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Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature

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Fig. 89—Bed

The manner of sleeping in warm Eastern climates was, and is, necessarily very different from that which is followed in our colder regions. The present usages appear to be the same as those of the ancient Jews, and sufficiently explain the passages of Scripture which bear on the subject. Beds of feathers are altogether unknown, and the Orientals lie exceedingly hard. Poor people who have no certain home, or when on a journey, or employed distant from their homes, sleep on mats or wrapped in their outer garment, which from its importance in this respect was forbidden to be retained in pledge over night from the owner (Genesis 9:21; Genesis 9:23; Exodus 22:27; Deuteronomy 24:13). Under such circumstances a stone covered with some folded cloth or piece of dress is often used for a pillow (Genesis 28:11). The more wealthy classes sleep on mattresses stuffed with wool or cotton, and which are often no other than a quilt thickly padded, either used singly or one or more placed upon each other. A similar quilt of finer materials forms the coverlet in winter, and in summer a thin blanket suffices; but sometimes the convenient outer garment is used for the latter purpose, and was so among the Jews, as we see from 1 Samuel 19:13. The difference of use here is, that the poor wrap themselves up in it, and it forms all their bed; whereas when used by the rich it is as a covering only. A pillow is placed upon the mattress, and over both, in good houses, is laid a sheet. The bolsters are more valuable than the mattresses, both for their coverings and material: they are usually stuffed with cotton or other soft substance (Ezekiel 13:20); but instead of these, skins of goats or sheep appear to have been formerly used by the poorer classes and in the hardier ages. These skins were probably sewed up in the natural shape, like water-skins, and stuffed with chaff or wool (1 Samuel 19:13).

It has been doubted whether different Hebrew words translated 'couch,' and 'bed,' and 'bedstead' in the Authorized Version were actually bedsteads of different sorts, or simply the standing and fixed divans, such as those on which the Western Asiatics commonly make their beds at night. It has been usually thought that the choice lay between these alternatives, because it has not been understood that in the East there is, in fact, a varied arrangement in this matter: and there is reason to think that the different Hebrew words answer to and describe similarly different arrangements, although we may be unable now to give to the several Hebrew words the distinctive applications to still subsisting things.

The divan, or dais, is a slightly elevated platform at the upper end, and often along the sides of the room. On this are laid the mattresses on which the Western Asiatics sit cross-legged in the day-time, with large cushions against the wall to support the back. At night the light bedding is usually laid out upon this divan, and beds for many persons are easily formed. The bedding is removed in the morning, and deposited in recesses in the room, made for the purpose. This is, however, a sort of general sleeping-room for the males of the family and for guests, none but the master having access to the inner parts of the house, where alone there are proper and distinct bed-chambers, where the bedding is either laid on the carpeted floor or placed on a low frame or bedstead.

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Public Domain.

Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Beds'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​kbe/​b/beds.html.
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