(רֵחִיַם, recha'yim, the two millstones, from רָחָה, to bruise, Ex 11:5; "mills," Nu 10:8; "millstones," Isa 47:2; Jer 25:10; "nether" millstone, De 24:6; μύλων, Mt 24:21. Each millstone was called פֶּלָח, pe'lach, a slice or piece, as of fruit, in Song 4:3; 1Sa 30:12; always "piece" of a millstone, Jg 9:53; 2Sa 11:21; Job 41:24; Gr. μύλος, Mt 18:6; Lu 17:2; Re 18:21-22). The mill (properly טִהֲנָה, tachanah', a "grinding," Ec 12:4; טחוֹן, techon', "to grind," La 5:13; Gr. μύλη) for grinding grain had not wholly superseded the mortar for pounding it in the time of Moses (Nu 11:8). SEE MORTAR. But fine meal-that is, meal ground or pounded fine — is mentioned so early as the time of Abraham (Ge 18:6): hence mills and mortars must have been previously known. SEE GRITS. The mill common among the Hebrews differed little from that which is in use to this day throughout Western Asia and Northern Africa. It consisted of two circular stones, two feet in diameter and half a foot thick. The lower is called the "nether millstone" (Job 41:16 ), and the upper the "rider" (Jg 9:53; 2Sa 11:21). The former was usually fixed to the floor, and had a slight elevation in the center, or, in other words, was slightly convex in the upper surface. The upper stone had a concavity in its under surface fitting to, or receiving, the convexity of the lower stone. There was a hole in the top, through which the grain was introduced by handfuls at a time. The upper stone had an upright stick fixed in it as a handle, which which it was made to turn upon the lower stone, and by this action the grain was ground, and came out at the edges. As there were neither public mills nor bakers, except the king's (Ge 40:2; Ho 7:4-8), each family possessed a mill;, and, as it was in daily use, it was made an infringement of the law for a person to take another's mill or millstone in pledge (De 24:6). SEE MILLSTONE. On the second day, in warm climates, bread becomes dry and insipid; hence the necessity of baking every day, and hence also the daily grinding at the mills early in the morning. SEE BREAD. It is worked by women, sometimes singly and sometimes two together, who are usually seated on the bare ground (Isa 47:1-2) 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 Savior (Mt 24:41) is true to life, for women only grind. I cannot recall an instance in which men were at the mill" (Thomson, Land and Book, 2:295). The labor is very hard, and the task of grinding is in consequence performed only by the lowest servants (Ex 11:5; comp. Plaut. Merc. 2:3) and captives (Jg 16:21; Job 31:10; Isa 47:1-2; La 5:13; comp. Homer, Od. 7:103; Suetonius, Tib. c. 51). Grinding is reckoned in the Mishna (Shabbath, 7:2) among the chief household duties, to be performed by the wife unless she brought with her one servant (Cethuboth, 5:5); in which case she was relieved from grinding, baking, and washing, but was still obliged to suckle her child, make her husband's bed, and work in wool. Among the Fellahs of the Hauran, one of the chief articles of furniture described by Burckhardt (Syria, page 292) is the "hand-mill, which is used in summer when there is no water in the wadies to drive the mills." The operation occasions considerable noise, and its simultaneous performance in a great number of houses or tents forms one of the sounds as indicative of an active population in the East as the sound of wheel- carriages in the West. Hence the sound of the mill is the indication of peaceful household life, and the absence of it is a sign of desolation and abandonment: "When the sound of the mill is low" (Ec 12:4). No more affecting picture of utter desolation could be imagined than that conveyed in the threat denounced against Judah by the mouth of the prophet Jer 25:10: "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 the millstones, and the light of the candle" (comp. Re 18:22). The song of the women grinding is supposed by some to be alluded to in the above passage of Ecclesiastes, and it was evidently so understood by the Sept.; but Dr. Robinson says (1:485), "We heard no song as an accompaniment to the work," and Dr. Hackett (Bibl. Illust. page 49) describes it rather as shrieking than singing. It is alluded to in Homer (Od. 20:105-119); and Athenaeus (14, page 619a) refers to a peculiar chant which was sung by women winnowing corn, and mentioned by Aristophanes in the Thesmophoriazusae.
The hand-mills of the ancient Egyptians appear to have been of the same character as those of their descendants, and like them were worked by women (Wilkinson, Anc. Eg. 2:118, etc.). "They had also a large mill on a very similar principle, but the stones were of far greater power and dimensions; and this could only have been turned by cattle or asses, like those of the ancient Romans and of the modern Cairenes." It was the millstone of a mill of this kind, driven by an ass, which is alluded to in Mt 18:6 (μύλος ὀνικός), to distinguish it, says Lightfoot (Hor. Hebr. ad loc.), from those small mills which were used to grind spices for the wound of circumcision, or for the delights of the Sabbath, and to which both Kimchi and: Jarchi find a reference in Jer 25:10. Of a married man with slender means it is said in the Talmud (Kiddushin, page 29b), "With a millstone on his neck he studies the law," and the expression is still proverbial (Tendlau, Sprichworter, page 181). The ordinary mill of the Romans, however, was essentially like the conical hand-mill of the East, as specimens preserved among the ruins of bake-houses in Pompeii show (see Smith's Dict. of Gr. and Rom. Antiq. s.v. Mola).
It was the movable upper millstone of the hand-mill with which the woman of Thebez broke Abimelech's skull (Jg 9:53). It is now generally made, according to Dr. Thomson, of a porous lava brought from the Hauran, both stones being of the same material; but, says the same traveller, "I have seen the nether made of a compact sandstone, and quite thick, while the upper was of this lava, probably because from its lightness it is the more easily driven round with the hand" (Land and Book, 2:296). The porous lava to which he refers is probably the same as the black tufa mentioned by Burckhardt (Syria, page 57), the blocks of which are brought from the Lejah, and are fashioned into millstones by the inhabitants of Ezra, a village in the Hauran. "They vary in price according to their size, from fifteen to sixty piastres, and are preferred to all others on account of the hardness of the stone." One passage (Lamenations 5:13) is deserving of notice, which Hoheisel (De Molis Manual. Vet. in Ugolini, volume 29) explains in a manner which gives it a point that is lost in our Auth. Vers. It may be rendered, "The choice (men) bore the mill (טחוֹן, techen), and the youths stumbled beneath the wood;" the wood being the woodwork or shaft of the mill, which the captives were compelled to carry. There are, moreover, allusions to other apparatus connected with the operation of grinding — the sieve, or bolter (נָפָה, naphah', Isa 30:28; or כּבָרָה, kgbarah', Am 9:9), and the hopper, though the latter is only found in the Mishna (Zabim, 4:3), and was a late invention. We also find in the Mishna (Demai, 3:4) that mention is made of a miller (טוֹחֵן, tochen), indicating that grinding grain was recognised as a distinct occupation. Wind-mills and water-mills are of more recent date.