Heb. "bread of the faces", i.e. "bread of the presence (of Yahweh )" ( Exodus 35:13 ; 39:35 , etc.), also called "holy bread" ( 1 Samuel 21:6 ), "bread of piles" ( 1 Chronicles 9:32 ; 23:29 ), "continual bread" ( Numbers 4:7 ), or simply "bread" (Hebrew Version, Exodus 11:23 ). In the Greek text we have various renderings, the most frequent being ’ártoi tês prothéseos , "loaves of the setting forth" ( Exodus 35:13 ; 39:35 , etc.) which the Latin Vulgate also adopts in its uniform translation panes propositionis , whence the English expression "loaves of proposition", as found in the Douay and Reims versions ( Exodus 35:13 , etc.; Matthew 12:4 ; Mark 2:26 ; Luke 6:4 ). The Protestant versions have "shewbread" (cf. Schaubrot of German versions), with the marginal "presence-bread".
In the account of David's flight from Saul, as found in 1 Samuel 21:6 , we are told that David went to Nobe, to the high priest Achimelech, whom he asked for a few loaves of bread for himself and for his companions. Having been assured that the men were legally clean, the high priest gave them "hallowed bread: for there was no bread there, but only the loaves of proposition, which had been taken away from the face of the Lord, that hot loaves might be set up". The loaves of bread spoken of here formed the most important sacrificial offering prescribed by the Mosaic Law. They were prepared from the finest flour, passed through seven sieves, two-tenths of an ephod (about four-fifths of a peck) in each, and without leaven ( Leviticus 24:5 ; Josephus, "Antiq.", III, 6:6; 10:7). According to Jewish tradition they were prepared in a special room by the priests who were appointed every week. In I Par., ix, 32, we read that some of the sons of Caath (Kohathites) were in charge of preparing and baking the loaves. The Bible gives us no data as to the form or shape of the individual loaves, but, according to the Mishna (Men., xi, 4; Yad, Tamid, v. 9), they were ten fingers in length, five in breadth, and with rims or upturned edges of seven fingers in length. Twelve of these loaves were arranged in two piles, of six loaves each, and while still hot placed on the "table of proposition" ( Numbers 4:7 ) or "most clean table" ( Leviticus 24:6 ) made of settim-wood and overlaid with gold. The dimensions of the table were two cubits (three feet) long, one cubit broad and one and a half cubit high ( Exodus 25:23 . Cf. 1 Kings 7:48 ; 1 Chronicles 28:16 ; 2 Chronicles 4:19 ; 13:11 ). The table with the loaves of bread was then placed in the tabernacle or temple before the Ark of the Covenant, there to remain "always" in the presence of the Lord ( Exodus 25:30 ; Numbers 4:7 ). According to the Talmud, the loaves were not allowed to touch one another, and, to prevent contact, hollow golden tubes, twenty-eight in number, were placed between them, which thus permitted the air to circulate freely between the loaves. Together with the loaves of proposition, between the two piles or, according to others, above them, were two vessels of gold filled with frankincense and, according to the Septuagint, salt also ( Leviticus 24:7 ; Siphra, 263, 1). The twelve loaves were to be renewed every Sabbath ; fresh, hot loaves taking the place of the stale loaves, which belonged "to Aaron and his sons, that they may eat them in the holy place" ( Leviticus 24:8, 9 . Cf. 1 Chronicles 23:29 ; Matthew 12:4 , etc.). According to the Talmud four priests removed the old loaves together with the incense every Sabbath, and four other priests brought in fresh loaves with new incense. The old loaves were divided among the incoming and outgoing priests, and were to be consumed by them within the sacred precincts of the sanctuary. The old incense was burnt. The expense of preparing the loaves was borne by the temple treasury ( 1 Chronicles 9:26 and 32 ). Symbolically, the twelve loaves represented the higher life of the twelve tribes of Israel. Bread was the ordinary symbol of life, and the hallowed bread signified a superior life because it was ever in the presence of Yahweh and destined for those specially consecrated to His service. The incense was a symbol of the praise due to Yahweh.
St. James Holy Card
The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed in fifteen hardcopy volumes.
Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.
No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.
Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912
Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online