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KNIFE. 1. Hebrew herev, usually “sword,” occasionally some other tool with a cutting edge. The “flint knives” used in circumcision (Josh.5.2-Josh.5.3) were kept for religious purposes long after bronze and iron were introduced; the priests of Baal cut themselves with “swords” (rsv, niv) in their contest with Elijah (1Kgs.18.28). “A sharp sword” (asv, rsv, niv) was sometimes used as a razor (Ezek.5.1-Ezek.5.2).

2. Hebrew ma’ăkheleth, a knife used to carve sacrifices (Gen.22.6, Gen.22.10; Judg.19.29; figuratively, Prov.30.14).

3. Hebrew sakkîn, knife (Prov.23.2).

4. Hebrew mahălāph (Ezra.1.9); named among temple vessels taken from Jerusalem as spoils, and returned after the Exile, were twenty-nine knives (kjv, asv), which RSV calls “censers” and NIV “silver pans.” The meaning is uncertain. A “scribe’s knive” (Jer.36.23) was used to sharpen reed pens. Knives were not used for eating. Meat was cut into small pieces before serving, and bread was broken at the table. The Philistines had metal knives long before they came into general use in Israel (see 1Sam.13.19, 1Sam.13.22).

Like other orientals, the Jews made little use of “table knives” in their meals. Meat was cut into small pieces before being served, while bread was broken by hand. The sharp edge of knives was used metaphorically for rapaciousness (Prov 30:14). A knife at table is used in a figure for restraint upon one’s appetite, (23:2).

Knives were used for various purposes. Joshua was commanded to use flint knives to circumcise the Israelites (Josh 5:2, 3; cf. Exod 4:25). The use of flint knives when they were no longer in common domestic use implies an ancient ritual in which their use was still appropriate. Knives or small swords were used by the frenzied priests of Baal for self-mutilation (1 Kings 18:28).

The knife or food-cutter (מַאֲכֶ֫לֶת, H4408) was used for killing and skinning animals. Abraham took it along to sacrifice Isaac (Gen 22:6); the Levite used it to dismember his concubine (Judg 19:29). The “penknife” of Jeremiah 36:23 was used for trimming and splitting the reed employed in writing; it also was used as a razor (Num 6:5; Ezek 5:1).

The “pruning hooks” (Isa 18:5; Joel 3:10) were prob. curved knives. The KJV includes some “knives” among the temple furniture returned under Ezra (1:9), but the RSV renders them “censers.” The LXX rendering “of a different sort” (παρηλλαγμένα) does not give help on the real meaning. If they were knives, they doubtless were used to kill and cut up the sacrificial animals.

Herod the Great used a knife for paring an apple and attempted to use it as an instrument of suicide (Jos. Antiq. XVII. vii. 1; War I. xxxiii. 7).


W. F. Petrie, Tools and Weapons (1917), 22-28; C. Corswant, A Dictionary of Life In Bible Times (1956), 164.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


(1) ma’akheleth, literally, an instrument for eating; but used of large knives for slaying animals, cutting up a carcass or a sacrificial victim (Ge 22:6,10; Jud 19:29; Pr 30:14).

(2) cherebh, rendered generally "sword," but in Jos 5:2,3 of stone knives for circumcision (compare Ex 4:25), probably of similar knives in 1Ki 18:28, used by Baal prophets in gashing themselves. In Eze 5:12 the King James Version, "knife," probably better the Revised Version (British and American), "sword."

(3) ta`ar, usually rendered "razor," in combination with ha-copher, "knife of the writer," or "penknife" (Jer 36:23).

(4) machalaphim, "slaughter-knives" (Ezr 1:9).

(5) sakkin, Aramaic, "knife" (Pr 23:2). Early knives were commonly made of sharp stones, especially of flint, later of bronze and iron. The-former remained in use in religious ceremonies long after the latter were in common use.

Knives were not generally used at meals, meats being cut into bits before served, and bread being. broken into fragments. Herod used a knife for paring apples, and attempted suicide with the instrument (Josephus, Ant, XVII, vii, 1; BJ, I, xxxiii, 7).