II Sam. 12:31 - brickmaking

peter_kirk at sil.org peter_kirk at sil.org
Fri Dec 24 23:48:33 EST 1999

It occurs to me to ask for more detail than Solomon has given on the 
question: were bricks made in kilns in 10th century BCE Canaan and 
trans-Jordan (or whenever else one might set this story), or were they 
made in moulds? This is, I guess, a question which archaeologists can 
answer. And what about in post-exilic Canaan - did the method change 
at some time? The source of confusion could be a change of method, so 
that the same word MALBEN which later meant brick-kiln had earlier 
meant, not so much a single brick-mould as a place for moulding 
bricks, where there would have been many moulds and space for large 
stones. (The "maqtel" form regularly means a place.) Note also that 
the Jeremiah 43:9 reference is to Egypt, where methods may have been 
different - were sun-dried bricks still used there in the early 6th 
century BCE?.

After writing these questions, I went back to look for some answers in 
the literature. In "The New Bible Dictionary" (IVP Leicester 1962) 
s.v. brick-kiln Kenneth A. Kitchen wrote: "Burnt bricks... were used 
in Mesopotamia for facings, pavements, etc., in important buildings 
from very early times, but are hardly known in Palestine or Egypt 
before Roman times".

To return to 2 Samuel: is it possible that the author of Samuel wrote 
MALBEN = mould, but Josephus read MALBEN = brick-kiln, and so 
misunderstood the original intention and pictured all kinds of 
horrors? This is a hypothesis which could in principle be falsified by 
archaeology. Ian, are you there? Here is a chance for you to prove 

Peter Kirk

______________________________ Reply Separator _________________________________
Subject: II Sam. 12:31
Author:  <rvining at log.on.ca> at Internet 
Date:    24/12/1999 10:47

On Dec. 16/99, Solomon Landers wrote:

Anything is possible, but I wonder if many modern scholars are not 
correct in trying
to pin down the real meaning of "malben."  Does it mean a place where 
bricks were
burned, or does it mean the small, rectangular mold used to shape 
bricks?  Many
buildings  in ancient Israel used bricks that were sun-dried, not 
tempered in a kiln.
And from Egypt on, brick making was often delegated to slaves and 


Re: Pinning down the meaning of "melban".  Also found in Jer. 43:9.  A 
brick structure of sufficient size to accommodate large stones.  Nahum 
3:14, who knows?  6  translations have it congruent with the preceding 
phrases of preparing for the siege by working the clay, treading the 
mortar, making strong the brickwork;  3 retain brickkiln.  4 others, 
including JPS   favor the  brickmold idea.

Re: Sticking to early sources.  I can do no better than  the already 
referred to "Chronicler" who in looking at his text saw "cut with"  or 
?hacked with" the iron instruments.  If he saw the more benign 
"brickmaking" he more likely  would have retained it. The omission 
suggests he saw "brickkiln"..Also, Josephus, 1 st century, whatever text 
he was looking at prompted him to write of David's tormenting and 


More information about the b-hebrew mailing list