Showbread also called showbread or presence bread are unleavened breads or cakes which are arranged in two rows or piles on a specially dedicated table in the temple of Jerusalem as an offering. The serving of the leavened challah bread on the Shabbath and other holy days is a tribute to the showbread ritual.
This bread was named presence bread as the bible requires the bread to be there in front of god constantly. Twelve pieces of bread were always there and replaced every Shabbath with a fresh batch. The previous batches of bread were consumed by the priests of the temple. There is a mention of such aspects of the offering in various other biblical books like ‘The book of Chronicles’ , ‘Book of kings’ and ‘Book of Samuel’
As per the biblical regulations, the table for the showbread had to be placed in the northern region of the sanctuary opposite the Menorah, the special seven branched candle stand along with the Altar of incense. Some sources state that the table was made of solid gold whereas some state that it was gold-plated acacia wood. The biblical texts mention that whenever the table is being move, it should be covered with a purple cloth. There is a mention of only one table in each sanctuary, except the Temple of Jerusalem. It is mentioned in ‘The book of chronicles’ that it had ten tables.
The custom of offering showbread was native to the Israelites. The Babylonians and Assyrians also offered 12 (or multiple of 12) breads to their God. The prominence of twelve has a mysterious religious symbolism. The basic idea was common to all three communities that food should always be present infront of God so that he can eat it whenever he appears.
As per the Book of Chronicles, Kohath and his team ( Levi’s son) were incharge of baking and placing the bread. There were secrets involved in the baking of the bread known only to the Kohathites.
Ingredients and Method
The Breads or cakes are often made with either wheat flour or semolina, eggs, sugar, salt and olive oil. No one really has the recipe to make the Showbread and the perfect list of ingredients is a secret. The original method and recipe are unknown as the temple was destroyed in 70 CE.
Traditionally, the dough is kneaded and let to rest for sometime. It is then shaped and baked.