BRICK. Building material made of clay dried in the sun. The word for “brick” in Hebrew is derived from the verb “to be white” and is almost identical with “Lebanon,” so named for its snow-clad mountaintops. The very name would lead us to expect the oriental bricks to be whitish in color, rather than red like our more common bricks. The earliest mention of brick in the Bible (Gen.11.3) shows that the molding of clay into bricks and its thorough burning were known when the Tower of Babel was built, not more than a century after the Flood; and the finding of potsherds under the Flood deposits at Ur and Kish shows that the allied art of making clay into pottery was known before the Flood.

BRICK (לְבֵנָה, H4246; Akkadian libittu; Ugaritic lbnt), the sundried or baked brick of the Fertile Crescent. Indications are that mud bricks were invented for the Mesopotamian regions c. 3500-3000 b.c. in the mountainous areas of what became Persia in a time before the descent to the level country of the pre-Al ‘Ubaid peoples. It became the universal medium of the plains peoples of the Mesopotamian valley because stone was too far away in the mountains and clay was available everywhere. In the following Early Dynastic period (3000-2340 b.c.) the mold-formed plano-convex brick made its appearance, with some preserved samples showing the fingerprints of the makers. In the Kassite period (1600-1100 b.c.) appear bricks with molded figures in the flat form. But planoconvex mud brick had already appeared in Pal. c. 7000 b.c. in Prepaltery Neolithic A Jericho (Kenyon, op. cit., p. 42ff.).

Glazing was known from the fourth millennium in the Near E, but best in Egypt. Due to the expulsion of the Hyksos from Egypt, the knowledge of glazing technique spread as far as Crete, Syria and Assyria (which latter applied the technique to brick c. 1350-1000 b.c. for war scenes). In the following period (1000-612 b.c.) baked bricks appear in Sargon’s temple of Nabu at Khorsabad, set in bitumen. When Nebuchadrezzar rebuilt Babylon, baked bricks were profusely used and glazed brick with figures in the round appeared uniquely here, as in the lion figures of the famous Ishtar Gate.

In the Hitt. areas building walls were formed with stone base courses composed of shaped stone, and wainscoted courses with mud brick walls above, reinforced with longitudinal wood beams.

The purpose of the wood beams was first for strength, and then to hold the wall in line and unwarped as the brickwork dried out. Plastering in this case was delayed as much as six months. This type of construction was used in Jerusalem in Solomon’s Temple (1 Kings 6:36; 7:12). It appears at Megiddo in the time of Solomon and Ahab (Guy, New Light from Armageddon, OIC, 9, 34, 35). In Syria the same type of construction is to be found, but frequently this part of the wall was covered with plaster, as in the palace of Niqmepa at Alalakh.

Mud bricks were used extensively in Pal. on rough stones as foundation courses. Middle Bronze Age walls at Tel Beit Mirsim and Middle and Late Bronze and Hel. walls at Shechem employed mud brick. Neolithic levels at Jericho exhibit what K. Kenyon calls “hog-back” bricks and molded bricks occur in the Early Bronze period there.

Brickmaking is commonly enough depicted on the walls of Egyp. monuments, showing the mining, mixing and molding processes which are almost universal for the Fertile Crescent areas (Wiseman, Illustrations from Biblical Archeology [1959], 42-45; figs. 36-38). Frequently in both Egypt and Mesopotamia the bricks bear the name of the king or of their building. Nebuchadrezzar used five different types (Koldewey, Excavations in Babylon [1914], 75-82).

The earliest reference to the use of burnt brick occurs in Genesis 11:3, far earlier than any current evidence indicates, thus showing the high level of achievement reached by the antediluvians.

The brick-making labors of the Israelites in Egypt reflect accurately what is found on the monuments there. Bricks made with straw have proved to be stronger than those lacking straw, due to the chemicals released by the straw as it decomposes in the clay, which chemicals (similar to glutamic or gallotanic acid) made the clay more plastic and homogenous and thus of finer quality giving greater strength (Acheson, Transactions of Am. Cer. Soc., VI, 31). The problem confronting the Israelites when they were denied straw, was that they had to find the straw themselves and deliver the same quota of bricks as always. The Egyptians had come to know and appreciate the addition of the straw and were not about to downgrade the product by its omission. The presence at Pithom of bricks in the upper courses without straw denotes construction necessity and scarcity of straw in the area.

