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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Mill, Millstone

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MILL, MILLSTONE. 1. Three methods of preparing flour were in use in Palestine in Bible times, associated with the mortar and pestle (see Mortar And Pestle), the rubbing-stone , and the quern or handmill. The most primitive apparatus was the rubbing-stone or corn-rubber, which consisted really of two stones. The one on which the corn was ground was a substantial slab, often 2 1 / 2 feet long, and about a foot wide, slightly concave and curving upwards, like a saddle, at both ends (illust. in Macalister, Bible Sidelights , etc., fig. 28). The other, the “rubbing-stone proper, was a narrow stone from 12 to 18 inches long, pointed at both ends and also slightly curved, one side being plain and the other convex. In manipulating the rubber, the woman grasped it by both ends and ground the grains of wheat or barley with the convex side. Cf. Macalister’s description in PEFSt [Note: Quarterly Statement of the same.] , 1903, p. 118, with Schumacher’s photograph reproduced by Benzinger, Heb. Arch . 2 (1907) 63, and the Egyptian statuette in Erman’s Ancient Egypt , 190. Vincent in his Canaan d’après l’exptoration récente (405, fig. 282) shows a corn-rubber of flint from the palæolithic age!

2. The more familiar apparatus for the same purpose was the handmill or quern. As in so many instances (see, e.g ., Lamp), the recent excavations enable us to trace two distinct stages in the evolution of the Palestinian handmill. The Gezer specimens described in detail in PEFSt [Note: Quarterly Statement of the same.] , 1903, 119, belong to the earlier type, which is distinguished from the later form by the absence of a handle for rotating the upper stone. The quern-stones ‘are always small, rarely being as much as a foot across.’ The lower stone, the ‘nether millstone’ of Job 41:24 , was always more massive than the ‘upper millstone’ ( Deuteronomy 24:6 ), and was apparently fitted with ‘a narrow spindle’ sunk into the stone. The upper stone was pierced right through, and by this hole the mill was fed. According to Mr. Macalister, ‘the upper stone was grasped with both hands (the fingers clasping the edge, the thumbs being between the spindle and the stone), and worked through about one-third of a rotation, backward and forward.’ For varieties of this type, see PEFSt [Note: Quarterly Statement of the same.] , 1903, p. 119 f.

In the later and more effective type of handmill, which was that in use in NT times, the stones were larger, although the lower stone was still considerably wider than the upper ( Baba bathra , ii. 1). As in the querns of the present day, the latter was fitted with a wooden handle ( yâd in the Mishna) in the shape of an upright peg inserted near the outer edge. The mill was fed, as before, through a funnel-shaped cavity pierced through the upper stone, which was rotated by the handle through a complete circle. Sometimes, as appears from Matthew 24:41 , two women worked the mill, seated opposite each other, and each turning the upper stone through half a revolution, as may still be seen in the East.

By the first century of our era a larger and different form of mill had been introduced, apparently, to judge by the names of the various parts in the Mishna (see art. ‘Mill’ in EBi [Note: Encyclopædia Biblica.] iii. 3093), under Græco-Roman influence. In the larger specimens of this type, the upper millstone, in the shape of two hollow cones, as described in detail, loc. cit ., was turned by an ass, and is the ‘great millstone’ of Matthew 18:6 RV [Note: Revised Version.] (lit. as RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ‘a millstone turned by an ass’).

3. The work of the mill belonged at all times to the special province of the women of the household ( Matthew 24:41 ). In large establishments, it fell to the slaves, male ( Judges 16:21 ) and female ( Exodus 11:5 ), particularly the latter, hence the figure for the slavery of captivity in Isaiah 47:2 .

The finer varieties of meal, the ‘fine flour’ of OT, were got by repeated grinding, or by sifting with sieves, or by a combination of both processes.

How indispensable the handmill was considered for the daily life of the family may be seen from the provision of the Deuteronomic legislation forbidding the creditor to take in pledge the household mill (so rightly RV [Note: Revised Version.] ), or even the upper millstone, ‘for he taketh a man’s life to pledge’ (Deuteronomy 24:6 ).

A. R. S. Kennedy.

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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Mill, Millstone'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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