Where did Exodus 5:7 take place (needs a lot of straw)

@bharatjj @Bill_II @Swamidass @aarceng

  • I’m fascinated with Archeology about Exodus.

  • Exodus 5:7 interests me, because it mentions the need for lots of straw when making bricks. Where do they require a large amount of straw?

  • Exodus 5:7 You are no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks; let them go and gather their own straw.

That’s assuming the events in Exodus 5:7 took place. However the possible scenario must have been familiar to the writers which means they needed to have known of a place that used mud bricks (and expect their intended readers to be familiar with making mud bricks with straw also). Unfortunately that doesn’t narrow the area since mud bricks with straw were common throughout Egypt, the Levant, and Mesopotamia from a fairly early time until very recently (or still in some places).

For instance the following has a description and details for the Middle Bronze age (approx. 2100 BCE to 1550 BCE)
Homsher, Robert S. 2012. “Mud Bricks and the Process of Construction in the Middle Bronze Age Southern Levant.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 368 (November): 1–27. University of Chicago Press Journals: Cookie absent.
Straw addition was common.

I must admit Pharaoh’s actions in Exodus 5 sound like union busting. Work the slaves so hard that they will give up and turn on the union organizers.

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  • I appreciate your interest in archeology. :slight_smile: and I hope to continue in this thread our passion.

  • I read the article that you shared from Robert S. Homsher about mud bricks during the Bronze Age within the area of the Southern Levant

  • How’s the land from large areas of southern Levant, is it all similar or extremely different? I look up areas and Levant covers lots of areas. Later I want to list all the areas.

  • Sun-dried mud bricks compared to bake bricks with lot of straw

  • Strategies of brick manufacture, rates of labor, and costs of construction. How did Pharaoh pay Hebrews, with only gold, or other ways getting paid for their labor of mud bricks, even though I wonder what about baking bricks, is baking bricks needing lots of straw for what reasons compare to mud bricks., I’m going to look into this further I know it’s been written in past threads and I read too. But in this case how did Pharaoh pay the Hebrews for their labor, more then one way or only with Gold?

  • I looked up the word temper because that word confused me, when referring to bricks. How is straw temper with mud bricks compared to burnt bricks, is tempering done the same way?

Where I frame my question from what you shared and posted it below. I also looked up Robert S. Homsher and posted below

This study investigates patterns in the process of construction during a period of urbanization early in the Middle Bronze Age of the southern Levant. Detailing the manufacture and use of sun-dried mud bricks in this period’s architecture, this study presents a hypothetical reconstruction of urban building processes based on data collected and analyzed from three case-study sites: Dan, Megiddo, and Pella. A number of important considerations are discussed as part of this reconstruction, such as strategies of brick manufacture, rates of labor, and costs of construction. Straw temper used in brick manufacture is highlighted as a particularly important aspect of the construction process, since it provides a tangible connection between the agricultural system and the mud bricks that form the building blocks of urban architecture. Likewise, the chaîne opértoire of the construction process links such varied components of urbanization as monumental architecture, rural agriculture, and people, while the analyses and reconstruction presented in this study help render such components perceptible within the archaeological record by looking at issues of specialized production and standardization.

I looked up
Robert S. Homsher

I specialize in the archaeology of the ancient Near East and Eastern Mediterranean, with a focus on the Bronze and Iron Age southern Levant. I received an MA (2009) and PhD (2013) from the Institute of Archaeology at University College London, preceded by BS (2003) and MA (2005) degrees in biblical studies from Abilene Christian University. I taught as College Fellow in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University, having previously taught in the Department of Anthropology at San Francisco State University while also a Visiting Scholar at UC Berkeley. I am currently a Visiting Fellow in the Center for Geographic Analysis at Harvard and Eaducational and Cultural Affairs Research Fellow at the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem.

My work broadly deals with approaches to human-environmental dynamics, the development of complex societies, geospatial data aqcuisition and analysis, and archaeometric material sciences. My teaching specializations include archaeological method and theory, quantitative analyses, geo-spatial documentation and analysis, and several topics in the ancient Near Eastern world. My teaching focuses on building connections between ancient societies and relevant real-world issues, using the study of material culture to provide a compelling world in which to immerse students in reflective ethical discourse, recognize socio-cultural diversity, and search for common human values. When evaluating and using the latest technological and methodological innovations in the field, I contrast the use of technology simply for the “wow factor” versus substantial improvements for the discipline. I stress the importance of the evidence we use in the discipline of archaeology and the methods with which we produce and interpret such data in order to evaluate the outcomes of research.

