Generally, a building block made of hardened mud or clay. From earliest times brick (Heb., leve·nahʹ) has been widely used in Bible lands. The builders of ancient Babel found no stone in the vicinity of the site they chose for their city and, therefore, utilized bricks instead of stone, and bitumen served as mortar for them. Apparently the bricks were kiln dried, that is, hardened “with a burning process.” (Ge 11:3) In ancient Egypt, the enslaved Israelites labored at brickmaking. Their lot was made more difficult by having to gather the straw themselves and still produce the same number of bricks. (Ex 5:7-19) In the Promised Land, the Israelites continued using bricks in construction work, although it appears that stone was preferred. (Isa 9:10) While abundant in the hills of Palestine, in some sections little good-quality building stone is available. Hence in the lowlands, at cities such as Jericho and Ezion-geber, brick was used not only for the city walls but also for dwellings. In modern times in parts of Syria and Palestine, houses have been built partly of hewed stone with the remainder of sun-dried brick, the hewed stone being used for the walls most exposed to winter storms.
In the manufacture of bricks, after foreign substances were removed from the mud or clay, it was generally mixed with finely chopped straw or other vegetable matter. This is borne out by a statement in the Anastasi Papyri, from ancient Egypt, that reads: “There was no one to mould bricks, and there was no straw in the neighbourhood.” (Life in Ancient Egypt, by A. Erman, 1894, p. 117) Although bricks made without straw have been found in Egypt, this was evidently an exception and provides no valid basis for concluding that the Israelites resorted to making bricks without straw when forced to obtain it themselves. Experiments conducted in recent years indicate that adding straw to clay makes it easier to work and triples the strength of the bricks produced therefrom.
The mixture of mud or clay and straw was moistened with water, trampled underfoot, and then molded by hand or pressed into a four-sided wooden “brick mold.” (Heb., mal·benʹ; Na 3:14) The sides of the molds were probably dusted with dry earth so that the molds could be slipped off easily. Often, while the brick was still wet, it was stamped with the mark of the reigning monarch. The bricks were then left to dry in the sun or were kiln dried.
In Babylonia bricks were commonly kiln dried, and such bricks were generally used for city walls and the walls and floors of palaces. Sometimes sun-dried bricks were used in the interiors of buildings or laid with burned bricks in alternate layers several feet thick. In Egypt, Assyria, and Palestine, sun-drying appears to have predominated. Kiln-processed bricks are superior in quality to those dried in the sun. The latter tend to disintegrate when subjected to floods and shrivel under the intense heat of the summer sun. In certain cases, however, sun-dried bricks have proved to be very substantial, such as those at Ezion-geber, which have remained for centuries.—See KILN.
The extensive use of sun-dried brick explains why the sites of certain ancient cities have remained undiscovered for centuries. Mounds of earth much like the surrounding soil were formed by the crumbled bricks of former cities. In Palestine and Syria such mounds frequently contain the ruins of several cities.
Bricks varied considerably in size and shape. In Egypt the rectangular shape was common, and wedge-shaped bricks were used in the construction of arches. Egyptian bricks were approximately 36 to 51 cm (14 to 20 in.) in length, 15 to 23 cm (6 to 9 in.) in width, and 10 to 18 cm (4 to 7 in.) in thickness. In Babylonia, square, oblong, triangular, and wedge-shaped bricks have been found. However, brick of later periods, as that from the time of Nebuchadnezzar, was generally square-shaped, measuring about 30 cm (12 in.) across.
Israel’s making sacrificial smoke upon the bricks in Isaiah’s time may have reference to the pavement of the place for offering sacrifice or to the roof tiles.—Isa 65:3.