What Does Zaat’ar Have to Do With a Bagel?

I believe we should teach children the Bible by weaving it into our everyday activities, and not by restricting it to Sunday morning or 10 minutes before breakfast. Learning about the Bible should take place anytime and sometimes that learning can even include bagels.

I owe this discovery to the Food Network magazine. As I was skimming through the pages, I saw a paragraph on Zaat’ar – the “new-everything-bagel-seasoning.” The description of the spice was intriguing – so I continued doing some research and this is what I discovered.

Zaat’ar is considered to be the biblical hyssop.


Hyssop is used two ways in the Bible: literally and symbolically.

First it was used in Jewish purification rites. For instance, hyssop was used by the priests to purify someone recently recovered from a disease such as leprosy.  And he shall sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed of the leprous disease (Leviticus 14:7)

We also read about hyssop when Moses instructs the Israelites what to do during the 10th plague/Passover.

Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go and select lambs for yourselves according to your clans, and kill the Passover lamb. 22 Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. None of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning. 23 For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you. 24 You shall observe this rite as a statute for you and for your sons forever. (Exodus 12:21-24)

In these verses, hyssop is used to brush the blood on the door.

Later David talks about hyssop in the Psalms. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow (Psalm 51:7). David used hyssop as a word picture of the cleansing he receives when he trusts God. 

Hyssop is again mentioned in the New Testament. When Christ said he was thirsty, the Roman soldiers dipped a sponge in vinegar/sour wine,  attached it to the branch of the hyssop plant and held it to the Christ’s mouth for Him to drink. That was the moment that Christ said, “It is finished.”

A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. (John 19:29)

img_7252Reading the biblical history of hyssop, I decided to explore further.  I saw there are recipes out there for making your own – but I wanted some from the real hyssop plant which is most common in the Mideast.  I looked in specialty grocery stores, but did not see it. So I did the next best thing … or rather maybe it was the best thing. I ordered a bottle off Amazon. (Not an option for the Israelites.)

And to make it as authentic as possible, I ordered it straight from Israel. img_7253You will notice that the label on the jar says “holy hyssop” and this zaar’tar blend does actually contain the hyssop from the hyssop plant (not just a mixture of other spices as some do).

I mixed the zaar’tar with cream cheese and spread it on a bagel – the result? Delicious.

Talk about hyssop with your class or family and let them try some cream cheese and zaar’tar on a cracker.

Learning about hyssop is not one of the key truths in the Bible, but the more we can help our kids become familiar with God’s Word, the better. Familiarity will help them understand what’s being said and in this case, understand a piece of Israelite culture.  We’re helping them be students of Scripture.

How much fun to talk to them about the hyssop of the Bible and then actually have a treat!

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