Manners & Customs: Winnowing Fan Winnowing fork or fan in ancient Bible times
WINNOWING THE GRAIN
Winnowing was accomplished by the use of either a broad shovel or of a wooden fork which had bent prongs. With this instrument, the mass of chaff, straw, and grain was thrown against the wind. Because there was generally a breeze blowing in the evening, this was the time when it was normally done.
So Naomi said to Ruth concerning Boaz: "Behold, he winnoweth barley tonight in the threshing floor" (Ruth 3:2).
When the Bible speaks of the farmer's fan, it does not mean that some instrument was used to increase the wind. Rather, the fan was the shovel or wooden fork used when unseparated grain and straw was thrown against the wind.
The prophet Jeremiah tells of GOD using a fan to winnow His people Israel: "And I will fan winnow them with a fan in the gates of the land" (Jeremiah 15:7).
When the grain and straw, not as yet separated, are thrown into the air, the wind causes the mass of material to fall as follows: Since the grain is the heaviest, it naturally falls beneath the fan. The straw is blown to the side into a heap, and the lighter chaff and the dust are carried beyond into a flattened windrow.
This gave to the Psalmist his figure: "The ungodly are not so, but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away" (Psalm 1:4). The chaff is burned as Scripture often indicates. "And the flame consumeth the chaff" (Isaiah 5:24). John the Baptist was familiar with the winnowing process and the burning of the chaff. He said: "Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (Matthew 3:12; Luke 3:17).
Dr. Lambie reports seeing an additional process used by Bible land Arabs. After being thrown against the wind, the grain is placed on a rock and the farmer uses a mat about eighteen inches square with which to fan the grain, while a helper keeps turning it over, in order to get rid of any remaining chaff.
There is no definite reference to such a practice in the Bible, but it is possible this method may have been used in olden times as an additional means of cleaning the grain, or perhaps it was employed when the winds were quiet.
[Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
Winnowing in Easton's Bible Dictionary
Corn was winnowed, (1.) By being thrown up by a shovel against
the wind. As a rule this was done in the evening or
night, when the west wind from the sea was blowing,
which was a
moderate breeze and fitted for the purpose. The north
too strong, and the east wind came in gusts. (2.) By
the use of
a fan or van, by which the chaff was blown away (Ruth
30:24; Jer. 4:11, 12; Matt. 3:12).