I have spent several years conducting fieldwork at sites in the Middle East, and my current field projects in Israel-Palestine span the Early Bronze Age to the Roman period. I am Co-Director of the Jezreel Valley Regional Project (JVRP), where I serve many roles, including: co-directing our regional survey and excavation projects, heading a paleoenvironmental study, coordinating archaeological sciences, and instructing our field school. The JVRP is a multi-disciplinary project investigating the history of human activity in the Jezreel Valley during all periods of human habitation, up to the modern day. The project is also making headway toward our cultural heritage and public archaeology initiative, which aims to directly engage local community members in several ways. I am also a long-term staff member of the Megiddo Expedition, where I direct the excavations of an Iron Age domestic quarter (Area Q) as area supervisor and instructor. In the excavation of this area I also collaborate with specialists to conduct geoarchaeological research dealing with absolute dating, paleomagnetism, infrared spectroscopy, phytolith analysis, and micromorphology.

My doctorate investigated the process of urbanization during the Middle Bronze Age in the southern Levant from the standpoint of socio-economic organization in the process of architectural construction. I challenged long-standing notions of cultural diffusion and normativity by highlighting diverse forms of heterarchical social organization and the importance of technological innovation evidenced through my data. In order to ground the discussion of this developing complex society, my primary data came from mud-bricks, which were a ubiquitous building material during this period. Through my analysis of brick composition, dimensions, and building strategies, together with ethnographic and textual evidence, I was able to reconstruct the chaine opératoires of mud-brick manufacture, and determine significant social patterns based on standardization, raw material procurement, labor, and architectural energetics. In the end, I conclude that the complex urban society that emerged during this period was not due to exogenous factors nor was it highly centralized or hierarchical; rather, urbanization was directly related to economic incentives and discontinuous technological innovation in an open system, from the standpoint of a dynamic systems approach toward socio-cultural evolution.

One of my current research projects deals with the environment of the Jezreel Valley during the Holocene, including palynological, geomorphological, hydrological, and isotope studies. The unique geographic situation of this particular landscape, as well as the high resolution of environmental and archaeological data targeted by this project, will constitute a major contribution toward models of environment and human ecology in the region. Likewise, I am currently preparing a series of articles synthesizing and addressing the several limitations we currently have in interpreting human-environmental correlations during particular archaeological periods in the Near East, while promoting anthropologically-grounded theoretical approaches in contrast to prevailing deterministic explanations.

He was looking specifically at Megiddo (northern modern Israel), Pella (in modern Jordan), and Tel Dan (northern modern Israel) though the background info is wider. Pages 16-18 have info on actual labor practices, at least modern day and extrapolating back (modern mud bricks are a different size than those used then). How many bricks per person per day (though efficiently you would have a work crew).

Pay would not be in gold but in goods such as bread, wine, cloth/clothing, or the labor might be a tax (corvee). Note most mud brick making was likely for one’s own use or for that of neighbors (think of an old fashion barn raising) though the Exodus story is almost certainly about making bricks for the ruler’s building projects (something Jews might have experienced under their own rulers, during the Babylonian exile, or in Egypt).

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He didn’t. Egypt had a process that forced people to labor on public works projects for no wages, i.e. slave labor.

Found this

In burned brick the straw actually leaves passages in the brick to allow gases to escape. The straw in the brick is actually burned up and leaves behind holes in the bricks.

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Straw as binder is added about 1 percent by weight. Straw as fuel for baking would constitute about 50 percent of cost. so the conflict was more likely on baked bricks. also the Semites knew about baked bricks in Shinar tower of babel. They would not regress to baked bricks.

And when you are making millions of bricks, that 1% certainly adds up. The temple storehouses in Egypt were constructed with mud brick, not stone.

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Strictly speaking Egypt seems to have mostly used corvée labor which was closer to a labor tax. The Egyptian year was divided into three seasons, the time when the Nile was in flood and fields were submerged (roughly Sept to Jan), the time when the Nile was receding and planting could take place in the newly uncovered fields (roughly Jan to May), and the time when harvesting took place (May to Sept). The latter two seasons were busy times for farming but the first less so, so the rulers would demand labor on government projects such as building granaries etc. There was chattel slavery also.

BTW Homsher (2012: 19) quotes Emory (2009: 2) as noting that in Egypt brick making used 1 part straw for 5 parts earth and Keefe (2005: 58) at 2.5% (by weight). Homsher thinks that by volume straw to earth might have been close to 1:2.
Emory, 2009, “Mud Brick” in UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology - Mud-Brick (I strongly recommend looking at this, it is open source, comes with pictures and a clear description of the process).
Keefe, 2005, "Earth Building: Methods and Materials, Repair and Conservation:. London: Taylor and Francis.
Getting the straw would be a major undertaking especially since there were other uses for straw.
Apparently the process for making mud bricks was gather the materials (sand/clay/silt, water, straw or other organic material), mix and let sit for a day or so, mold the bricks, let dry, rotate and dry further, rotate again and dry further.

