Agriculture in the Holy Land: Threshing

To separate the grain from the stalks, farmers thresh the harvest, whether it be barley, wheat or lentils. Threshing also crushes and cuts the stalks, so that they can be fed to animals.

The most common instrument used in threshing was the threshing board, also sometimes referred to as threshing sledge. Usually it consisted of two connected boards studded with sharp stones. These stones can be replaced as they are worn. In modern times iron pieces or saws were also used. I took the picture of this threshing board at the museum in Gan Hashlosha.

Hauled by donkey or cattle, the threshing sledge cuts the grain. The handler, and sometimes a child, would stand or sit on the threshing sledge to add weight.
Different methods for arranging the grain were used. In Galilee the sheaves were heaped in the center of the threshing floor. A turner then took some of the stalks and spread them in a circle. As the threshing sledge passed over the stalks, the turner would turn them over, making sure that the grain was evenly threshed. He then would heap it in a circular “wall” around the threshing floor, and spread more stalks from the central heap. Once the central heap was fully threshed, the grain would be threshed a second time. The grain would be taken from the “wall” around the threshing floor and after the second threshing heaped in the center. It would then be ready for winnowing.

The picture shows a small threshing floor in Nazareth Village.
Of course, it was not only the threshing sledge that cut the stalks. The hooves of the animals also did their part. Indeed, sometimes no threshing sledge was used, leaving it to the hooves of the animals to do the work.

The threshing sledge was one of the more destructive instruments regularly used by farmers in Ancient Israel. It is little wonder that the prophets also turned to this image to describe the radical change that the LORD would bring about through Israel.

Now, I will make of you a threshing sledge,
sharp, new, and having teeth;
you shall thresh the mountains and crush them,
and you shall make the hills like chaff.
Isaiah 41:15

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