A vessel having a bowl-shaped interior in which grain, spices, olives, or other substances were pulverized by pounding with a pestle.
Egyptian tomb paintings depict mortars with considerable capacity. These were probably wooden mortars and likely the pestles were made of metal. One tomb painting shows two men at one mortar, alternately raising and dropping metal pestles (club-shaped at both ends), which they gripped at the center with both hands. The painting indicates that after a quantity of material in the mortar had been pounded sufficiently, it was sifted into another container and the coarser remains were returned to the mortar for further pounding.
In the wilderness the Israelites prepared manna for consumption by grinding it in hand mills or pounding it in a mortar (Heb., medho·khahʹ).—Nu 11:7, 8.
The finest olive oil was obtained by beating the olives in a mortar with a pestle. This produced oil from only the olive meat, whereas a press crushed the seeds also. Pure, beaten olive oil was required for burning in the lampstand in the tent of meeting. Beaten oil was also used in connection with the “constant burnt offering” and evidently in the holy anointing oil. Incense beaten into powder was used in the sanctuary.—Ex 27:20, 21; 29:40, 42; 30:23-25, 35, 36.
Since a mortar has a hollow interior, it is suitably used in the Bible to describe the configuration of a specific land area. For instance, according to Judges 15:18, 19, God provided drinking water for Samson by splitting open “a mortar-shaped hollow” (Heb., makh·teshʹ) in Lehi. Also, a certain section of Jerusalem, the “Maktesh” or “Mortar-Quarter” (Heb., Makh·teshʹ, meaning “mortar”), may have been so named to identify a basinlike hollow or depression in that area of the city.—Zep 1:11, ftn.
Grain reduced to flour in a mortar undergoes very severe treatment. Therefore, the Scriptures use this procedure illustratively, saying: “Even if you should pound the foolish one fine with a pestle in a mortar [Heb., bam·makh·teshʹ], in among cracked grain, his foolishness will not depart from him.”—Pr 27:22.
[Picture on page 433]
Ancient mortar and pestle