Cast your whole wheat (rice, rye, etc.) bread...

Posted by Woodchuck on August 29, 2002

In Reply to: Cast your bread... posted by TheFallen on August 29, 2002

: : : : : : : What is the origin of the phrase, "cast your bread/food upon the waters" as found in Ecclesiastes 11:1?

: : : : : : Your question was so daunting it made me choke on my Diet Pepsi. I've provided a link to the origins of Ecclesiastes as researched by Cecil Adams' Straight Dope staff, but I think you will find that if Ecclesiastes was not the first usage any pre-biblical source of the phrase has likely been lost to time.

: : : : : It seems to me we addressed the meaning of the phrase here recently. But I couldn't find it.

: : : : From Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable:

: : : : "Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days (Eccles. xi. 1). When the Nile overflows its banks the weeds perish and the soil is disintegrated. The rice-seed being cast into the water takes root, and is found in due time growing in healthful vigour. "

: : : : In Ecclesiastes, Solomon is addressing the preachers. "The running waters are the people running towards death." His intended harvest is in the afterlife.

: : : Here's what one pastor says:

: : : By Mike Scott at q79.html

: : : Q. What does the expression "cast your bread on many waters" in Ecc. 11:1 mean?
: : : Let's look at the context of the statement:
: : : Ecc. 11:1-6 (NASB)
: : : 1 Cast your bread on the surface of the waters, for you will find it after many days.
: : : 2 Divide your portion to seven, or even to eight, for you do not know what misfortune may occur on the earth.
: : : 3 If the clouds are full, they pour out rain upon the earth; and whether a tree falls toward the south or toward the north, wherever the tree falls, there it lies.
: : : 4 He who watches the wind will not sow and he who looks at the clouds will not reap.
: : : 5 Just as you do not know the path of the wind and how bones are formed in the womb of the pregnant woman, so you do not know the activity of God who makes all things.
: : : 6 Sow your seed in the morning, and do not be idle in the evening, for you do not know whether morning or evening sowing will succeed, or whether both of them alike will be good.

: : : I believe that this entire context is a discussion of benevolence. The encouragement here is to be a benevolent person, because one never knows when he might be in need of benevolence himself.

: : : The expression "cast your bread on the surface of the waters," is taken from the custom of sowing seed by casting it from boats into overflowing rivers, or in marshy ground. When the waters recede, the grain will fall to the soil and spring up.

: : : "Waters" here could be an expression used to represent people, many people, who are recipients of our benevolent efforts, who in turn return to us benevolence in our time of need.

: : Those six verses, taken together, look like an encouragement to industry in uncertain times--and in an agricultural society times are always uncertain. Set aside some of your food against the possibility of famine. Go out and work in the fields rather than watching the weather and waiting for the best possible time to sow or harvest, because God knows what weather is coming next but you don't. Don't eat your seed corn.

: : Of course, "cast your bread . . ." makes a good metaphor for benevolence too.

: An idle thought. Given that there are I believe a fair few clumsy translations within the text of the King James Bible, I wonder, if the original source material were available, whether today's translaters would choose the word "bread". As has been pointed out, "grain" would seem to be a far more sensible choice - either that, or Biblical bread must have been a tad crunchy.

Remember, fine milling didn't exist prior to the industrial revolution. For centuries the finest flour you could obtain was stoneground. The Romans didn't invent the quern (circular stone wheel mill) until around 500 BC. I've baked bread with stoneground wheat and it's similar in appearance to cornmeal. Prior to the quern, grain was ground by hand with mortar and pestle or simply bash ed on rocks. It probably looked more like animal feed than anything we'd recognize as meal or flour.