In the Hebrew home the baking of bread and cakes was a chief duty of the women, though slaves did the baking in some larger households. Speaking for Jehovah, Samuel told the Israelites, who had requested a human king: “Your daughters he will take for ointment mixers and cooks and bakers.” (1 Sam. 8:13) Yet, men might oversee the work or do some baking themselves, as indicated by the fact that when two angels visited Lot in Sodom “he baked unfermented cakes, and they went to eating” the prepared feast.—Gen. 19:1-3.
Bread was generally baked in ovens in Bible times. (See OVEN.) Occasionally, however, baking was done by kindling a fire on stones that had been laid together. When they were well heated, the cinders were swept aside and dough was placed on the stones. After a while, the cake was turned and then left on the stones until the bread was thoroughly baked. (Hos. 7:8) Travelers might bake coarse bread in a shallow pit filled with hot pebbles, upon which a fire had been built. After the embers were removed, dough was laid on the heated stones, perhaps being turned several times while the bread was baking. 1 Ki. 19:6) Bedouins still bake bread in this way, or do so on a heated iron disk, the Arabic sadj.
Grain offerings made by the Israelites were often “something baked in the oven,” came “from off the griddle,” or from “out of the deep-fat kettle.” (Lev. 2:4-7) The griddle was a thick pottery plate having depressions (comparable to a modern waffle iron), though iron griddles were also used.—Ezek. 4:3.
Professional bakers were in business in the cities. While Jeremiah was in custody in the Courtyard of the Guard in Jerusalem during the time of scarcity prior to that city’s overthrow in 607 B.C.E., he was given a daily ration of a round loaf of bread “from the street of the bakers,” as long as the supply lasted. (Jer. 37:21) So, commercial bakers evidently occupied a particular street in Jerusalem. Years later, when Jerusalem’s walls were restored under Nehemiah’s supervision, the “Tower of the Bake Ovens” was also repaired. (Neh. 3:11; 12:38) Just how the tower came to be named is uncertain, but it is possible that it was given its unusual name because the ovens of commercial bakers were located there.
In modern times, the professional Oriental baker does not customarily prepare the dough. Instead, it is made by the house baker and is then sent to the public baker. So it is not uncommon to observe the baker’s boy walking along with trays of freshly baked bread balanced on his head, delivering the bread to customers’ homes. In Bible times, too, the professional baker may often have baked the dough (and even meat and vegetables) brought to him. After removing the bread or cakes from his oven with a long shovel, the baker at times greased them. The fine quality of bread baked in the larger oven of the Oriental commercial baker seems to be indicated by this proverb of the Arabs: “Send your bread to the oven of the baker, though he should eat the half of it.”
Bakers in ancient Egypt had to render to the overseer of granaries strict accounts of the materials they had in stock. The Greek historian Herodotus of the fifth century B.C.E. spent some time in Egypt and provides a detailed account of Egyptian baking processes. He says the Egyptians kneaded bread with their feet, a procedure confirmed in a wall painting from the tomb of Ramses III.
The royal baker was evidently a man of some importance in ancient Egypt. The above-mentioned wall painting from Ramses III’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings at Thebes depicts an Egyptian royal bakery in full operation, showing such steps as the kneading of dough with the feet, the making of cakes of bread and the preparing of the oven. As reported in Genesis, one Egyptian royal baker gained particular notoriety because he sinned against the king and was cast into prison. There he had a dream in which he saw himself carrying three baskets of bread on his head, with fowls eating from the topmost basket. This “chief of the bakers” was taken out on the third day and “hung up,” thus fulfilling Joseph’s interpretation: “The three baskets are three days. In three days from now Pharaoh will lift up your head from off you and will certainly hang you upon a stake; and the fowls will certainly eat your flesh from off you.”—Gen. 40:1-3, 16-22.