Regardless of which belief or which religion, from ancient China to today, bread is a divine gift and a central part of faith and rites almost everywhere.
Whoever takes the time to read through the Hebrew Bible and count how often the term “bread” is used will discover that it is mentioned almost 300 times. There is even a bread recipe from the Prophet Ezekiel. Bread was a central concept of the Jewish and, later, the Christian faiths: from Adam, who was damned to eat his bread “by the sweat of his brow”, to Jesus, who, after His resurrection, was recognised by His disciples because He broke bread.
But Jews and Christians were not the first to assign bread a central role in their beliefs, rituals and prayers. Where cereal crops became the foundation of agriculture and settled cultures developed, where wheat, barley or maize became the main crops, bread became a staple food that ensured survival. Bread became synonymous with life and, so, an integral part of faith and religion.
This connection was known in China, where – more than 2,000 years ago – grains and all the utensils necessary for making bread were brought into the unknown afterlife as burial gifts. Wherever the deceased’s final resting place was, there should never be a shortage of bread. The close relationship between faith and bread can also be traced back to the cradle of agriculture in the Mediterranean. It was in the Fertile Crescent, in the Middle East, where the Egyptians worshipped Osiris, a god who had shown man how to sow wheat, grind flour, and bake bread. In ancient Egypt, Osiris became the god of fertility, the god of change and, consequently, the god of the dead because, if there was no wheat harvest on the banks of the Nile, death and suffering would follow.
Bread is thus firmly anchored in faith. It is the fear of hunger and death that unites people – no matter their faith. The fundamental Christian prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, is not said in vain; “Give us this day our daily bread” is a universal plea to protect against not only physical but also spiritual starvation.