Quakers today use the word ‘threshing’ to describe a process of exploring the range of opinions in a group, usually as a preparation for considering an contentious issue in a Meeting for Worship for Business. This is described, although hardly at length, in Quaker Faith and Practice 12:26. I’ve been thinking about writing about our process of threshing recently, perhaps even doing some academic work on the topic, and it prompted me to ask: where has this metaphor come from? What did threshing originally look like?

I knew that threshing was what you did before winnowing, and that the key idea was to separate the grains of wheat (or barley, or something similar) from the chaff, the bit they grew in but which you don’t want to eat, and I knew that it was now done by machines, and that in the Bible ‘threshing floors’ get mentioned sometimes. A bit of looking-up (not quite research!) online suggests that there are two main methods: either hit it with something, like a flail, or stamp on it, either using the feet of animals or people.

I found some YouTube videos which helped me understand the process. In this first one, there’s a fairly comprehensive explanation of the flail process and how it’s done:

while this one provides some different angles:

and this brief clip gives a good idea of how several people can work together using this method:

The alternative, using oxen, is less common or at least less commonly documented, but can be seen in this video:



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