A chamber that is heated in order to bake or to roast foods. Various types of ovens were used by the Hebrews and others.
Ovens of considerable size, consisting of a round hole in the ground, have been used in the Middle East up until modern times, some being as much as 1.5 or 1.8 m (5 or 6 ft) deep and almost 1 m (3 ft) in diameter. In an oven of this size, it was possible to roast an entire sheep by suspending it over the hot stones or coals.
The bowl oven was used in Biblical days and was probably similar to that employed by Palestinian peasants of modern times. A large clay bowl is placed inverted upon small stones on which the bread rests. The bowl is heated by the burning of fuel heaped over and around it, and the bread is baked.
Every Hebrew home likely had a portable jar oven, a type still used in Palestine. It was a large earthenware jar, about 0.9 m (3 ft) high, having an opening at the top and widening toward the bottom. To heat it, fuel such as wood or grass was burned inside, the ashes being removed through a hole provided for that purpose. The top was closed, and when the jar was hot enough, dough was spread around the inside or the outside. Bread baked in this manner was very thin.
A great many pit ovens have been unearthed by archaeologists. These were evidently further developments of the jar oven. This type, partly in the ground and partly above ground, was built up of clay and was plastered throughout. It tapered toward the top, and the fuel was burned inside. Monuments and paintings show that the Egyptians placed the dough on the outside of these ovens. For fuel, the Hebrews employing this type might use dry twigs or grass. (Compare Mt 6:30.) Meat could also be roasted in such an oven.
It is interesting that baking ovens now used by peasants in Palestine differ little from those found in ancient ruins or those depicted on Assyrian and Egyptian reliefs and paintings. In ancient Chaldea ovens were located in the courtyards of homes, and today they may be found in small bakehouses in the yards of private dwellings, though ovens may also be grouped together in some part of the village. Large public ovens are still in use.
Household ovens were common among the Israelites and Egyptians in the land of Egypt. Thus, during the second plague, frogs even came up into their ovens and their kneading troughs.
“The Tower of the Bake Ovens” in Jerusalem was repaired under Nehemiah’s direction during the restoration of the city’s walls. (Ne 3:11; 12:38) This name’s origin is uncertain, but it has been suggested that the tower was so named because commercial bakers had their ovens situated in that vicinity.
Illustrative Use. The oven is used in an expression denoting scarcity at Leviticus 26:26, which reads: “When I [Jehovah] have broken for you the rods around which ring-shaped loaves are suspended, ten women will then actually bake your bread in but one oven and give back your bread by weight; and you must eat but you will not be satisfied.” Under normal conditions, each woman would need an oven to do her daily baking. However, Leviticus 26:26 pointed to a time when there would be so little food available that one oven would be sufficient to handle all the baking that ten women could do. And Hosea 7:4-7 compares adulterous Israelites to a baker’s furnace, apparently because of the wicked desires burning within them.