In Egypt, now as in ancient times, the buildings are plastered inside and out. The poor quality of the stone commonly used makes this necessary if a smooth attractive surface is desired. Among the poorer classes, clay mixed with straw is used. In Palestine and Syria, where there is a rainy season, the coating on the outside walls, if made of clay, must be frequently renewed. In Egypt burnt gypsum, and in Palestine and Syria burnt limestone (lime) are the commonest materials for making mortar. For the first coat of plastering the lime is mixed with "fat" red sand or with the ash from the bathhouse fires, and the finishing coat is composed of white sand and slaked lime with or without chopped flax straw. The plaster on some of the ancient Egyptian ruins seems to indicate that milk or some similar substance was added to the mortar to give a better surface.
The ancients preferred plastered surfaces for decorating, and even the finest granite was covered with stucco on which to paint or carve the decorations (Deuteronomy 27:2; Daniel 5:5). Columns were often first stuccoed and then painted.
The Arabic word for mortar is Tin, which really means "clay." The Hebrew sidh, literally, "to boil up," refers to the boiling of the water with which the lime is slaked, because of the heat generated during the slaking process. In Daniel 5:5 occurs gir, i.e. "burned in a kiln," which might mean either lime or gypsum. In Leviticus 14:42 occurs Tuach, "to smear."
James A. Patch
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