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This passage refers to unfired mud bricks which was a common building material in Egypt.
Mud is not pure clay but would include a significant percentage so that the finished brick would be strong enough and hold it’s shape. Bricks made without straw can dry slowly, shrink, crack, and lose their shape, or be too weak. This would lower production since they take longer and there would be more rejected.
The straw is used in a ratio of about 1:5 by volume, so it would also reduce the weight of the brick by about 15%, and the workers would have to use more dirt and possibly with a higher clay content.

So there’s more labour, lower production, more beatings. The intent was to punish the Hebrews for the request to “let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God” and make them turn against Moses.

Gotta keep those slaves in line.

  • Conflict over clay am I correct, the clay of baking bricks, how did they make the clay?
  • If Pyramids were made with Bricks without straw would the pyramid collapse over time?
  • What caused these temples storehouses to collapse?
  • Thankyou for explaining tempering

  • Straw helps bricks be stronger and not crumble. How expensive it is to build with stone, compare to bricks with straw?

  • Is it free to build with stone, because stone already has all material together, just carve it., am I correct?

  • What would happen if someone combines stone with bricks with straw, and mix that all together, has that ever happened?

  • Did Moses own cows because The “cowherds” were the Hebrews? How’s this slavery?


  • How could the Hebrews build a 3 inch golden calf with their jewelry when they just had bread, wine, and clothing?
  • Any trading happen near by villages to help build these public projects?

You dig up clay. Some earth has more clay than others.

Over time mud bricks with or without straw will decay. People using mudbricks would often cover the exterior surface with a mud plaster and place the bricks on a stone foundation to protect from rain and ground water. The mud plaster would have to be redone on a regular basis. For bricks to last for a long time they have to have plenty of clay and be fired at a high temperature (which you can’t do by burning straw, you need wood, charcoal, or coal). Note bricks of any sort are also vulnerable to earthquakes.

see above.

Much more expensive. Mud bricks can often be created on site or very near the site while stone frequently has to be imported from a distance (or if building at a site with stone at hand, you frequently have to move the labor there since stone isn’t very good for farming). Stone requires tools to shape; mud brick requires a wood frame. Store cutting requires specialists; mud brick was something every single farmer learned to do from their parents at least with the earth in their own area. (This is talking about the Middle East, in places like Scotland with a lot of smaller stones, people learned to build dry stone walls.)

Not all stone is good for building. Also ‘just carve it’ underplays how difficult that can be especially when your tools are stone or bronze. You’ve also got to move the stone from where it is to where you want it. Large stone blocks may be easier to carve but more difficult to transport. Time doing all this takes away from time doing other things. In other words an individual farmer doesn’t have the time to do that for his own house (great if you can do it, the house will last a long time but the upfront cost is too much); a ruler who can skim the labor off a large number of subjects can do it.

They do seem to have done that in some cases with a stone foundation and mud brick above. However intermingling will lead to instability since mud brick and stone would expand/contract at different rates depending on temperature and in the case of mud brick, moisture.

Well it is a story and a bit of a plot hole that supposed badly treated slaves had gold jewelry. Admittedly the story also says they borrowed a lot from the their Egyptian neighbors (Exodus 3:22) and then never returned it.

Though the standard payment seems to have been in terms of loaves; actual payment might be in loaves or a standard equivalent in some other good (e.g., beer, cloth). People receiving that would barter (e.g., loaf to a fisherman in return for some fish or to a melon grower for some melons).

Almost certainly, Note even for covee labor the overseers would have to provide food and some of that might be bartered.

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  • Egypt, the Levant, Mesopotamia, and Indus Valley India: due to the ground where clay is, is there a difference in which area has more clay?

  • @bharatjj you explain about the conflict due to clay

  • If the Hebrews were cowherders, was it their land or the Pharaoh’s? Who’s cows? Hebrew cows or Pharaoh’s cows? Those cows also went to Yisrael, right?

  • If the Philistines are so dangerous, how come the Hebrews didn’t become friends with the Philistines and take over the Pharaoh and make the Pharaoh powerless?

  • How come God knew the Philistines were so dangerous due to their fighting skills; how did the Philistines learn their fighting skills while the cowherder Hebrews didn’t know these same fighting skills; yet the Pharaoh was able to protect his land from the Philistines; and did the Philistines have any conflict with clay?

