Mortar (2)


[for pulverizing] is the rendering of מרֹכָה (medokah', something for beating), Nu 11:8; also of מִכתֵּשׁ (nzaktesh', lit. a pounder, applied also to a "hollow" or socket, e.g. of a tooth, Jg 15:19), Pr 27:22, an instrument for comminuting grain or other substances, by means of a pestle, in place of the later invention or mill (q.v.). In the representation of the various processes of preparing bread on the paintings of the tombs of ancient Egypt, it will be found that the mortar was similarly employed, and the form of the pestle and mortar is there given, and the manner of using them in pounding articles in large quantities. Their mortars were probably blocks of wood, similar to those employed in India. The pestles were different from those now generally employed, but the manner of use, by men striking them alternately, was the same. "Certain persons were also employed in the towns of Egypt, as at the present day in Cairo and other places, to pound various substances in large stone mortars; and salt, seeds, and other things were taken in the same manner by a servant to these shops, whenever it was inconvenient to have it done in the house. The pestles they used, as well as the mortars themselves, were precisely similar to those of the modern Egyptians; and their mode of pounding was the same; two men alternately raising ponderous metal pestles with both hands, and directing their falling point to the centre of the mortar, which is now generally made of a large piece of granite, or other hard stone, scooped out into a long, narrow tube to a little more than half its depth. When the substance was well pounded, it was taken out and passed through a sieve, and the larger particles were again returned to the mortar, until it was sufficiently and equally levigated; and this, and the whole process here represented, so strongly resembles the occupation of the public pounders at Cairo that no one who has been in the habit of walking in the streets of that town can fail to recognise the custom, or doubt of its having been handed down from the early Egyptians, and retained without alteration to the present day" (Wilkinson, Anc. Eg. 2:166). "The simplest and probably most ancient method of preparing corn for food was by pounding it between two stones (Virgil, AEn. 1:179). Convenience suggested that the lower of the two stones should be hollowed, that the corn might not escape, and that the upper should be shaped so as to be convenient for holding. The pestle and mortar must have existed from a very early period. The Israelites in the desert appear to have possessed mortars and handmills among their necessary domestic utensils. When the manna fell they gathered it, and either ground it in the mill or pounded it in the mortar till it was fit for use (Nu 11:8). So in the present day stone mortars are used by the Arabs to pound wheat for their national dish kibby (Thomson, Land and Book, 1:134). Niebuihr describes one of a very simple kind which was used on board the vessel in which he went from Jidda to Loheia. Every afternoon one of the sailors had to take the durra; or millet, necessary for the day's consumption, and pound it 'upon a stone, of which the surface was a little curved, with another stone which was long and rounded' (Descr. de l'Arab. page 45). Among the inhabitants of Ezzehhoue, a Druse village, Burckhardt saw coffee-mortars made out of the trunks of oak-trees (Syria, pages 87, 88). The spices for the incense are said to have been prepared by the house of Abtines, a family set apart for the purpose, and the mortar which they used was, with other spoils of the Temple, after the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, carried to Rome, where it remained till the time of Hadrian (Reggio, in Martinet's Hebr. Chrest. page 35). Buxtorf mentions a kind of mortar (כּוּתָּשׁ, kuttash) in which olives were slightly bruised before they were taken to the olive-presses (Lex. Talm. s.v. כתש). From the same root as this last is derived the maktesh of Pr 27:22, which probably denotes a mortar of a larger kind in which corn was pounded: 'Though thou bray the fool in the mortar among the bruised corn with the pestle, yet will not his folly depart from him.' Corn may be separated from its husk and all its good properties preserved by such an operation, but the fool's folly is so essential a part of himself that no analogous process can remove it from him. Such seems the natural interpretation of this remarkable proverb. The language is intentionally exaggerated, and there is no necessity for supposing an allusion to a mode of punishment by which criminals were put to death by being pounded in a mortar. A custom of this kind existed among the Turks, but there is no distinct trace of it among the Hebrews. The Ulemas, or body of lawyers, in Turkey had the distinguished privilege, according to De Tott (Mem. 1:28, Eng. tr.), of being put to death only by the pestle and the mortar. Such, however, is supposed to be the reference in the proverb by Mr. Roberts, who illustrates it from his Indian experience. 'Large mortars are used in the East for the purpose of separating the rice from the husk. When a considerable quantity has to be prepared, the mortar is placed outside the door, and two women, each with a pestle of five feet long, begin the work. They strike in rotation, as blacksmiths do on the anvil. Cruel as it is, this is a punishment of the state: the poor victim is thrust into the mortar, and beaten with the pestle. The late king of Kandy compelled one of the wives of his rebellious chiefs thus to beat her own infant to death. Hence the saying, 'Though you beat that loose woman in a mortar, she will not leave her ways;' which means, Though you chastise her ever so much, she will never improve' (Orient. Illustr. page 368)." "We do not infer from the above passage in Proverbs that the wheat was pounded to meal instead of being ground, but that it was pounded to be separated from the husk. The Jews probably had no rice, but there are several passages from which we may gather that they used wheat in the same way that rice is now used — that is, boiled up in pillaus, variously prepared. In fact, we have partaken of wheat thus employed in the remote mountains where rice could not be obtained, or only at a price which the villagers could not afford; and it is also so used among the Arabs, forming a very palatable and nutritive food. For this purpose it is necessary that, as with rice, the husk should be previously disengaged from the grain; and if we suppose that this object was attained with wheat, by a similar treatment with that to which rice is now subjected, the present text may be very satisfactorily explained. There are men, and even women. who gain their bread by the labor of husking rice, which they generally perform in pairs. Their implements consist of a rude wooden mortar, formed of a block hollowed out; pestles, about five feet long, with a heavy block of wood at the upper end; and a sieve for sifting the pounded grain. They carry these utensils to the house where their services are required, and, if men, strip to the skin (except their drawers), and pursue their labor in a shady part of the court-yard. When two work together, they commonly stand opposite each other, and strike their pestles into the mortar alternately, as blacksmiths strike their iron. Sometimes, however, one pestle alone acts, and the laborers relieve each other, the relieved person taking the easier duty of supplying the mortar, and removing and sifting the cleaned grain. From the weight of the pestle, the labor of pounding is very severe, and the results of the process are but slowly produced" (Kitto, Pict. Bible, note on Pr 27:22). SEE PESTLE.

Bible concordance for MORTAR.

Definition of mortar

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