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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

House (2)

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HOUSE οἰκία, οἶκος.—The word ‘house’ is used in the Gospels, in accordance with ancient Hebrew usage, in a twofold sense, as referring either to the dwelling, or to the family living in it. Thus we have (1) ‘the house of Israel’ (Matthew 10:6), ‘the house of David’ (Luke 1:27), etc.; (2) ‘built his house upon a rock’ (Matthew 7:24), ‘the house of the ruler’ (Mark 5:38), etc.

The ‘house,’ as a building, plays no such part in Oriental as in Western life and civilization. Climatic conditions in the East permit people to live much in the open. Accordingly we find artisans and merchants plying their trades in the street, or in open shops looking out on the street. Then the domestic life of the Oriental requires little beyond a sheltered place for sleeping and a quiet place for eating. The ordinary house of the ancient Hebrew, we may be sure, was much like that found in Palestine to-day—it could hardly be cruder, or more primitive. As to Hebrew architecture, of either OT or NT times, the Bible has little to say. Architecture proper can hardly be said to have arisen among the Hebrews before the time of the kings, say, about b.c. 1000. Then, it would seem, it differed little from that of the Phœnicians, Assyrians, and Egyptians. The style of the house would naturally be determined largely by the location, the materials at hand, and the purpose to be served. Palestine, as known to history, has had few great forests, and little timber of any kind suited for building. (Solomon had to import materials for palace and temple, 1 Kings 5:18). Houses built in the plains were usually constructed of mud, clay, or sun-dried bricks (cf. Job 4:19). ‘Houses of clay,’ or those built of sun-dried bricks, could be easily broken into—a fact that gives point to our Lord’s allusion in the Sermon on the Mount, when He would dissuade from laying up treasures ‘where thieves break through and steal’ (Matthew 6:19), where it is literally ‘dig through’ ((Revised Version margin)). Great care needed to be taken with the foundations. In a limestone country like Palestine, if one dig deep enough, he finds almost anywhere a stratum of solid rock. It is still true that the wise man builds his house upon the rock (Matthew 7:24). It is common there now to dig down to the rock and lay the foundation of even the ‘house of clay’ upon it. Matthew 7:25 ‘It was founded,’ might well be rendered, ‘It was foundationed upon the rock,’ if we had such a word in English. St. Luke (Luke 6:48) says, ‘dug, and went deep, and laid a foundation upon the rock.’

In the mountainous regions limestone rock was the building material chiefly used, as it was abundant, easily quarried, and readily worked. The house of stone was, probably, modelled after, or developed from, the cave. The nature of the country invited to this. First the natural cave would be used, and, as there was demand, artificially enlarged. Then, occasionally, in some inviting place, a cave would be hewn out of the rock, de novo. Finally, a wall would be built in front for protection, or privacy, and so the cave would be converted into a sheltered dwelling. Henceforth it would serve as a model for detached stone houses. As a matter of fact, in the ancient village of Siloam are found all these kinds of houses, and they illustrate this process of development. (See Jewish Encyc. art. ‘House’). Bricks were sometimes used even in the mountain regions, though counted inferior to hewn stone (2 Samuel 12:31). Many stone houses were unpretentious and rude, being built of rough, unhewn stones; but some, then as now, were built of hewn stones, with vaulted stone roofs, e.g. the palaces of the rich, or of the ruling class (cf. ‘the house of the ruler,’ Mark 5:38, ‘the high priest’s house,’ Luke 22:54). Sometimes space for walking was left around the dome, but often all the space between the dome and the battlement (Deuteronomy 22:8) would be filled in, so as to give the much-desired flat roof—the favourite resort of the Oriental in the cool of the evening (2 Samuel 11:2), and an inviting sleeping-place in summer (1 Samuel 9:25). Such a house will often have a hut of branches, or of vine-covered trellis-work, on the roof (cf. 2 Samuel 16:22, Nehemiah 8:16), and sometimes a more substantial room, where guests of honour are lodged (1 Kings 17:19, 2 Kings 4:10). For ‘summer parlour,’ cf. Judges 3:20, (Revised Version margin) has rightly ‘upper chamber of cooling.’ (See Mark 14:15, and cf. ‘upper room’ elsewhere). From the roof one could easily see what was going on in the street, or on a neighbouring housetop (cf. 1 Samuel 9:25); indeed, could even step from roof to roof, and thus walk the whole length of a street, as the present writer once did in Damascus (cf. Mark 13:15; Josephus Ant. xiii. 140 [ed. Niese]).

The humbler house of the plain was very simple, having usually only one apartment, which some times sheltered both man and beast. The walls were sometimes smeared with clay (Leviticus 14:41), sometimes plastered (Ezekiel 13:10, Deuteronomy 27:4). The roof was made, no doubt, as that of the common Arab house is made to-day, by laying rough beams about three feet apart, then laying reeds or brushwood close and thick across, covering it with something like the thickly matted thorn-bush called bellan, and then spreading over the whole, first a coat of thick mortar, and then one of marl or earth, and rolling it. Such roofs would require frequent repairing and rolling to keep out the rain, and, if neglected, would get so soaked with the tropical rains that they would cave in. In this way whole villages have had to be abandoned, and their houses left desolate. It was probably one of the simplest of such roofs that was ‘broken up’ (Mark 2:4) when the paralytie was let down from the housetop at Capernaum into the presence of Jesus to be healed. The whole affair would seem to have been the extemporaneous device of plain peasants, accustomed to open their roofs and let down grain, straw, and other articles, as they still do in that country (Thomson, Land and Book, ii. 6ff.). The furniture of such a house would be very simple,—a few mats, or pallets, spread on the ground floor for sleeping on at night, then rolled up and put aside in the day; latterly a ‘divan’ set against the wall on one side, a small table, a few rude chairs, a niche in the wall for the primitive little lamp, unless it was of a sort to hang from a rafter, and a few large jugs for grain, water, wine, or oil.

The palace of the rich would differ from such a house, of course, in having more rooms, and richer and more varied furniture. The numerous rooms, often preferably arranged in a suite on the ground floor around one or more open courts, were often built in storeys. Fine woods, olive, cedar, etc., were used for the doors and windows, and the floors were sometimes made of wood, but often of cement or stone, or even of rich mosaics; while the walls in rare instances were inlaid with ivory and beaten gold (cf. Amos 5:11, 1 Kings 22:39; 1 Kings 6:18; 1 Kings 6:20).

The Graeco-Roman architecture of the Hellenistic period did not exert any very marked or lasting influence upon the architecture of Palestine, partly because of the Jewish antipathy to the Hellenizing tendency, and partly because it was confined to the larger buildings, such as palaces, baths, theatres, temples, etc. See, further, Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible, art. ‘House.’

Literature.—The Heb. Archaeologies of Keil, Benzinger, Nowack; Edersheim, Jewish Social Life; Tristram, Eastern Customs in Bible Lands; Mackie, Bible Manners, etc.

Geo. B. Eager.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'House (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/h/house-2.html. 1906-1918.

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