The smell of baking bread: Mart. Pol. 15

In Didascalia apostolorum we read: “You set pure bread before him, which is formed by fire and sanctified by the invocation, offering without demur and praying for those who sleep.” (DA 6.22.2.)

In Traditio apostolica 22 we read: “On the first of the week the bishop, if he is able, should himself distribute to all the people with his own hand, while the deacons break. And the presbyters break the baked bread.”

Dix, (Treatise, 44) suggests that “the bread they are given” should be read instead of “the baked bread”— reading wefoya (delivered) rather than ‘afoya (baked)— a reading which is found in two manuscripts of the later Ethiopic text. Botte (Tradition apostolique, 61 n. 3) suggests that since the same phrase appears in the Ethiopic version at chapter 26 below “baked” must be the correct reading, though he is at a loss as to what the term means. Moreover, the appearance of “baked” in the Aksumite Ethiopic means that “baked” should certainly be read. Similarly the Aksumite version has “baked bread” in TA 26.

In previous publications I have noted this emphasis on the fact that bread is baked, and leaned towards the suggestion that bread might be baked in situ, particularly in the cemeteries (in my works on Didascalia and Vita Polycarpi certainly, and perhaps elsewhere.) The context in Vita Polycarpi was the report that the burning Polycarp gave off the smell of baking bread (Mart. Pol. 15.)

In an increasingly rare lightbulb moment it occurred to me that this may be a reference (and implicit contrast) to the practice of sacrifice. Bread (and Polycarp) are offered, and baked, in the same way that animal sacrifices were cooked with fire. I am also aware of burnt grain offerings, particularly at Roman tombs, but admit that I do not know enough about sacrificial practice to be certain on this point. Nonetheless it all adds up.. If anyone can point me to a beginners’ guide to the practice of ancient sacrifice in the early centuries of the Common Era, particularly in funereal settings, with big print and lots of pictures (or else, with reliable primary source material!) I would be gratified indeed. For the present, I withdraw my suggestion that bread was baked on site and accuse myself of a further error.

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1 Comment

Filed under Apostolic Tradition, Didascalia Apostolorum, E-rrata

One response to “The smell of baking bread: Mart. Pol. 15

  1. danivaucher

    I cannot tell if this is helpful, but I was reminded of your blog when I searched something in Curetons Syriac Documents. In the Canones Addaei, can. 27, Cureton translates: “The apostles further appointed: Let the bread of the oblation be placed upon the altar on the day on which it is baked, and not some days after-—a thing which is not permitted.”

    Liked by 1 person

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