A simple apparatus generally consisting of two stones (one placed atop the other), between which various edible threshed grains are ground into flour. It was possible to pound grain with a pestle in a mortar, rub it on a stone slab with an upper stone, or grind it with a rotary or lever hand mill. Such devices were used from early patriarchal times, for Abraham’s wife Sarah made round cakes from “fine flour.” (Ge 18:6) In the wilderness the Israelites ground the divinely provided manna “in hand mills or pounded it in a mortar.”—Nu 11:7, 8; see MORTAR, I.
Bread was generally baked every day, and usually each family possessed its own hand mill. The grinding of grain into flour was ordinarily a daily activity of the women in the household. (Mt 24:41; Job 31:10; Ex 11:5; Isa 47:1, 2) They rose early in the morning to prepare the flour needed for the day’s bread. The sound of hand mills is referred to in the Bible as a symbol of normal peaceful conditions. Conversely, abandonment and desolation were indicated when “the sound of the hand mill” was absent.—Jer 25:10, 11; Re 18:21, 22; compare Ec 12:3, 4.
A common hand mill of Hebrew times was the saddle quern. It had two carved stones, a longer one on the bottom and a smaller one on the top. (De 24:6; Job 41:24) The worker knelt behind it, grasped the upper stone with both hands, and moved it back and forth on the lower one, crushing the grain between them. Some lower stones were inclined away from the miller, enabling a more energetic grind. Later, lever and rotary mills came into use. Both had an opening in the center of the upper stone to put grain into. The lever mill was rectangular or square, with a large bottom stone on which a smaller one was pushed back and forth by a lever fitted into a groove on the top stone. It was sometimes placed on a high base so that the worker could operate it while standing. The rotary mill was made of two round stones, with a central peg as a pivot for the upper one. The upper stone was concave, made to fit and revolve on the lower convex one, thus allowing the pulverized grain to drift out to the mill’s perimeter. It has been used up to the present time. Today, the heavy lower stone is usually made of basalt and is often about 46 cm (18 in.) in diameter and 5 to 10 cm (2 to 4 in.) thick.
Two women generally operated this kind of hand mill. (Lu 17:35) They sat facing each other, each placing one hand on the handle to turn the upper stone. With her free hand, one woman fed unground grain in small amounts into the filler hole of the upper stone, while the other gathered the flour as it emerged from the rim of the mill and fell to the tray or the cloth spread beneath the mill.
Since bread was usually baked daily and grain was ground into flour frequently, God’s law given to Israel mercifully forbade the seizing of a person’s hand mill or its upper grindstone as a pledge. A family’s daily bread depended upon the hand mill. Hence, to seize it or its upper grindstone meant seizing “a soul” or “means of life.”—De 24:6, ftn.
Larger mills are also mentioned in the Scriptures. Jesus Christ referred to “a millstone such as is turned by an ass.” (Mt 18:6) It may have been similar to the one that blind Samson was forced to turn for the Philistines when “he came to be a grinder in the prison house,” though others think it was a saddle quern.—Jg 16:21.
In Revelation the sudden and final destruction of Babylon the Great is likened to the hurling of “a stone like a great millstone” into the sea.—Re 18:21.