Manners & Customs: Mills and Millstones
Mills and Millstones in Ancient Biblical Times
Donkeys for Grinding Grain
The donkey sometimes used for grinding grain. Here again, the usual method of grinding the grain is for the women to use smaller stones for their mills. The larger mill is elevated so that a singletree becomes suitable for the work. A camel may be used in place of a donkey. It was this type of a mill that the Philistines required Samson to pull (Judges 16:21).
JESUS referred to this larger type of millstone when he said: "But whoso shall offend [cause one of these little ones that believe on me to stumble], . . . it were better for him that a millstone [turned by an ass] were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea" (Matthew 18:6). The size and weight of this stone made its illustrative use by JESUS very forceful. [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
Grinding at the Mill
GRINDING OF THE GRAIN BY THE WOMEN
The first sound to greet the ear in the early morning in many a Palestinian village will be the sound of the grinding of the grain. Today, as in the long ago, many of these people resort to the handmill for this purpose. A traveler passing by these humble homes will hear the hum of the handmill morning or evening and sometimes after dark. This sound of the grinding is not exactly musical, and yet many love to go to sleep under it. In the mind of those who live in the East this sound is associated with home, and comfort, and plenty. The women are the ones who engage in this task, and they begin it early in the morning, and it often requires half a day to complete.
When Jeremiah foretold judgment upon Israel for her sins, he said concerning what GOD would take from her: "I will take from them the voice of mirth, and the voice of gladness the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones, and the light of the candle" (Jeremiah 25:10). From this it can be seen that the sound of these handmills is an indication of life and activity, and the absence of them would be a sign of utter desolation.
The Bible references to the grinding mills are true to Oriental customs. The task is for servants if the family has them, and if not the women do the job, but the men would consider it beneath them to engage in such a menial task. Part of the judgment upon Israel at the destruction of Jerusalem was that the enemy "took the young men to grind" (Lamentations 5:13).
And the Philistines punished Samson in this way, for it says of him, "and he did grind in the prison house" (Judges 16:21).
Although there are simple handmills made for the use of one person, more often two women operate one together. The mill is composed of two stones eighteen to twenty-four inches in diameter. The two women sit at these stones facing each other. The upper stone turns upon the lower one by means of an upright handle which the women alternately pull and push.
Here is how the process works:
The upper stone rotates about a wooden pivot fixed in the center of the lower. The opening in the upper stone for the pivot is funnel-shaped to receive the corn, which each woman throws in as required with her disengaged hand. The flour issuing from between the stones is usually caught on a sheepskin placed under the mill.
Job speaks of a heart being as "hard as a piece of the nether millstone" (Job 41:24). Thomson says that the lower millstone is not always harder than the upper, but he had seen the nether made of a very compact and thick sandstone, while the upper was of lava no doubt because being lighter it would be easier to drive it around with the hand. [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
Making Olive Oil
The process of making olive oil. Olive mills are used for making oil. There have been many of these instruments for the manufacture of oil located in Israel.
Oil-presses comprised, in addition to the vat, an upright stone with a large hole in it. In this hole a beam was inserted. This beam rested on the olives which were to be pressed, extending far beyond the receptacle containing the olives, and weights were hung on the end farthest from the stone.
The Garden of Gethsemane was in reality an olive orchard, and the word, "Gethsemane," means "Oil-Press." Another Bible-time way of making oil was to tread the olive berries with the feet. This primitive method was mentioned by the prophet Micah: "Thou shalt tread the olives, but thou shalt not anoint thee with oil" (Micah 6:15).
[Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
Mills and Millstones in the Bible Encyclopedia - ISBE
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
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).
Mills in Easton's Bible Dictionary
for grinding corn, mentioned as used in the time of Abraham
(Gen. 18:6). That used by the Hebrews consisted of
stones, each 2 feet in diameter and half a foot
thick, the lower
of which was called the "nether millstone" (Job
41:24) and the
upper the "rider." The upper stone was turned round
by a stick
fixed in it as a handle. There were then no public
thus each family required to be provided with a
corn was ground daily, generally by the women of the
47:1, 2; Matt. 24:41). It was with the upper stone
hand-mill that "a certain woman" at Thebez broke
skull (Judg. 9:53, "a piece of a millstone;"
millstone rider", i.e., the "runner," the stone
Comp. 2 Sam. 11:21). Millstones could not be pledged
24:6), as they were necessary in every family.
Mills in Fausset's Bible Dictionary
In the East two "circular stones" (reechahim), 2 ft. diameter,
the lower fixed, and with the upper surface slightly convex,
fitting into the upper stone's concavity. This stone has a
hole through which the grain passes, above a pivot rising from
the lower stone. About the pivot the "upper stone" (recheb,
"the rider") is turned by a handle. Being moveable it could be
thrown as a missile (Judges 9:53 Gesenius translated "a cut
piece of millstone," not a fragment, but the whole with its
carefully cut surface; Revelation 18:21).
