“Jesus Commanded His Disciples That They Should Bring Forth Some Bread and Wine Unto Him”

Brant Gardner

Cultural: The sacrament ritualizes and perpetuates an event recorded for the Last Supper of Christ with his apostles in Jerusalem:

Mark 14:22-24

22 And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this is my body.

23 And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them: and they all drank of it.

24 And he said unto them, This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many.

There are two elements participating in this symbolic exercise, bread and wine. Both of those physical symbols had a connection to understood Israelite lore associated with the Tree of Life. In the stories associated with the Tree of Life in Jewish lore there were two important aspects of the Tree, not just the one we usually associate with the experience in the Garden. For them, there was a fruit that was eaten, but there was a also a liquid that was associated with the Tree. Sometimes the liquid was the juice of the fruit, sometimes it was in the water of a river that flowed from the base of the Tree of Life.

One of the symbolic associations that was present in the larger cultural area of the Middle East was the association between wine and the liquid of the Tree of Life:

"Whether in masculine or feminine terms, the palm tree was from early times a symbol and literal source of sacrament, in that the earliest wine was made from the dates, and was in Babylonia known as the “drink of life.” (Goodenough, Erwin B. Jewish Symbols in the Graeco-Roman Period. 12 vol. New York: Pantheon Books. 1958. 7:94).

Specifically, this association between wine and the liquid of the Tree of Life became attached to grape wine:

 “The oldest and most prevalent view identifies the forbidden fruit with the grape, which goes back to an old mythological idea that the wine is the beverage of the gods." (Ginzberg, Louis. The Legends of the Jews. 7 vol. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America. 1909.5:97).

The apparent anomaly of the drink which caused the Fall being used in the Last Supper is explained in Ginzberg’s note:

“the fruit which brought sin into the world will become a ‘healing’ in the world to come (Ginzberg, Louis. The Legends of the Jews. 7 vol. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America. 1909. 5:98).

This type of reference in John appears again for the second symbol of the sacrament, the bread.

John 6:48-51

48 I am that bread of life.

49 Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead.

50 This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die.

51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.

The immediate referent of the “bread” in John is manna, which is certainly not the fruit of the Tree of Life. However, the context of manna in this verse indicates that it became a substitute for the fruit that gave life.

In addition to symbolic associations, bread and wine have two other features that were important in the Old World context. They were available foods. It is at this point that we cannot be certain how the sacrament transferred to the New World setting.

The New World did not have bread. They may not have had the tortillas that we understand to have been their “bread” at this time in their history. The archaeological presence of the comal which was used to cook the flat corn tortillas does not come until after Book of Mormon times. It is probable that there was some form of a corn mass, though it would not have been anything we would associate with bread. However, there need not have been bread as we know it to fulfill the symbolic function of bread in the sacrament. They would require some solid form of food that could be separated into pieces for consumption. In later Aztec times, loaves of amaranth dough were formed into shapes and given as offerings to the gods. Amaranth dough might therefore have been another option for the Nephite sacrament.

Even though there is some archaeological evidence of grapes (David L. Lentz, “Plant Resources of the Ancient Maya: The Paleoethnobotanical Evidence”. Reconstructing Ancient Maya Diet. Edited by Christine D. White. The University Of Utah Press, 1999, p. 9), there is no evidence that they were used in wine, and certainly not extensively used for wine. The liquid symbol of this New World sacrament must have been altered just as was the bread to accommodate the foodstuffs commonly available in the New World.

A plant wine was available, and perhaps would have been sufficiently symbolic to be the representation used in the Sacrament. Since the institution of the Sacrament in the New World was most obviously connected with this miraculous appearance of the Savior, it is also quite probable that no prior symbolic associations were needed to bring sacred meaning to this particular event of sharing eat and drink. The current institution by the Savior in this context would have been sufficient to transform even the most ordinary food into an extraordinary experience.

Multidimensional Commentary on the Book of Mormon