  • Were the Hebrews royal? Why is the Pharaoh a royal? What exactly does “royal” mean, and what does it compare to? Who designed this system when no one could get along while in the same land area due to conflict over clay?

Yes areas differ. Look to areas with fired pottery and there you will find clay. See also Ancient Egyptian pottery - Wikipedia

Well it is a story so not necessarily very accurate; however, first being a cowherder doesn’t necessarily mean you own the cows, you could be hired. Even if you owned the cows, the land under might be leased or be used by some other arrangement. Note that in Egypt the state (i.e., Pharaoh) ultimately owned the land (which is effectively true in any nation). Also even according to the story, the Hebrews stole (or borrowed without intending to repay) a lot from the Egyptians before leaving.

Story, however, being dangerous to a small group of refugees (and there is no way that the leaving Hebrews numbered in hundreds of thousands) is not the same as being dangerous to a nation like Egypt on its home territory. Also the Philistines seem to be anachronistic to the story. Their culture doesn’t seem to have appeared until circa 1200 BCE in the area in the Levant they are associated with. They are associated with the Battle of the Delta in c. 1175 BCE when Ramesses III fought off an incursion of the sea people.

Was anyone in conflict over clay?

  • I mistaken about conflict over clay. Conflict would be baking bricks

  • “Egypt clay” “Indus Valley India bake bricks with lots of straw”

  • Egypt would have clay while Indus valley for baking bricks with straw.

@bharatjj wrote this from thread Exodus from Egypt or Indus Valley?

Egypt: Pyramids were built of stone (Exodus 5:7–8) . Mud bricks were used only for poor-houses. Main construction material was stone. A conflict leading to Exodus would scarcely take place on the construction of poor-houses. Further, only 1% straw was added as binder in mud bricks. The conflict, then, would more likely take on collection of clay etc. rather than straw.

@bharatjj wrote this from thread Exodus from Egypt or Indus Valley?

Indus: Entire cities in the Indus were made from burnt bricks. Straw as fuel constitutes one-half of the cost of production of baked bricks and conflict on collection of the same makes sense.

From this thread I learn about the conflict
Exodus from Egypt or Indus Valley?

The israelites didnt steal according to the story…they were owed wages and demanded payment from the Egyptian people before the Exodus.

Mud brick was used for just about everything but monumental structures such as temples, tombs of important people (note by the time of the New Kingdom 1550–1077 BCE tombs were carved into rock, pyramids were an Old Kingdom method of burial c. 2700–2200 BCE with a revival with less permanent building material [e.g., lot of mud brick] in the Middle Kingdom’s 12 dynasty, c. 1991-1802 BCE).

I note there is a separate article on Mud-Brick Architecture Mud-Brick Architecture at the UCLA Encyclopedia of Archaeology. The following is a useful quote from it

Note the mention of palace complexes.

Watching the construction of burnt bricks is not a life experience of mine. But yes, the archaeology of the Exodus is an interest of mine. I know that “brick production quotas” appear in 13th-century Egyptian sources, per Kitchen and Hoffmeier. Straw was not used in Canaan–at least for making mudbricks so this detail is applied to activities in the eastern delta --see Frerichs and Lesko on this latter. So the bit in Exodus contains a local detail, not useful elsewhere.

Yes mud bricks were used. But why conflict on straw? Any why did they regress from burnt bricks of tower of babel?

Yes. But why conflict on taras which was a minor raw material?Compare with indus valley and we see the diffefence

Bharatjj…good questions. I am not sure of “conflict on taras”? For one thing, all I find on Taras is that it may be a place in Iran or it may be Ukrainian. So you lost me. The issue, it seems, is the requirement for straw to be used in making brick. The fact that they made bricks with straw in them in Egypt —especially the Eastern Delta – but did not use straw in brickmaking in Canaan —this detail would suggest that the writer of the Exodus account wrote from familiarity with Egyptian practices, thus likely to have lived there, spent time there and so on. He wasn’t relaxing in Canaan inventing stories about a slave past in a foreign land etc. I see that you have some questions for Erp which relate to this. You wonder why they regressed from what was used in the Tower of Babel? That is a whole other issue. For one thing, Babel was not Egypt. We are discussing what this chapter of Exodus says about the formation of bricks in the eastern delta area of Egypt. This practice was part of the experience of the Semitic peoples who were employed in making these bricks in the 13th (or so) centuries BCE. The product at Babel is another subject for another time. Thanks for the contribution!!