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Question #90270 posted on 09/01/2017 7:07 p.m.

Dear 100 Hour Board,My Question Here: I belong to a Bible believing church , I mean really SERIOUSLY! I want to make communion Bread, not wafers, but Bread. Amyhow the recipe includes all sorts of stuff from the Bible--so far so good. Then I get thrown a hooker--boy howdy! This is the issue: Molasses. The recipe wants me to use molasses. I get this itch and niggle, that that is one word no one in the Bible ever used. So I go to the Internet, no Molasses/Bible connection can I find. QUESTION: Is molasses anywhere in the Textus Receptus, or the Septuagint, or the Vulgate, or the KJV? Advise. Please help!

BTW, I was praying to the Father and realized that BYU was enjoying summer now. May the peace of God's summer bless BYU!!


Dear bakerer's apprentice,

I wasn't able to find any mention of molasses in any of the sources you mentioned, though potentially this is because they are not in English. This avenue of exploration having borne no fruit, I instead recurred to Wikipedia, which informed me that molasses is "a viscous product resulting from refining sugarcane or sugar beets into sugar." Linguistically, "the word comes from the Portuguese melaço. Cognates include Ancient Greek μέλι (méli) (honey), Latin mel, Spanish melaza(molasses), and French miel (honey)."  Sugar beets are a relatively recent crop, but could sugarcane have been present at the time of Christ in Jerusalem? Once again, we turn to a Wikipedia article on the history of sugar which—drawing on the work of one Andrew Watson—indicates sugarcane sugar did not reach the Near East until sometime after 700 AD.

 350px-Spread_sugarcane.jpg (mouse over for source)

If you're looking for a period-appropriate sweetener, molasses is out. I present several historically palatable alternatives.

  • Honey: It's sweet, and people have been eating it for a long time, including in the near east. You can also substitute it 1:1 in baking recipes, but of course you'll get a honey flavor, instead of molasses. Easy to find at the store.
  • Date honey (also known as date syrup, date molasses, silan, or rub): is a thick liquid sweetener made from dates, which have been cultivated for over seven thousand years. The Wikipedia page for date honey alleges this sweetener is the honey mentioned in "a land flowing with milk and honey" in Exodus 3:8, though I don't know how anyone could really substantiate that claim. Honey from bees? Honey from dates? Why not both? Easy to find at specialty Middle Eastern and probably Jewish grocers. 
  • Carob syrup: made from the the fruit of the anciently and presently cultivated carob tree, this strongly flavored syrup could provide the Mediterranean sweetener you need. There is record of it being consumed in ancient Near East. You can find this online or at specialty grocers such as Kalustyan's.
  • Grape syrup: a somewhat-thinner-than-molasses syrup made from concentrated, boiled grape juice. I do not know whether the ancient Jews consumed grape juice in this way, but since they practiced viticulture, the historical possibility is there. Pekmez is a similar product (apparently there's a difference, though I don't distinguish it). Grape syrup does have a little bit of a raisiny flavor, so take that into account if you plan to use it. Grape syrup is readily available in Turkish, Persian or Middle Eastern grocers. 

I hope you found this answer useful. I'd love to hear how your recipe turned out at ardilla.feroz@theboard.byu.edu.


--Ardilla Feroz 

P.S. Fun facts regarding carob pods:the word "carat," as in "2 carat gemstone" may have ties to the alleged use of carob seeds as a unit of weight and measurement, though their actual use as weights for gold is unlikely. Regarding their historical cultivation, Wikipedia notes,

Subsistence on carob pods is mentioned in the TalmudBerakhot reports that Rabbi Haninah subsisted on carob pods.[28] It is probably also mentioned in the New Testament, in which Matthew 3:4 reports that John the Baptist subsisted on "locusts and wild honey"; the Greek word ἀκρίδες, translated as "locusts", may refer to carob pods, rather than to grasshoppers.[28]Again, in Luke 15:16, in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, when the Prodigal Son is in the field in spiritual and social poverty, he desires to eat the pods that he is feeding to the swine because he is suffering from starvation. The use of the carob during a famine is likely a result of the carob tree's resilience to the harsh climate and drought. During a famine, the swine were given carob pods so that they would not be a burden on the farmer's limited resources.

P.P.S. I first tried pekmez in the Turkish city of Batman. This isn't relevant to your question, but I had to mention it, because, you know... BATMAN. It's real! It's there! It's otherwise not terribly interesting.