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Your Fill of the Loaves: The Johannine Sign of the Loaves and the Ancient Bread Economy

If the reference in the Lord’s Prayer to bread points to unavoidable issues of hunger and dependence present in the everyday life of ancient eaters, and the place of bread in particular in them, there are other texts in the New Testament where that obvious meaning is assumed but then contested or presented as insufficient. Most obvious is the elaborated version of the miraculous feeding narrative in the Gospel of John (chapter 6).

The miracle of the loaves in any version depends on the centrality of bread, and the reality of food insecurity. Any of the Synoptic accounts could be considered further in this light, but John characteristically enters into a critical re-interpretation of the core sign.

This is the only version of the miracle where the fabric of the bread is mentioned; a boy is said to have “five barley loaves” (6:9) and two fish. Commentators have often correctly noted that the reference to barley indicates food of the poor. However it probably also indicates domestic foo…

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