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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

 

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MILL; MILLSTONE

mil, mil'-ston (recheh; mulos, mulon): The two most primitive methods of grinding grain were (1) by pounding it in a mortar, and (2) by rubbing it between two stones. In Nu 11:8 both methods are mentioned as used for rendering the manna more fit for cooking. Numerous examples of both mill and mortar have been found in ancient excavations. Bliss and Macalister in their excavations at Gezer and other places have found specimens of what is called the saddle-quern or mill, which consists of two stones. The "nether" stone, always made of hard lava or basalt from the district of the Hauran, was a large heavy slab varying in length from 1 1/2 ft. to 2 3/4 ft., and in width from 10 inches to 1 1/3 ft. Its upper surface was hollowed out slightly, which made it look a little like a saddle and may have suggested the name of "riding millstone" applied by the Hebrews to the upper stone which rested on it (Jdg 9:53). The "upper stone" or "rider" was much smaller, 4 inches to 8 in. long and 2 3/4 inches to 6 inches wide, and of varying shapes. This could be seized with the two hands and rubbed back and forth over the nether stone much the same as clothes are scrubbed on a wash-board. Such a stone could be used as a weapon (Jdg 9:53; 2 Sam 11:21), or given as a pledge (Dt 24:6).
Macalister goes so far as to say that "the rotary handquern in the form used in modern Israel and in remote European regions, such as the Hebrides, is quite unknown throughout the whole history, even down to the time of Christ" (Excavations at Gezer). The same writer, however, describes some mills belonging to the 3rd and 4th Sere periods which are much like the present rotary quern, except smaller (4 inches to 6 inches in diameter), and with no provision for a turning handle. Schumacher describes these as paint grinders. The only perforated upper millstones found in the excavations at Gezer belong to the early Arabic period.
If the above assertions are substantiated then we must alter somewhat the familiar picture of the two women at the mill (Mt 24:41), commonly illustrated by photographs of the mills still used in modern Israel These latter consist of two stone discs each 18 inches to 20 inches in diameter, usually made of Hauran basalt. The upper one is perforated in the center to allow it to rotate on a wooden peg fixed in the nether stone, and near the circumference of the upper stone is fixed a wooden handle for turning it. The grain to be ground is fed into the central hole on the upper stone and gradually works down between the stones. As the grain is reduced to flour, it flies out from between the stones on to a cloth or skin placed underneath the mill. To make the flour fine it is reground and sifted. Larger stones 4 ft. to 5 ft. in diameter, working on the principle of the handmill, are still used for grinding sesame seed. These are turned by asses or mules. Another form of mill, which is possibly referred to in Mt 18:6; Mk 9:42; Rev 18:21,22, consisted of a conical nether stone on which "rode" a second stone like a hollowed-out capstan. The upper stone was probably turned with handspikes in much the same way as an old-fashioned ship's capstan was turned. The material to be ground was fed into the upper cone which formed the hopper and from which it was delivered to the grinding surfaces between the "rider" and the nether stone. This form of mill must have been known in late Biblical times, because many examples of the upper stone dating from the Greek-Roman period have been found. One may be seen in the museum of the Syrian Protestant College at Beirut. Another large one lies among the ruins at Petra, etc. In Mt 18:6; Mk 9:42, the mill is described as a mulos onikos, literally, a mill turned by an ass, hence, a great millstone. It is not at all unlikely that the writers have confused the meaning of onos (chamor), a term commonly applied to the upper millstone of a handmill, thinking it referred instead to the animal which turned the mill. This explanation would make Christ's words of condemnation more applicable. The upper millstone of a handmill would be more than sufficient to sink the condemned, and the punishment would be more easily carried out. A few years from now handmills will have disappeared from the Syrian households, for the more modern gristmills turned by water or other motor power are rapidly replacing them.
See CRAFTS, II, 8.
Figuratively: (1) Of firmness and undaunted courage (Job 41:24). "The heart of hot-blooded animals is liable to sudden contractions and expansions, producing rapid alternations of sensations; not so the heart of the great saurians" (Canon Cook, at the place). (2) To "grind the face of the poor" (Isa 3:15) is cruelly to oppress and afflict them. (3) The ceasing of the sound of the millstone was a sign of desolation (Jer 25:10; Rev 18:22).
James A. Patch

Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Definition for 'MILL; MILLSTONE'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". bible-history.com - ISBE; 1915.

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