MILL (Heb. rēheh, Gr. mylos, mylōn). An apparatus used to grind any edible grain—wheat, barley, oats, rye, etc.—into flour. It consists of two circular stones, the lower one having a slightly convex upper surface to help the drifting of the broken grain toward the outer edge from which it drops. It is made of a hard stone, which after being shaped is scratched with curved furrows so as to multiply the cutting and grinding effect. The lower stone has a stout stick standing at its center, and the upper one (called the rider) has a hole at its center so that it can rotate around the stick, and a handle eight or ten inches from the center by which it is turned. Generally it is worked by two women, facing each other, and each grasping the handle to turn the rider. One woman feeds the grain in at the center of the rider and the other guides and brushes the products into a little pile. The process is very ancient, for we read of “the slave girl, who is at her hand mill” in the days of Moses (Exod.11.5), and the process was no doubt old at that remote time. Even the manna that fell in the wilderness was hard enough or tough enough so that the people used to grind it in mills or beat it in mortars before cooking it (Num.11.7-Num.11.8).

It is altogether probable that people pounded grain before they thought of grinding it, and so the mortar is probably more ancient even than the mill. Because people depended on flour as their “staff of life” and because they generally ground it only as needed, it was forbidden to take a millstone in pledge (Deut.24.6). In Jer.25.10 “the sound of millstones” is mentioned as a sign of happy prosperous life, but in Isa.47.2 the prophet taunted the proud and delicate women of Babylon with the thought that they would have to become slaves and labor at the mill. When the Philistines blinded Samson (Judg.16.21), he had to grind in the prison, and this mill was probably a large one ordinarily turned by a blinded ox or donkey. Abimelech, usurping “king” of Israel, was killed by a woman who dropped a millstone on his head (Judg.9.53). Our Lord prophesied that at his coming “two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left” (Matt.24.41). A millstone cast into the sea is a symbol of absolute destruction (Rev.18.21).——ABF

The other type, in frequent use by NT times, consisted of two round stones, each about eighteen to twenty-four inches in diameter. The lower one was fixed and had a center wooden peg over which the upper stone was placed. A central, funnel-shaped hole received the peg and also served for feeding grain into the mill. The upper stone was turned back and forth on the lower by use of a wooden handle on its outside edge. A variation of this type of mill used a bottom stone convex in shape and a top concave, fitting over the lower. The ground grain sifted out from the lower edges of the upper stone. Small mills could be operated by one person, but larger ones required two (Matt 24:41). The type of stone used, whether for the saddle quern or the round mill, was usually black basalt, rough and porous, constantly presenting good cutting edges.

A third type of mill was larger and normally required animal power. A millstone four or five ft. in diameter was rolled on edge by means of a lever arrangement, in a circular pattern on top of a still larger base stone on which grain was spread. This type of mill could supply flour for a community. It was prob. this size mill at which Samson was made to grind by the Philistines (Judg 16:21).

Saddle querns were in use from early times. Sarah must have used one in preparing the three measures of “fine meal” for Abraham’s visitors (Gen 18:6). The figure of an Egyp. woman grinding with a saddle quern, dating from the Old Kingdom period, is pictured in ANEP, p. 46, fig. 149. Grinding was the task of servants (Exod 11:5) and of women (Isa 47:2). The law prohibited taking either the family’s mill or upper millstone in pledge (Deut 24:6).


W. M. Thompson, The Land and the Book, III (1907), 218, 219, 455; G. A. Barton, Archaeology and the Bible, 7th ed. (1937), 176, 177, pl. 34; G. Loud, Megiddo II (1948), pl. 264:11.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

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 (Jud 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 (Jud 9:53; 2Sa 11:21), or given as a pledge (De 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; Mr 9:42; Re 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; Mr 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.


(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; Re 18:22).

James A. Patch