Butter is the rendering in the Auth. Vers. of חֶמאָה, chemah' (after the Sept. βούτυρον, Vulg. butyrum), wherever it occurs (in Job 29:6, the form is חֵמָה; in Ps 55:21, it is מִחֲמָאֹת, machamaoth'); but critics agree that usually, at least, it signifies curdied milk (from an obsolete root, חָמָה, chamah', to grow thick). Indeed, it may be doubted whether it denotes butter in any place besides De 32:14, "butter of kine," and Pr 30:33, "the churning of milk bringeth forth butter," as all the other texts will apply better to curdled milk than to butter. In Ge 18:8, "butter and milk" are mentioned among the things which Abraham set before his heavenly guests (comp. Jg 5:25; 2Sa 17:29). Milk is generally offered to travelers in Palestine in a curdled or sour state, "lebben," thick, almost like butter (comp. Josephus's rendering in Jg 4:19, γάλα διεφθορὸς ἤδη).' In De 32:15, we find among the blessings which Jeshurun had enjoyed milk of kine contrasted with milk of sheep. The two passages in Job (Job 20:17; Job 29:6) where the word chemah occurs are also best satisfied by rendering it milk; and the same may be said of Ps 55:21, which should be compared with Job 29:6. In Pr 30:33, Gesenius thinks that
cheese is meant, the associated word מַיוֹ signifying pressure rather than "churning." Jarchi (on Ge 18:8) explains chemah to be cream, and Vitringa and Hitzig give this meaning to the word in Isa 7:15-22. SEE MILK.
Butter was, however, doubtless much in use among the Hebrews, and we may be sure that it was prepared in the same manner as at this day among the Arabs and Syrians. Butter was not in use among the Greeks and Romans except for medicinal purposes, but this fact is of no weight as to its absence from Palestine. Robinson mentions the use of butter at the present day (Bib. Res. 2, 127), and also the method of churning (2. 180; 3, 315); and from this we may safely infer that the art of butter-making was known to the ancient inhabitants of the land, so little have the habits of the people of Palestine been modified in the lapse of centuries. Burckhardt (Travels in Arabia, 1, 52) mentions the different uses of butter by the Arabs of the Hejaz. The milk is put into a large copper pan over a slow fire, and a little leben or sour milk (the same as the curdled milk mentioned above), or a portion of the dried entrails of a lamb, is thrown into it. The milk then separates, and is put into a goat-skin bag, which is tied to one of the tent poles, and constantly moved backward and forward for two hours. The buttery substance then coagulates, the water is pressed out, and the butter put into another skin. In two days the butter is again placed over the fire, with the addition of a quantity of burgoul (wheat boiled with leaven and dried in the sun), and allowed to boil for some time, during which it is carefully skimmed. It is then found that the burgoul has precipitated all the foreign substances, and that the butter remains quite clear at the top. This is the process used by the Bedouins, and it is also the one employed by the settled people of Syria and Arabia. The chief difference is that, in making butter and cheese, the townspeople employ the milk of cows and buffaloes; whereas the Bedouins, who do not keep these animals, use that of sheep and goats. The butter is generally white, of the color and consistence of lard, and is not much relished by English travelers. It is eaten with bread in large quantities by those who can afford it; not spread out thinly over the surface as with us, but taken in mass with the separate morsels of bread. SEE FOOD. The butter of the Hebrews, such as it was, might have been sometimes clarified and preserved in skins or jars, as at the present day in Asia, and, when poured out, resembles rich oil (Job 20:17). By this process it acquires a certain rancid taste, disagreeable, for the most part, to strangers, though not to the natives. All Arab food considered well prepared swims in butter, and large quantities of it are swallowed independently. The place of butter, as a general article of food in the East, was supplied in some measure by the vegetable oil which was so abundant. Butter and honey were used together, and were esteemed among the richest productions of the land (Isa 7:15); and travelers tell us that the Arabs use cream or new butter mixed with honey as a principal delicacy. SEE OIL.