for grinding corn, mentioned as used in the time of Abraham (Ge 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; Mt 24:41). It was with the upper stone of a hand-mill that "a certain woman" at Thebez broke Abimelech's skull (Jg 9:53, "a piece of a millstone;" literally, "a millstone rider", i.e., the "runner," the stone which revolves. Comp. 2Sa 11:21). Millstones could not be pledged (De 24:6), as they were necessary in every family.
Illustration: Women Grinding at the Mill
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 (Jg 9:53 Gesenius translated "a cut piece of millstone," not a fragment, but the whole with its carefully cut surface; Re 18:21).
Two women (Mt 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 (Ex 11:5; Jg 16:21; Isa 47:1-2; La 5:18). The mill stones were so essential for preparing food that they were forbidden to be taken in pledge (De 24:6). The cessation of the sound of grinding was a sign of desolation (Jer 25:10; Re 18:22; Ec 12:3-4, "the grinders cease because they are few ... the sound of the grinding is low".) Larger millstones were turned by asses; Mt 18:6 "a donkey millstone" (Greek).
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.
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,
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.
There were also larger mills that could only be turned by cattle or asses. Allusion to one of these is made in
With the movable upper millstone of the hand-mill the woman of Thebez broke Abimelech's skull.
MILL. In the first ages they parched or roasted their grain; a practice which the people of Israel, as we learn from the Scriptures, long continued: afterward they pounded it in a mortar, to which Solomon thus alludes: "Though thou shouldest bray a fool in a mortar among wheat with a pestle, yet will not his foolishness depart from him," Pr 27:22. This was succeeded by mills, similar to the hand mills formerly used in this country, of which there were two sorts; the first were large, and turned by the strength of horses or asses; the second were smaller, and wrought by men, commonly by slaves condemned to this hard labour, as a punishment for their crimes. Chardin remarks, in his manuscript, that the persons employed are generally female slaves, who are least regarded, or are least fitted for any thing else; for the work is extremely laborious, and esteemed the lowest employment about the house. Most of their corn is ground by these little mills, although they sometimes make use of large mills, wrought by oxen or camels. Near Ispahan, and some of the other great cities of Persia, he saw water mills; but he did not meet with a single wind mill in the east. Almost every family grind their wheat and barley at home, having two portable mill stones for that purpose; of which the uppermost is turned round by a small handle of wood or iron that is placed in the rim. When this stone is large, or expedition is required, a second person is called in to assist; and as it is usual for the women only to be concerned in this employment, who seat themselves over against each other, with the mill stone between them, we may see the propriety of the expression in the declaration of Moses: "And all the first-born in the land of Egypt shall die, from the first-born of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne even unto the first-born of the maid-servant that is behind the mill," Ex 11:5. The manner in which the hand mills are worked is well described by Dr. E. D. Clarke, in his Travels: "Scarcely had we reached the apartment prepared for our reception, when, looking from the window into the court yard belonging to the house, we beheld two women grinding at the mill, in a manner most forcibly illustrating the saying of our Saviour: 'Two women shall be grinding at the mill, the one shall be taken and the other left.' They were preparing flour to make our bread, as it is always customary in the country when strangers arrive. The two women, seated upon the ground opposite to each other, held between them two round flat stones, such as are seen in Lapland, and such as in Scotland are called querns. In the centre of the upper stone was a cavity for pouring in the corn, and by the side of this an upright wooden handle for moving the stone. As this operation began, one of the women opposite received it from her companion, who pushed it toward her, who again sent it to her companion; thus communicating a rotatory motion to the upper stone, their left hand being all the while employed in supplying fresh corn, as fast as the bran and flour escaped from the sides of the machine." When they are not impelled, as in this instance, to premature exertions by the arrival of strangers, they grind their corn in the morning at break of day: the noise of the mill is then to be heard every where, and is often so great as to rouse the inhabitants of the cities from their slumbers; for it is well known they bake their bread every day, and commonly grind their corn as it is wanted. The noise of the mill stone is therefore, with great propriety, selected by the prophet as one of the tokens of a populous and thriving country: "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 mill stones and the light of a candle, and their whole land shall be a desolation," Jer 25:10. The morning shall no more be cheered with the joyful sound of the mill, nor the shadows of evening by the light of a candle; the morning shall be silent, and the evening dark and melancholy, where desolation reigns. "At the earliest dawn of the morning," says Mr. Forbes, "in all the Hindoo towns and villages, the hand mills are at work, when the menials and widows grind meal for the daily consumption of the family: this work is always performed by women, who resume their task every morning, especially the forlorn Hindoo widows, divested of every ornament, and with their heads shaved, degraded to almost a state of servitude." How affecting, then, is the call to the daughter of Babylon!