Term having reference to the Israelite practice of keeping specially prepared bread or cakes constantly "set before" Yahweh in His Temple. The antiquity of this custom is attested by 1 Sm 21.1–6: the priest at Nob gave David and his men, all ritually pure, the consecrated or "holy bread," for he had no other bread than the "bread of the Presence" (leḥem happānîm, literally "bread of the face"), which had been removed from "before Yahweh" and replaced with "hot" bread. This passage implies that the bread was called "bread of the Presence" because it was always in the presence or sight of Yahweh. (See articles cited in the bibliography for other Hebrew terms for this bread.) Jesus cited the episode at Nob in one of His Sabbath controversies (Mt 12.1–8 and parallels). The legislation in Lv 24.5–9 provides that each Sabbath day 12 freshly baked cakes must be placed in two equal piles on a gold-plated table standing in front of the Holy of Holies and some pure incense placed on each pile. This bread was to serve as a perpetual memorial of Israel's covenant with Yahweh. The 12 cakes may have symbolized the 12 tribes of Israel. One of the duties of the Levites was the weekly renewal of the showbread (1 Chr 9.32; 23. 27–29; 2 Chr 13.11). Only the priests had the right to eat the bread set out the previous Sabbath (Lv 24.9; but cf. 1 Sm 21.1–6: either the law was not yet enacted or it could be nullified by an exceptional circumstance). The "table of showbread" is described in Ex 25.23–30; 37.10–16; for its location in the tent of meet ing and presumably also in the Temple, see Ex 40.22–23. Ten such tables are mentioned in 2 Chr 4.8, 19, but only one in 29.18. The Arch of Titus (Rome) contains a relief of the table of showbread from Herod's Temple.
Bibliography: a. pelletier, Dictionnaire de la Bible, suppl. ed. l. pirot, et al. (Paris 1928–) 6:965–976. Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, translated and adapted by l. hartman (New York, 1963) l2202–03.