Mineral coal was unknown to the ancient Hebrews, who used instead wood, manure, and grass for fuel. Wood was never abundant in Palestine, though there was not such a dearth in ancient times as exists at the present day. Various tree-like kinds of shrubs were also much used for fuel; for in ancient times, as to-day, the trees (holm-oak, oak, larch; comp. Isa. xliv. 14) were not allowed to attain to full growth, but were cut down when quite young, the foliage being given to the goats, and the wood being cut into sticks or made into charcoal. In Ps. cxx. 4 are mentioned coals of "rotem," a desert plant, probably the broom; they give great heat, and are still much in demand (comp. Robinson, "Researches," i. 226, iii. 683). This shrubbery ("ḥoresh"), which grew especially in waste places, as well as the low growth of the forests, was generally on unclaimed land, every one being free to take what he needed. Notwithstanding the comparative scarcity of wood, therefore, fuel, like water, could generally be obtained free (comp. the complaint in Lam. v. 4 that the foreign masters demanded payment for wood and water). The poor could easily procure their modest supply of fuel; the widow of Zarephath gathered her few sticks outside of the gates of the city (I Kings xvii. 11). This daily gathering of fuel was evidently a general custom; it was forbidden by law on the Sabbath (Num. xv. 32 et seq.; see Fire).
Charcoal was always much in demand for baking, for cooking, for heating houses by means of braziers, and for artisans' fires (see Coal).
As undergrowth or other fuel was not easily obtainable in some localities, and charcoal was an expensive fuel, especially if brought from a distance, substitutes were employed, as smaller plants, grasses, and weeds growing in the fields, and the brown dry grass of the desert, which wither quickly, producing a hot if not a lasting fire; and these were evidently frequently used (comp. Matt. vi. 30). Another substitute—used even to-day—was dung, especially that of the camel, which, when dried, burns like charcoal. Cow-dung, which quickly dries and is odorless, is still carefully gathered from the village streets. At the present day the freshdung is generally mixed with chopped straw ("tibn") raked up from the thrashing-floor, formed into flat cakes, and dried. One can often see such cakes on the walls of houses. Passages such as Ezek. iv. 12 et seq. and Matt. iii. 12 indicate that the Hebrews also used this kind of fuel.