenting cauldron one fine morning turned to very drinkable kwas.

There is a Christological point too about this. Add normal, but stale bread (perhaps from barley breads, for shekor, or from rye bread for kwas) to water, by a normal process it will turn to one inferior type of wine, namely barley wine, or, in the case of kwas, rye wine (Herodotus calls beer "barley wine", οινος Κριθινος, would probably have described kwas as οινος Σικαλικος), so presumably the best bread in the universe could turn water into the best wine, grape wine? Well, the best bread in the universe is "the bread of angels", and at Cana he used precisely water and obedience to His orders to miraculously make the best wine there is, real οινος Αμπελικος. But now we have gotten into matters I had better leave to the ordained priests, for the rest.

One remaining difficulty, why the word "the waters" is used rather than "water". We would not describe a beaker or cauldron of water as "waters", but either use container name plus "of water" or simply "water", singular. Perhaps a quirk of Hebrew usage I don't know (I am not a Hebraist), perhaps referring to a container in King Solomon's palace where he made his shekor and being so big he called it "the waters", perhaps it was outside the palace and he threw fermented bread on it on the day of preparation, and returned to the pond after Passover, perhaps it describes waters of different tastes (one water with dates, one water with apples, one pure water, one with lemon, one with peppermint ...), perhaps he considered that the state of fermentation reminded him of the possibly unquiet waters described in Genesis 1:2.

Anyway, this point about the literal meaning of the word would obviously be missed by Puritans who are prejudiced against alcohol. I am Catholic, had a grandfather who was a distiller of Swedish vodka (and who would have hated the propaganda useage made of Absolut since his time), and perhaps owe a thing or two to some Jewish converts to Catholicism as well, via Facebook.

Hans Georg Lundahl
Paris XIII
Sunday on Corpus Christi Octave

* Quoting : 2. On the Negative Spirit
from Heretics, by G. K. Chesterton

1 comment:

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

Erratum: Well, the best bread in the universe is "the bread of angels", and at Cana he used precisely water and obedience to His orders to miraculously make the best wine there is, real οινος Αμπελικος.

Should be instead : Well, the best bread in the universe is "the bread of angels", and at Cana He used precisely water and obedience to His orders to miraculously make the best wine there is, real οινος Αμπελικος.

Personal pronoun referring to God is capitalised.