Brick kilns are known in Israel in David’s time (2 Sam 12:31; not “brickwork”). Nahum sarcastically told Nineveh to “make strong the brick kiln” but the city will fall (3:14 KJV). Isaiah (9:10) rebuked the pride of the people of Samaria for boasting that they would replace the thrown-down brick walls with walls of stone. See Architecture.


H. Frankfort, Art and Architecture of Ancient Orient (1955); A. Badawy. Architecture of Egypt and the Near East (1966).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

The ancient Egyptian word appears in the modern Egyptian Arabic toob. In Syria the sun-baked bricks are commonly called libn or lebin, from the same Semitic root as the Hebrew word.

Bricks are mentioned only a few times in the Bible. The story of how the Children of Israel, while in bondage in Egypt, had their task of brick-making made more irksome by being required to collect their own straw is one of the most familiar of Bible narratives (Ex 1:14; 5:7,10-19).

Modern excavations at Pithom in Egypt (Ex 1:11) show that most of the bricks of which that store-city was built were made of mud and straw baked in the sun. These ruins are chosen as an example from among the many ancient brick structures because they probably represent the work of the very Hebrew slaves who complained so bitterly of their royal taskmaster. In some of the upper courses rushes had been substituted for straw, and still other bricks had no fibrous material. These variations could be explained by a scarcity of straw at that time, since, when there was a shortage in the crops, all the straw (Arabic, tibn) was needed for feeding the animals. It may be that when the order came for the workmen to provide their own straw they found it impossible to gather sufficient and still furnish the required number of bricks (Ex 5:8). However, the quality of clay of which some of the bricks were made was such that no straw was needed.

Brickmaking in early Egyptian history was a government monopoly. The fact that the government pressed into service her Asiatic captives, among whom were the Children of Israel, made it impossible for independent makers to compete. The early bricks usually bore the government, stamp or the stamp of some temple authorized to use the captives for brick manufacture. The methods employed by the ancient Egyptians differ in no respect from the modern procedure in that country. The Nile mud is thoroughly slipped or mixed and then rendered more cohesive by the addition of chopped straw or stubble. The pasty mass is next worked into a mould made in the shape of a box without a bottom. If the sides of the mould have been dusted with dry earth it will easily slip off and the brick is allowed to dry in the sun until it becomes so hard that the blow of a hammer is often necessary to break it.

When the children of Israel emigrated to their new country they found the same methods of brickmaking employed by the inhabitants, methods which are still in vogue throughout the greater part of Palestine and Syria. In the interior of the country, especially where the building stone is scarce or of poor quality, the houses are made of sun-baked brick (libn). Frequently the west and south walls, which are exposed most to the winter storms, are made of hewn stone and the rest of the structure of bricks. When the brick-laying is finished the house is plastered inside and outside with the same material of which the bricks are made and finally whitewashed or painted with grey- or yellow-colored earth. The outer coating of plaster must be renewed from year to year. In some of the villages of northern Syria the brick houses are dome-shaped, looking much like beehives. In the defiant assertion of Isa 9:10 the superiority of hewn stone over bricks implied a greater difference in cost and stability than exists between a frame house and a stone house in western lands today.

In the buildings of ancient Babylonia burnt bricks were used. These have been found by modern excavators, which confirms the description of Ge 11:3. Burnt bricks were rarely used in Egypt before the Roman period and in Palestine their use for building purposes was unknown. Specimens of partially burnt, glazed bricks have been found in Babylonia and recently in one of the Hittite mounds of northern Syria. These were probably used for decorative purposes only. If burnt bricks had been generally used in Palestine, races of them would have been found with the pottery which is so abundant in the ruins (see Pottery).

The fact that unburnt bricks were so commonly used explains how the sites of such cities as ancient Jericho could have become lost for so many centuries. When the houses and walls fell they formed a heap of earth not distinguishable from the surrounding soil. The wood rotted and the iron rusted away, leaving for the excavator a few bronze and stone implements and the fragments of pottery which are so precious as a means of identification. The "tels" or mounds of Palestine and Syria often represent the ruins of several such cities one above the other.


H. A. Harper, The Bible and Modern Discoveries; Wilkinson, Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians; Erman, Life in Ancient Egypt; Hilprecht, Recent Research in Bible Lands.

James A. Patch