for grinding corn, mentioned as used in the time of Abraham (Gen. 18:6). That used by the Hebrews consisted of two circular 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 mills, and thus each family required to be provided with a hand-mill. The corn was ground daily, generally by the women of the house (Isa. 47:1, 2; Matt. 24:41). It was with the upper stone of a hand-mill that "a certain woman" at Thebez broke Abimelech's skull (Judg. 9:53, "a piece of a millstone;" literally, "a millstone rider", i.e., the "runner," the stone which revolves. Comp. 2 Sam. 11:21). Millstones could not be pledged (Deut. 24:6), as they were necessary in every family.
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. (Isaiah 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, (Matthew 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. (24:6
) There were also larger mills that could only be turned by cattle or asses. Allusion to one of these is made in (Matthew 18:6
) With the movable upper millstone of the hand-mill the woman of Thebez broke Abimelech?s skull. (Judges 9:53
MILL; MILLSTONE [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 Palestine 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 Palestine 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