Ezekiel said what?

Some people are reluctant to give up wheat because it is talked about in the Bible. But the wheat of the Bible is not the same as the wheat of today. (See In search of wheat and Emmer, einkorn and agribusiness.) Comparing einkorn to modern wheat, for example, means a difference of chromosome number (14 chromosomes in einkorn vs. 42 chromosomes in modern strains of Triticum aestivum), thousands of genes, and differing gluten content and structure.

How about Ezekiel bread, the sprouted wheat bread that is purported to be based on a "recipe" articulated in the Bible?

Despite the claims of lower glycemic index, we've had bad experiences with this product, with triggering of high blood sugars, small LDL, and triglycerides not much different from conventional bread.

David Rostollan of Health for Life sent me this interesting perspective on Ezekiel bread from an article he wrote about wheat and the Bible. David argues that the entire concept of Ezekiel bread is based on a flawed interpretation.

"I Want to Eat the Food in the Bible."

Are you sure about that?

Some people, still wanting to be faithful to the Bible, will discard the "no grain/wheat" message on the basis of biblical example. After all, God told Ezekiel to make bread, he gave the Israelites "bread from heaven," and then Jesus (who is called the "Bread of Life"!) multiplied bread, and even instituted the New Covenant with what? Bread and wine! If you're going to live the Bible, it seems that bread and/or wheat is going to play a part.

But this is unnecessary. Sure, the Bible can and does tell us how to live, but this doesn't mean that everything in the Bible is meant to be copied verbatim. Applying the Bible to our lives requires wisdom, not a Xerox machine.

The Bible was written in a historical context, and the setting happened to be an agricultural one. Because of this, the language used to describe blessing spoke of things like fields full of grain, or barns overflowing with wheat. Had the Bible been written in the context of a hunter-gatherer culture, the language describing blessing probably would have been about the abundance of wild game, or baskets full of vegetables. Whatever is most valuable in your time and in your culture is a blessing. God accommodated His message to the culture as it existed at the time. This is done throughout Scripture.

There is a danger, then, in merely copying what the Bible says, instead of extracting the principles by which to live. Take the above example of Ezekiel, for instance. There's a whole product line in health food stores called "Ezekiel Bread" that supposedly copies the recipe given in Ezekiel 4:9. This is from the website:

"Inspired by the Holy Scripture verse Ezekiel 4:9., 'Take also unto thee Wheat, and Barley, and beans, and lentils, and millet, and Spelt, and put them in one vessel, and make bread of it...'"

Believing that this "recipe" has some kind of special power just because it's in the Bible is ridiculous. How ridiculous is it? I'll tell you in a moment, but first let me say that this is why it's so important not to confuse descriptives with prescriptives. Is the Bible telling a story, or is it telling us to do something? We would be well-advised not to confuse the two.

In the case of the Ezekiel Bread, what is going on in the passage? There's a siege going on, with impending famine, and Ezekiel is consigned to eating what was considered back then to be some of the worst possible food. It was basically animal chow. But that's not the worst thing going on in this passage. Apparently, when the makers of Ezekiel Bread were gleaning their inspiration for the perfect recipe, they stopped short
of verse 12:

"And thou shalt eat it as barley cakes, and thou shalt bake it with dung that cometh out of man, in their sight."

Um...what? Well, there was a good reason for this. God was judging His people, and by polluting this really bad bread with dung (which was a violation of Mosaic law; Lev. 5:3), He was saying that they were no different from the unclean Gentiles.

So why would we take this story and extrapolate a bread recipe from it? Beats me. If you were going to be consistent, though, here's what you'd have to end up with:

Let that be a lesson to you. We don't just go and do everything that we see in the Bible.

Comments (24) -

  • Tony

    6/10/2010 12:23:01 PM |

    If you're going to base your diet on the bible, then you shouldn't be eating pork (Leviticus 11:7), and you should eat plenty of locusts and crickets (Leviticus 11:22)

  • Jim

    6/10/2010 1:46:17 PM |

    Oooh, wait'll the God-deniers get a load of this one.

    Actually, I've wondered about the proper interpretation of passages like those mentioned, and this post is helpful for me.

  • Kathryn

    6/10/2010 2:45:43 PM |

    I appreciate this & putting the verses into context - but was human excrement to be used as content in the bread, or the fuel source to bake it?

  • Rob K

    6/10/2010 3:29:47 PM |

    I'm pretty sure the dung was not to go into the bread, it was to be used as fuel for the fire over which the bread was baked. But your point still holds very well. They also omit the lying on your side for 390 days. If eating Ezekiel bread is so healthy, so must be lying on your side for over a year.

  • zach

    6/10/2010 4:35:05 PM |

    I prefer to "kill the fattened calf."

  • Anonymous

    6/10/2010 5:57:57 PM |


  • ShottleBop

    6/10/2010 6:44:12 PM |

    Dung was probably not an ingredient, but the fuel used to cook the bread.  (Still pretty unsavory, though.)

