Through the Grainfields

Posted on March 14, 2010

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Fully ripe wheat - so dry it will break your teeth!

I recently received a question from a reader of my blog which was particularly timely. He referred to a passage from the Book of Matthew that goes something like:

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. Matthew 12:1

The questioner wanted to know if I could tell him what kind of grain this could have been and during which months this might have occurred. After spending so much time investigating the history of grains and particularly wheat here in the Galilee, I was so pleased to be able to give him a coherent answer.

We are now approaching Passover and Easter – a time when the grain fields are still ripening, and when this particular state of ripening of barley and wheat, during the time of Matthew, determined when Passover would be celebrated. Wheat is usually harvested around the beginning of June – historically corresponding with the holiday of Shavuoth – Feast of the Pentacost. But sometime in April, when the heads of the wheat are still green  and haven’t turned golden and dry yet, the wheat kernels become plump and soft, full of protein and sugar, and this is the only time that they can be eaten raw. After that, when the kernels are fully ripe and dry, they must be cooked – roasted, ground, boiled, whatever, to be comestible.

And about which grain it was, my guess would be wheat, since barley in antiquity was considered less palatable than wheat, and bread made from it was considered inferior eating.

So, in answer to my reader’s questions, we are rapidly approaching the time for collecting green wheat. Which, by the way, is still done today by a few local Arab farmers here in the Galilee. They pick the green wheat, then roast it and it becomes a local delicacy called farike. So when you read about parched corn in the Bible, this is what is actually being referred to – because corn is a New World product that wasn’t known in this region during antiquity.

I will be following the progress of the wheat farming closely this year and will report, with photos, right here!

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