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American Tract Society Bible Dictionary

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Is often put for dwelling, residence; and hence the temple, and even the tabernacle, are called the house of God.

The universal mode of building houses in the East, is in the form of a hollow square, with an open court or yard in the center; which is thus entirely shut in by the walls of the house around it. Into this court all the windows open, there being usually no windows towards the street. Some houses of large size require several courts, and these usually communicate with each other. These courts are commonly paved; and in many large houses parts of them are planted with shrubs and trees, Psalm 84:3 128:3; they have also, when possible, a fountain in them, often with a jet d' eau, 2 Samuel 17:18 . It is customary in many houses to extend an awning over the whole court in hot weather; and the people of the house then spend much of the day in the open air, and indeed often receive visits there. In Aleppo, at least, there is often on the south side of the court an alcove in the wall of the house, furnished with divans or sofas, for reclining and enjoying the fresh air in the hot seasons.

In the middle of the front of each house is usually an arched passage, leading into the court-not directly, lest the court should be exposed to view from the street, but by turning to one side. The outer door of this passage was, in large houses, guarded by a porter, Acts 12:13 . The entrance into the house is either from this passage or from the court itself.

The following extracts from Dr. Shaw will interest the reader, and at the same time serve to illustrate many passages of Scripture. He remarks, "the general method of building, both in Barbary and the Levant, seems to have continued the same from the earliest ages, without the least alteration or improvement. Large doors, spacious chambers, marble pavements, cloistered courts, with fountains sometimes playing in the midst, are certainly conveniences very well adapted to the circumstances of these climates, where the summer heats are generally so intense. The jealously likewise of these people is less apt to be alarmed, while all the windows open into their respective courts, if we except a latticed window or balcony which sometimes looks into the streets", 2 Kings 9:30 .

"The streets of eastern cities, the better to shade them from the sun, are usually narrow, with sometimes a range of shops on each side. If from these we enter into one of the principal houses, we shall first pass through a porch or gateway with benches on each side, there the master of the family receives visits and dispatches business; few persons, not even the nearest relations, having a further admission, except upon extraordinary occasions. From hence we are received into the court, or quadrangle, which, lying open to the weather, is, according to the ability of the owner, paved with marble, or such materials as will immediately carry off the water into the common sewers. When many people are to be admitted, as upon the celebration of marriage, the circumcising of a child, or occasions of the like nature, the company is rarely or never received into one of the chambers. The court is the usual place of their reception, which is strewed accordingly with mats and carpets for their more commodious entertainment. Hence it is probable that the place where our Savior and the apostles were frequently accustomed to give their instructions, was in the area, or quadrangle, of one of this kind of houses. In the summer season, and upon all occasions when a large company is to be received, this court is commonly sheltered from the heat or inclemency of the weather by a veil or awning, which, being expanded upon ropes from one side of the parapet wall to the other, may be folded or unfolded at pleasure. The psalmist seems to allude either to the tents of the Bedaween, or to some covering of this kind, in that beautiful expression, of spreading out the heavens like a curtain, Psalm 140:2 . The court is for the most part surrounded with a cloister or colonnade; over which, when the house has two or three stories, there is a gallery erected, of the same dimensions with the cloister, having a balustrade, or else a piece of carved or latticed work going round about it to prevent people from falling from it into the court. From the cloister and galleries we are conducted into large spacious chambers, of the same length with the court, but seldom or never communicating with one another. One of them frequently serves a whole family; particularly when a father indulges his married children to live with him; or when several person join in the rent of the same house. From whence it is, that the cities of these countries, which in general are much inferior in bigness to those of Europe, yet are so exceedingly populous, that great numbers op people are always swept away by the plague, or any other contagious distemper."

The chambers of the rich were often hung with velvet or damask tapestry, Esther 1:6; the upper part adorned with fretwork and stucco; and the ceilings with wainscot or mosaic work or fragrant wood, sometimes richly painted, Jeremiah 22:14 . The floors were of wood or of painted tiles, or marbles; and were usually spread with carpets. Around the walls were mattresses or low sofas, instead of chairs. The beds were often at one end of the chamber, on a gallery several feet above the floor, with steps and a low balustrade,

2 Kings 1:4,16 . The stairs were usually in a corner of the court, beside the gateway, Matthew 24:17 .

"The top of the house," says Dr. Shaw, "which is always flat, is covered with a strong plaster of terrace; from whence, in the Frank language, it has attained the name of the terrace. It is usually surrounded by two walls; the outermost whereof is partly built over the street, partly makes the partition with the contiguous houses, being frequently so low that one may easily climb over it. The other, which I call the parapet wall, hangs immediately over the court, being always breast high; we render it the battlements,' Deuteronomy 22:8 . Instead of this parapet wall, some terraces are guarded in the same manner the galleries are, with balustrades only, or latticed work; in which fashion probably, as the name seems to import, was the net, or lattice,' as we render it, that Ahaziah, 2 Kings 1:2 , might be carelessly leaning over, when he fell down from thence into the court. For upon these terraces several office of the family, are performed; such as the drying of linen and flax, Joshua 2:6 , the preparing of figs and raisins; here likewise they enjoy the cool, refreshing breezes of the evening; converse with one another, 1 Samuel 9:25 2 Samuel 11:2; and offer up their devotions, 2 Kings 23:12 Jeremiah 19:13 Acts 10:9 . In the feast of Tabernacles booths were erected upon them, Nehemiah 8:16 . When one of these cities is built upon level ground, we can pass from one end of it to the other, along the tops of the houses, without coming down into the street."

