(barʹley) [Heb., seʽo·rahʹ; Gr., kri·theʹ].
An important cereal of the genus Hordeum, widespread in its cultivation from ancient times till now. It was one of the valuable products awaiting the Israelites in the Promised Land, and that region continues to be “a land of wheat and barley” to this day.—De 8:8.
The Hebrew name for barley (seʽo·rahʹ) is related to the word for “hair” (se·ʽarʹ) and is descriptive of the long slender bristles or awns forming the characteristic beard of the barley head. It is a very hardy plant, better able to withstand drought and adapt to a wider range of climates than any other grain. When mature it stands about 1 m (3 ft) high, with somewhat broader leaves than those of wheat.
The barley harvest figures prominently in the dramatic events of the book of Ruth. Sowing of barley was done in Israel during the month of Bul (October-November) after the early rains had begun to fall and the ground could be plowed. (Isa 28:24, 25) Barley matures more rapidly than wheat (Ex 9:31, 32), and the harvest began in the early spring during the month of Nisan (March-April), commencing in the hot Jordan Valley and continuing into the higher, more temperate sections until it reached the highland plateau region E of the Jordan in the month of Ziv (April-May). Barley harvest thus marked a definite time of the year (Ru 1:22; 2Sa 21:9), and its start corresponded to Passover time, the sheaf waved by the priest on the 16th day of Nisan being of the barley firstfruits.—Le 23:10, 11.
Barley was esteemed as of less value than wheat, just one third that of wheat in John’s vision at Revelation 6:6. It was sufficiently common and abundant that it could be used as fodder for Solomon’s horses (1Ki 4:28), a purpose that it still serves in modern times. It was ground into flour and made into bread, often in the form of a round cake (2Ki 4:42; Eze 4:12; Joh 6:9, 13), and sometimes mixed with other grains.—Eze 4:9.
Though undoubtedly more frequently used among the poor because of its lower cost, there is nothing to indicate that barley was viewed with disdain among the Israelites, even by those able to afford wheat. Thus, it was included in the provisions suitable for offering to King David’s company upon their arrival in Gilead during the time of Absalom’s revolt. (2Sa 17:27-29) Solomon provided 20,000 cor measures (4,400 kl; 125,000 bu) of barley, along with a corresponding quantity of wheat, and large amounts of oil and wine to Hiram as supplies for the Tyrian king’s servants who were preparing temple materials. (2Ch 2:10, 15) King Jotham of Judah exacted tribute of the king of Ammon that included 10,000 cor measures (2,200 kl; 62,500 bu) of barley. (2Ch 27:5) Men seeking to avoid death at the hands of assassin Ishmael after the fall of Jerusalem assured him they had “hidden treasures in the field, wheat and barley and oil and honey.”—Jer 41:8.
Nevertheless, barley was a common and a lowly food, and some commentators suggest that these qualities are represented in the figure of “a round cake of barley bread” that was seen in the Midianite’s dream and that symbolized Gideon’s humble army.—Jg 7:13, 14.
Hosea paid 15 silver pieces (if shekels, $33) and one and a half homer measures (330 L; 300 dry qt) of barley to buy back the adulterous woman Gomer as his wife (Ho 1:3; 3:1, 2), a price that some commentators consider to total the price of a slave, 30 silver shekels ($66). (Ex 21:32) The “offering of jealousy” required by the Law in the case of a man suspecting his wife of sexual infidelity was to be a tenth of an ephah (2.2 L; 2 dry qt) of barley flour. (Nu 5:14, 15) Barley was also used in measuring, the amount required for sowing a field being the legal means for determining the field’s value.—Le 27:16.