  • Brett

    6/10/2010 7:55:51 PM |

    1) All religion is poetry...

    -- Paul Tillich

    2) I have a huntch that, uh, folks from a couple thousand years ago, uh, never heard of macronutrients, glucose, insulin, etc.

    3) Peace

  • Lori Miller

    6/11/2010 1:11:51 AM |

    For those who are interested in the Bible's statements on food, here's a link to a brief overview of kosher laws:


  • Anonymous

    6/11/2010 2:46:51 AM |

    Combining a lesson in both religion and medicine, Love It!!

  • Ned Kock

    6/11/2010 2:56:55 AM |

    I agree with you, Dr. Davis, that religious issues are very important to many people concerned about dieting. And it is important to discuss them, even though some people think that religious issues should not be part of any discussion related to diet.

    In fact, a lot of people who think  about diet issues from a scientific standpoint tend to think that religiosity is a product of pure stupidity. This post and the comments in response to it illustrate what I am talking about:


  • Cassie

    6/11/2010 3:24:05 AM |

    Waiting for my local library to get a copy of Pandora's Seed by Spencer Wells. In it, he examines the unforeseen costs of farming, which began to transform society 10,000 years ago (using a scientific timescale), such as diabetes and obesity.

    Definitely one of man's worst inventions.

  • Anonymous

    6/11/2010 4:48:04 AM |

    Interesting fact:  The Catholic church will not use anything other than wheat to make the wafers for the Eucharist.  If you have wheat intolerance, you can request a low-gluten wafer.  But a non-wheat wafer will never be used as part of that sacrament, no matter how badly one might react to wheat.

    I think that stance is a bit much, but I am not a devout Catholic.

  • Anonymous

    6/11/2010 10:58:52 AM |

    Dr. D.
    As the Brits say; you are on a losing wicket.

    No person of religion will be pursued to move from the crowd. That is why they follow.

  • Mia

    6/11/2010 11:45:27 AM |

    Great post! I've never understood how people can take the Bible literally. As someone mentioned in the comments, it's mainly poetry, and it describes a frame of reference and customs of thousands of years ago. Would be very weird to apply all that literally to our high-tech society.

    I looked the Bible fragment up in Dutch. It says he has to bake it on human dung (i.e. using the dung as fuel). The fun thing is that a couple of verses later Ezechiel complains and says he has never eaten anything impure in his life and then God gives in and says, 'OK then, you can use cattle dung instead of human dung.' Smile

  • olddude

    6/11/2010 12:36:48 PM |

    Sounds to me like the beginning work on "fecal transplant".

  • Mary Beth

    6/11/2010 1:25:15 PM |

    But, here's the question: do you think the Ezekiel Bread is worth eating for health reasons?

  • Jonathan

    6/11/2010 4:52:44 PM |

    Other translations have the dung as a source of fuel.  
    As much fat as I eat, you'd probably have to put a wick in it.
    I don't think that would give it a nice smoke flavor or anything. Wink

  • David

    6/12/2010 2:33:26 AM |

    I think some of these comments are missing the point. Whether the dung was used as fuel or incorporated into the recipe makes little difference to the interpretive thrust of the passage. According to Mosaic ceremonial law (which was typological, not perpetual), excrement was to be covered with dirt. You don't touch it, and you certainly don't cook with it. The point is that the bread was polluted, and this served as a typological symbol of Israel's pollution and rejection. Israel, the elect and "clean" nation, has become filthy.

    God didn't make Ezekiel write this stuff down so we could whip up a great recipe 2400 years later. And by the way, the same goes for the book of Daniel. Just because Daniel and his buddies ate nothing but vegetables and water for ten days doesn't mean that vegetarianism is the best diet. That's not even close to the original intent of the passage. Yet I see these kinds of non-contextual claims all the time. It saddens me when I see fellow Christians using the Bible this way.

  • David

    6/12/2010 4:01:22 PM |

    FYI: The "Wheat and the Bible" article can be accessed in its entirety on my website here: http://www.reforminghealth.com/Wheat_and_the_Bible.pdf


  • Dr. William Davis

    6/12/2010 10:20:46 PM |

    Thanks, David.

    For anyone else interested, David's article provides a very nice overview of the broader topic of Wheat and the Bible.

  • Paleo Phil

    6/14/2010 1:38:22 AM |

    Dr. Davis, I appreciate your courage in tackling this difficult subject. Dr. Kurt Harris has also discussed the fact that even traditional methods of processing wheat do not eliminate all of its negative qualities: http://www.paleonu.com/panu-weblog/2009/12/28/avoid-poison-or-neutralize-it.html.