Two women (Matthew 24:41) facing one another, seated
on the ground, both turned it round by the handle, the one
supplying the grain through the hole. It was hard servile
labor (Exodus 11:5; Judges 16:21; Isaiah 47:1-2; Lamentations
5:18). The mill stones were so essential for preparing food
that they were forbidden to be taken in pledge (Deuteronomy
24:6). The cessation of the sound of grinding was a sign of
desolation (Jeremiah 25:10; Revelation 18:22; Ecclesiastes
12:3-4, "the grinders cease because they are few ... the sound
of the grinding is low".) Larger millstones were turned by
asses; Matthew 18:6 "a donkey millstone" (Greek).
Mills in Naves Topical Bible
General scriptures concerning
-Upper and lower stones of
De 24:6; Job 41:24; Isa 47:2
-Used in Egypt
-Operated by women
Jud 16:21; La 5:13
-Manna ground in
-Sound of, to cease
Mills in Smiths Bible Dictionary
The mills of the ancient Hebrews probably differed but
little from those at present in use in the East. These
consist of two circular stones, each about eighteen inches
or two feet in diameter, the lower of which is fixed, and
has its upper surface slightly convex, fitting into a
corresponding concavity in the upper stone. In the latter is
a hole thorough which the grain passes, immediately above a
pivot or shaft which rises from the centre of the lower
stone, and about which the upper stone is turned by means of
an upright handle fixed near the edge. It is worked by
women, sometimes singly and sometimes two together, who are
usually seated on the bare ground. Isa 47:1,2 "facing each
other; both have hold of the handle by which the upper is
turned round on the 'nether' millstone. The one whose right
hand is disengaged throws in the grain as occasion requires
through the hole in the upper stone. It is not correct to
say that one pushes it half round and then the other seizes
the handle. This would be slow work, and would give a
spasmodic motion to the stone. Both retain their hold, and
pull to or push from, as men do with the whip or cross-cut
saw. The proverb of our Saviour, Mt 24:41 is true to life,
for women only grind. I cannot recall an instance in which
men were at the mill." --Thomson, "The Land and the Book,"
c.34. So essential were millstones for daily domestic use
that they were forbidden to be taken in pledge. De 24:6
There were also larger mills that could only be turned by
cattle or asses. Allusion to one of these is made in Mt 18:6
With the movable upper millstone of the hand-mill the woman
of Thebez broke Abimelech's skull. Jud 9:53
Mills Scripture - Exodus 11:5
And all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the
firstborn of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne, even unto
the firstborn of the maidservant that [is] behind the mill;
and all the firstborn of beasts.
Mills Scripture - Matthew 24:41
Two [women shall be] grinding at the mill; the one shall be
taken, and the other left.
Mills Scripture - Numbers 11:8
[And] the people went about, and gathered [it], and ground
[it] in mills, or beat [it] in a mortar, and baked [it] in
pans, and made cakes of it: and the taste of it was as the
taste of fresh oil.
Millstones in Naves Topical Bible
Not to be taken as a pledge
-Probably used in executions by drowning
Mt 18:6; Mr 9:42; Lu 17:2
-Abimelech killed by one being of hurled upon him
-Figurative of a hard heart
Millstones Scripture - 2 Samuel 11:21
Who smote Abimelech the son of Jerubbesheth? did not a woman
cast a piece of a millstone upon him from the wall, that he
died in Thebez? why went ye nigh the wall? then say thou, Thy
servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also.
Millstones Scripture - Deuteronomy 24:6
No man shall take the nether or the upper millstone to pledge:
for he taketh [a man's] life to pledge.
Millstones Scripture - Isaiah 47:2
Take the millstones, and grind meal: uncover thy locks, make
bare the leg, uncover the thigh, pass over the rivers.
Millstones Scripture - Jeremiah 25:10
Moreover I will take from them the voice of mirth, and the
voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice
of the bride, the sound of the millstones, and the light of
Millstones Scripture - Job 41:24
His heart is as firm as a stone; yea, as hard as a piece of
the nether [millstone].
Millstones Scripture - Judges 9:53
And a certain woman cast a piece of a millstone upon
Abimelech's head, and all to brake his skull.
Millstones Scripture - Luke 17:2
It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his
neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one
of these little ones.
Millstones Scripture - Mark 9:42
And whosoever shall offend one of [these] little ones that
believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were
hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.
Millstones Scripture - Matthew 18:6
But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe
in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged
about his neck, and [that] he were drowned in the depth of the
Millstones Scripture - Revelation 18:21
And a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone, and
cast [it] into the sea, saying, Thus with violence shall that
great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more
Millstones Scripture - Revelation 18:22
And the voice of harpers, and musicians, and of pipers, and
trumpeters, shall be heard no more at all in thee; and no
craftsman, of whatsoever craft [he be], shall be found any
more in thee; and the sound of a millstone shall be heard no
more at all in thee;
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