The earliest were those used in building Babel, of clay burned in the fire. Ge 11:3, "Let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly (margin burn them to a burning). And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar." So Herodotus states that in building Babylon's walls the clay dug out of the ditch was made into bricks, being burnt in kilns. The bricks were cemented with hot bitumen (asphalt), and at every thirtieth row reeds were stuffed in. The materials were ready to their hands, clay and bitumen bubbling up from the ground. But in Assyria and Egypt the bricks are sundried, not fireburnt, though in Jer 43:9 a brick kiln is mentioned in Egypt.
The Babylonian are larger than English bricks, being about 13 in. square, and 3 1/2 in. thick; more like our tiles, and often enameled with patterns (compare Eze 4:1); such have been found at Nimrud. The Babylonians used to record astronomical observations on tiles. Nebuchadnezzar's buildings superseded those of his predecessors; hence, most of the Babylonian bricks bear his name m cuneiform character. The Egyptian are from 15 to 20 in. long, 7 wide, 5 thick. Those of clay from the torrent beds near the desert need no straw, and are as solid now as when put up m the reigns of the Egyptian kings before the Exodus. Those made of Nile mud need straw to prevent cracking; and frequently a layer of reeds at intervals acted as binders.
In the paintings on the tomb of Rekshara, an officer of Thothmes III (1400 B.C.), captives, distinguished from the natives by color, are represented as forced by taskmasters to make brick; the latter armed with sticks are receiving "the tale of bricks." This maybe a picture of the Israelites in their Egyptian bondage; at least it strikingly illustrates it. In Assyria artificial mounds, encased with limestone blocks, raised the superstructure 30 or 40 feet above the level of the plain. The walls of crude brick were cased with gypsum slabs to the height of 10 feet; kiln-burned bricks cased the crude bricks from the slabs to the top of the wall. The brick kiln is mentioned in David's time as in use in Israel (2Sa 12:31); they in Isaiah's time (Isa 65:3) substituted altars of brick for the unhewn stone which God commanded.
The use of sun-dried bricks as building material in OT times, alongside of the more durable limestone, is attested both by the excavations and by Scripture references (see House). The process of brick-making shows the same simplicity in every age and country. Suitable clay is thoroughly moistened, and reduced to a uniform consistency by tramping and kneading (Na 3:14 RV 'go into the clay, and tread the mortar'). It then passes to the brick-moulder, who places the right quantity in his mould, an open wooden frame with one of its four sides prolonged as a handle, wiping off the superfluous clay with his hand. The mould is removed and the brick left on the ground to dry in the sun. Sometimes greater consistency was given to the clay by mixing it with chopped straw and the refuse of the threshing-floor, as related in the familiar passage Ex 5:7-19. As regards the daily 'tale of bricks' there referred to, an expert moulder in Egypt to-day is said to be able to turn out no fewer than 'about 3000 bricks' per diem (Vigouroux, Dict. de la Bible, i. 1932). The Egyptian bricks resembled our own in shape, while those of Babylonia were generally as broad as they were long. According to Flinders Petrie, the earliest Palestine bricks followed the Babylonian pattern.
There is no evidence in OT of the making of kiln-burnt bricks, which was evidently a foreign custom to the author of Ge 11:3. The brickkiln of 2Sa 12:31; Na 3:14 is really the brick-mould (so Revised Version margin). In the obscure passage Jer 43:9 RV has brickwork. A curious ritual use of bricks as incense-altars is mentioned in Isa 65:3.
Reference may also be made to the use of clay as a writing material, which was introduced into Palestine from Babylonia, and, as we now know, continued in use in certain quarters till the time of Hezekiah at least. Plans of buildings, estates, and cities were drawn on such clay tablets, a practice which illustrates the command to Ezekiel to draw a plan of Jerusalem upon a tils or clay brick (Eze 4:1, see the elaborate note by Haupt in 'Ezekiel' (B Polychrome Bible), 98 ff.).
A. R. S. Kennedy.
The brick in use among the Jews were much larger than with us, being usually from 12 to 13 inches square and 3 1/2 inches thick; they thus possess more of the character of tiles.
The Israelites, in common with other captives, were employed by the Egyptian monarchs in making bricks and in building.
Egyptian bricks were not generally dried in kilns, but in the sun. That brick-kilns were known is evident from
When made of the Nile mud they required straw to prevent cracking. [See STRAW]