"Such, in general, is the manner and contrivance of the eastern houses. And if it may be presumed that our Savior, at the healing of the paralytic, was preaching in a house of this fashion, we preaching in a house of this fashion, we may, by attending only to the structure of it, give no small light to one circumstance of that history, which has given great offence to some unbelievers. Among other pretended difficulties and absurdities relating to this fact, it has been urged that the uncovering or breaking up on the roof, Mark 2:4 , or the letting a person down through it, Luke 5:19 , suppose that the crowd being so great around Jesus in the court below, that those who brought the sick man could not come near him, they went upon the flat roof, and removing a part of the awning, let the sick man down in his mattress over the parapet, quite at the feet of Jesus."

Dr. Shaw proceeds to describe a sort of addition to many oriental houses, which corresponds probably to the upper chambers often mentioned time the Bible. He says, "To most of these houses there is a smaller one annexed, which sometimes rises one story higher than the house; at other times it consists of one or two rooms only and a terrace; while others that are built, as they frequently are, over the porch or gateway, have (if have not) all the conveniences that belong to the house, properly so called. There is a door of communication from them into the gallery of the house, kept open or shut at the discretion of the master of the family; besides another door, which opens immediately from a privy stairs down into the porch, without giving the least disturbance to the house. These smaller houses are known by the name alee, or oleah, and in them strangers are usually lodged and entertained; and thither likewise the men are wont to retire, from the hurry and noise of their families, to be more at leisure for meditation or devotion, Matthew 6:6; besides the use they are at other times put to, in serving for wardrobes and magazines."

This then, or something like this, we may suppose to have been the ali'yah or upper chamber of the Hebrews. Such was the "little chamber upon the wall," which the Shunammite had built for Elisha, 2 Kings 4:10; the "summer parlor" of Eglon, Judges 3:20; and the "chamber over the gate," where David retired to weep, 2 Samuel 18:33; and perhaps in the New Testament the "upper chamber" where Tabitha was laid out, Acts 9:37 , and whence Eutychus fell from the window of the third loft into the court, Acts 20:9 .

The flat roof of oriental houses often afford a place of retirement and meditation; here Samuel communed with Saul, 1 Samuel 9:25; and from / 1 Samuel 9:26 , they would seem also to have slept there, as is still common in the East, 2 Samuel 11:2 Daniel 4:30 . Mr. Wood says, "It has ever been a custom with them," the Arabs in the East, "equally connected with health and pleasure, to pass the nights in summer upon the house-tops, which for this very purpose are made flat, and divided from each other by walls. We found this way of sleeping extremely agreeable; as we thereby enjoyed the cool air, above the reach of gnats and vapors, without any other covering than the canopy of heaven, which unavoidably presents itself in different pleasing forms, upon every interruption of rest, when silence and solitude strongly dispose the mid to contemplation, Acts 10:9 . The roof of an ancient house was the best and often the only place, from which to get a view of the region around; hence the resort to it in times of peril, Isaiah 15:3 22:1 . In many cases roofs were coated with hardened earth, through which, when cracked or soaked through by rain, the water dripped, Proverbs 27:15; and in which, when neglected, the grass grows in spring, but soon withers after the rains have ceased, Psalm 129:6,7 Isaiah 37:27 ."

The common material for building the best oriental houses is stone. Brick is also used. But the houses of the people in the East in general are very bad constructions, consisting of mud walls, reeds, and rushes; whence they become apt illustrations of the fragility of human life, Job 4:19; and as mud, pebbles, and slime, or at best unburnt bricks are used informing the walls, the expression, "digging through houses," Job 24:16 Matthew 6:19 24:14 , is easily accounted for; as is the behavior of Ezekiel, Ezekiel 12:5 , who dug through such a wall in the sight of the people; whereby, as may be imagined, he did little injury to his house; notwithstanding which, the symbol was very expressive to the beholders. So also the striking illustration in Ezekiel 13:10-16 . On the sites of many ancient cities of Syria and Babylonia only the ruins of public edifices disappeared ages ago. Travellers near the Ganges and the Nile speak of multitudes of huts on the sandy banks of those rivers being swept away in a night by sudden freshets, leaving not a trace behind. This may illustrate our Savior's parable, in Matthew 7:24-27 . See TENT .

Bibliography Information
Rand, W. W. Entry for 'House'. American Tract Society Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​ats/​h/house.html. 1859.
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