    Religious concerns are undoubtedly one of the trickiest issues that biologically appropriate diets raise. Everyone on the planet is not going to abandon what they see as their religion principles for health reasons, so I try to meet people where they're at. For those Christians who tell me that wheat must be healthy because it's in the New Testament and the Levitical diet, I say, sure, the Levitical diet is older and healthier than the SAD of today, but there was an even earlier diet in the Bible that's even healthier. It's composed of God-made foods instead of man-made foods. It usually occurs to them that this is the diet of wild foods available at the time of humanity's creation, which I also refer to as the "Garden of Eden diet", which was free of wheat bread, even unleavened, and certainly wouldn't contain any pizza, pasta or processed breakfast cereal. This doesn't always convince people, but it rarely fails to give them pause.

    Plus, in Genesis 3:17-19, bread is part of a curse, not a blessing. So wheat could be regarded as a blessing compared to starvation, but a curse or penance compared to the original Biblical foods of the Creator's making.

    Also, at times in the Bible, suffering is treated as an opportunity for penance or purification. It doesn't mean the bad stuff that causes the suffering (ie wheat) is "good" in and of itself. Perhaps this could be a way to explain Jesus' direction to eat bread in remembrance of Him? I generally avoid this subject as potentially too touchy, so I'm curious for input from wheat-avoiding Christians on how they deal with this.

    On top of all the above, bread is no longer necessary for survival in wealthy modern cultures, like it may have been in some of the regions and times covered by the Bible. So the contexts are very different.

    Hope this helps.

  • David

    6/16/2010 11:13:27 PM |

    Paleo Phil,

    As a wheat-avoiding Christian, I deal with this issue by actually trying to return the focus to the intent of the Biblical text(s). Was it the biblical author's intent to communicate wheat/grain as perpetually appropriate and required foods for all time (unlikely), or was it rather simply that the biblical narrative existed within an agricultural context and was thus accommodated to those times? I think the latter option is the reasonable one.

    In the biblical account, all of creation is said to be "good" (as opposed to Gnosticism, which says that matter is intrinsically evil) but I think it is a mistake to take this as synonymous with "harmless," and it is important to remember that despite being "good," elements within creation can be either appropriate or inappropriate depending on the use and context. Plant toxins are "good" in the creational sense in that they make for a balanced and workable ecosystem, but are relatively "bad" for the unwary animal that eats them. The wheat/grain issue is no different. Grains might be creationally good and play an important role somewhere in the broader order of things, but this doesn't mean they're harmless if the circumstances are right (e.g. genetic modification, improper preparation methods, etc., etc.).

    Appealing to the "Garden of Eden diet" might work for some Christians, but I think there's a deeper problem going on. Too many modern Christians see the Bible as a sort of "prescription" for what they should or should not eat. For instance, the Levitical diet (clean vs unclean foods) is often pointed to as the ultimate "healthy diet." However, the health aspects had nothing to do with the actual declared purpose of the restrictions. The diet was purely typological and temporary, and any health benefits were merely coincidental side-benefits. These typological requirements have had an antitypical fulfillment, however, so the diet should have no bearing on anyone today.

    Likewise, many Christians point to the supposedly vegetarian diet in Genesis as the "original" diet that mankind was created for. But again, this misses the point of the author's literary intent. What was going on in the Genesis creation account? Was Moses telling us how to eat, or was he telling us something completely different? Most Christians are clueless here. As it turns out, the creation story has nothing to do with scientific explanations or dietary prescriptions. It was written in an ancient Near Eastern (ANE) context where creation myths abounded, and Moses was contrasting the Hebrew God with the surrounding deities of the ancient world. The account is not relating scientific facts, but is rather a literary polemic written to combat other ANE pagan religions point for point. The God of Israel is not like Ptah, or Shu, or Marduk, or Baal. The Genesis account powerfully overturns the Enuma Elish and other ANE creation stories. That was its historical intent.

    Unless one is familiar with ANE culture, many of the subtleties within the Genesis account will not make sense, and you will end up with an interpretive disaster, like Young-Earth Creationism or Vegetarianism, for instance. The Bible does say that God created, but it does not tell us how He created. This is nowhere near the intent of the original author.


  • Bryan

    10/21/2010 4:47:41 AM |

    As I read the chapter, it looks more like Ezekiel is instructed to act in a symbolic manner.  He is instructed to symbolically lay seige to a model of Jerusalem that is drawn or built on a tile--even building miniature seige engines. In essence, the call to moral behavior in the book is a "seige" against the transgressions done within the city.  Thus, the "bread" is also to be made and eaten as a symbol.  The context is fairly plain.  Nowhere is there any statement that Israel, or even just Jerusalem, is to make or eat the stuff.  Ezekiel is told to bake and eat the bread "in their sight" or "in the sight of the people" and then tell anyone who sees him that this is the level of wretchedness they will be reduced to, I presume because of their faithlessness and obstinacy after many warnings, given the general context of the Book of Ezekiel.

    Thus, "Ezekiel bread" is actually a symbol of the wrath of God against the obstinately faithless and not a "recipe" for what God wants a faithful believer to eat daily.