Why Does the Bible Have No Recipe for Soap?

Why does the Bible not have a recipe for soap?The Bible has a detailed description of the priestly costume in Exodus 28. Aaron and his priestly descendants certainly looked fabulous, but if the Bible can spend an entire chapter on this, why not a method for making something useful, like soap?

It’s not hard to make. Imagine if the following recipe were a quote from the Bible (give it a King James tone if that makes it sound more authentic):

Pack a wooden bucket with ashes. Pour in boiling water. Make a small hole near the bottom so the water can be collected in a pot as it drips out. The liquid is caustic, so don’t let it touch skin or metal. Pour the liquid back into the ashes until it is strong enough to dissolve a chicken feather.

Boil this liquid until most of the water is gone. Add rendered fat from cattle or other animals and stir while cooking until it thickens. Pour into molds and let it harden.

There are lots of tricks to making soap properly, but a priesthood could’ve easily perfected the technique.

With this, the Bible could then add the basics of health care—when and how to use this soap, how water is purified by boiling (really purified, not just ritually), how latrines should be built and sited, how to avoid polluting the water supply, how to avoid spreading disease, and so on. Other ideas to improve society come to mind—low-tech ways to pump water, spin fiber, make metal alloys, and so on—but health seems to be a fundamental one to start with.

Several passages have been advanced to argue that the Bible did refer to soap. The word is used in Mal. 3:2 and Jer. 2:22, but that word means ashes or soapy plant. In Job 9:30, the word isn’t soap but “snow water” (that is, pure water). Num. 19:1–12 is argued to be a recipe for soap here, though it’s clearly just a ritual. None of these are soap as we would understand it, as defined by the recipe above.

Another attempt to salvage the Bible argues that its odd dietary rules (no pork or shellfish, no mixing of meat and dairy, etc.) are healthy, but these rules are arbitrary when seen from a modern standpoint. Sure, avoiding pork means that you can’t get sick from eating poorly cooked pork, but can’t you still get sick from eating tainted meat from other animals? An analysis by Mary Douglas (discussed here) makes much more sense out of the ritual prohibitions.

Let’s consider the Bible’s health advice and consider two possibilities.

  • An infinitely loving God created us but just didn’t give a hoot about the health of his creation. He could’ve made healthy practices mandatory rituals, but he didn’t. However, he did care enough about making his priests look sharp to devote an entire chapter to their costumes.
  • The Old Testament was just written by ordinary men and reflects their ordinary knowledge and interests.

Which seems likelier?

Man once surrendering his reason,
has no remaining guard against absurdities the most monstrous,
and like a ship without rudder, is the sport of every wind.
— Thomas Jefferson

Photo credit: Wikimedia

About Bob Seidensticker
  • .

    at this point I wouldn’t be surprised if I found an article that said : clearly God doens’t exist because if he did and were a loving God, he would’ve given the ISraelites the recipe for manna so they could have as much as they wanted instead of whatver puny serving he game them

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      I don’t find that quite as compelling as the lack of health fundamentals in the Bible.

      • http://paulonbooks.blogspot.co.uk/ PaulOnBooks

        If they’d had excess manna, they might have tried to wash with it. See – the existence of God proved through Intelligent Catering.

  • .

    at this point I wouldn’t be surprised if I found an article that said : clearly God doens’t exist because if he did and were a loving God, he would’ve given the ISraelites the recipe for manna so they could have as much as they wanted instead of whatver puny serving he gave them

  • http://paulonbooks.blogspot.co.uk/ PaulOnBooks

    The Bible doesn’t have instructions on how to use a washing machine either. Then again, it’s written by men for men so perhaps that’s not relevant :)

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      No, the Bible doesn’t have washing machine instructions. That kinda makes sense, since those instructions would’ve been pointless.

      A recipe for soap, however, would’ve been exactly what a loving god would’ve given his creation.

  • Karen the rock whisperer

    I’m tired; I read the title subject as soup, not soap. My immediate reaction was, that’s something women concoct! It’s beneath the bible to mention it! But come to think of it, that might apply to soap, too. More stuff that was the province of women, and therefore unimportant by definition.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      I’m not sure if you’re agreeing with my position or not.

      • Karen the rock whisperer

        I do agree with your position, in general. I’m mostly being snarky, but suggesting that the bible is clearly written by men for men. No deities involved.

        • MNb

          “suggesting that …..”
          You suggested the obvious, but also something that isn’t mentioned often enough. It makes this ridiculous in my eyes:


        • Karen the rock whisperer

          I skimmed the article; I’ll go back to read later. But this caught my eye:

          “The foundation of Western culture is rational (‘straight line’, logical) discourse. This is denounced as ‘male’ thinking. Subjective experience and opinion is the valid means of self expression. Some argue that all previous thinking (including the Christian tradition, and the Bible) is infused with ‘sexism’ and has to be challenged: if a student questions this, she/he may be told that it is because she/he is ‘sexist’ and needs to be re-educated.”

          I’m a scientist; thinking rationally is one of my goals, because it isn’t as easy as it sounds. Practice improves it. I have a really hard time swallowing that this is “male” thinking. OTOH, the bible is full of stuff based on subjective experience and opinion, and that’s pretty much why I reject it.

        • MNb

          I even have a hard time accepting that it’s the foundation of western culture.
          At one hand it’s only the foundation of science and perhaps philosophy.
          At the other hand it’s not exclusively western. In India and China peope were pretty good at math for instance.

  • Teresa

    type “soap” in the search box.
    A recipe for soap found in the Bible. My prayers are with you. It must be difficult to not know who designed you and the world you live in. May the one true God draw you to Him and give you understanding and clarity.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      It’s interesting that the article “God’s Soap Recipe” doesn’t even give the Bible reference so that you can look up and verify that the claims are accurate. They’re not. If you’re actually interested, read how you actually make soap in this post and then see that Numbers 19 (I’ll give the reference even if they’re embarrassed to) is no such thing.

      It must be difficult to not know who designed you and the world you live in.

      Give science a try. Reality feels pretty good.

      • Rick

        The linked article gives Numbers 19 as the reference.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I see it now. Thanks for the correction.