The threshing floor (1 Chronicles 21)

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The threshing floor was an essential part of agriculture in the ancient Near East. Typically round, with a diameter of 7,6-12,2 m, it was usually located near a village in an area exposed to wind. Once the farmer had selected the location, he cleared the ground of stones and compressed the soil until a firm surface resulted. When the “floor” was ready, he laid recently harvested sheaves of grain on it for threshing. The farmer then used large animals, such as oxen or donkeys, to pull heavy threshing sleds over the grain, separating the kernels from the stalks and husks. When the threshing was complete, a winnowing fork was used to toss the grain into the air. The wind blew away the lighter stalks and husks (chaff), as the heavier kernel fell back to the floor. The farmer sifted the kernels through trays to remove any dirt gathered in the process and then temporarily stored the grain in heaps on the floor or sealed it in jars for later use.

While the primary focus of the threshing floor was agricultural, the separation of the wheat and chaff became a natural and fitting symbol of judgement in the Old Testament (1 Chronicles 21:15, cf. Matthew 3:12). Because the floor was often the largest open area within a village, town elders were typically present to oversee the threshing of the year’s crops. The threshing floor was a suitable locale for legal transactions, criminal trials and public decisions. Alternatively, public proceedings were often carried out at the city gate.


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