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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

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Hourwitz, Zalkind
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In the warm countries of the East the house is not so important a factor as it is in Western civilization, the climate permitting the Palestinian to live almost entirely in the open air. Artisans do not ply their trades in the house, but directly in the street, or in an open shop looking onto the street. The Palestinian, therefore, requires few domestic conveniences beyond a sheltered place for sleeping and a quiet place for eating. The style of the house is influenced by the material. Since historic times Palestine has had no large forests, and hence no timber for building. Solomon had to import the beams for his edifices (1 Kings 5:20 [A. V. 6]), and builders usually had to be very economical with wood. In the plains they generally used bricks of clay, baked in the sun (comp. "bet ḥomer," Job 4:19, 13:12, et al.). In the mountains limestone furnished a good material, being easily quarried and worked.

Caves as Houses.

As these conditions have always obtained, it may be assumed that the house of the ancient Israelite did not differ materially from that of the present inhabitant of the country; indeed, it could hardly have been much more primitive. The present village of Siloam illustrates the way in which the Palestinian houses were modeled on, and developed from, the cave. First, the natural cave was enlarged; then a cave was hewn in the rock; and finally a wall was built in front, converting the cave into a sheltered dwelling. Houses of all these kinds are found in Siloam; some are merely enlarged caves; others have at least a firmly built front wall; and others again are merely built against the rock.

Clay Houses.

The ancient houses, with the exception of the palaces of the great, consisted of only one apartment. In the plains four simple brick walls constituted a house. The walls were often smeared with clay (Leviticus 14:41 et seq.). The Hebrews began to use lime also at an early date (Amos 2:1; Isaiah 33:12), and the walls of the better class of houses were plastered (Ezekiel 13:10 et seq.; Deuteronomy 27:4). The roof was constructed of a few untrimmed logs, branches, and brushwood; a layer of earth was pounded into this framework, and the whole covered with a coating of clay and straw. A roof of this kind keeps off the rain, provided it is repaired and rolled before the rainy season begins. But a house of clay frequently gets so soaked with rain that it falls in, and it is not surprising that villages so built should disappear entirely soon after being abandoned.

Stone Houses.

The stone houses in the mountains are more solid structures. The smaller houses are built of unhewn stones, the more pretentious ones of correspondingly larger stones, with vaulted roofs. It is an open question how the Hebrews of ancient times succeeded in building vaulted domes over square edifices. Ancient ruins indicate that they knew how to meet the difficulty without resort to the dome proper: if the space was too large to be covered by slabs of stone extending from wall to wall, stone beams were laid across the corners, and the process then repeated over the corners formed by each successive series of beams, until the space was narrowed to the desired extent. These vaulted roofs were covered with clay on the outside; only enough space for walking was left round the dome. Frequently, however, the entire space around the dome was filled in so as to convert the whole roof into a flat surface.

The level roof was a favorite resort in the cool of the evening (2 Samuel 11:2), and was much used as a sleeping-place in the summer (1 Samuel 9:25), as it is to-day; small huts of branches were built on the roof as a protection against the sun (2 Samuel 16:22; Nehemiah 8:16). A person on the roof could see what was going on in the street or in the neighborhood without being seen himself (1 Samuel 9:25); and a flight of steps led directly to the roof from the street or the court. Ancient law required the roof to be surrounded with a battlement (Deuteronomy 22:8): yet a person could easily step from one roof to the next, and walk the length of whole streets in that way (comp. Mark 13:15; Josephus, "Ant." xiii 140, ed. Niese). Among the peasants the single apartment of the house served for both man and beast, the clay flooring of the part reserved for the former being slightly raised. There being no chimney, the smoke escaped through the windows (Hosea 13:3, A. V. "chimney"), which were covered with wooden lattices (Judges 5:28; 1 Kings 6:4; Proverbs 7:6). The opening for the door was very low (Proverbs 17:19). The Furniture of the ordinary house was as simple as it is to-day. It included a few mats, spread upon the floor at night for sleeping, and rolled up during the day, or a kind of divan set against the wall; there were a table and chairs; a large jug for grain stood in the corner, and othersfor water, wine, oil, etc.; a niche in the wall held the lamp.

Upper Apartment.

This ordinary house, however, frequently had an upper apartment ("'aliyyah") on the roof, either the hut of branches referred to above (Judges 3:20), or a more substantial room, where guests of honor were lodged for the night (1 Kings 17:19; 2 Kings 4:10). The "palace" of the rich differed from this only in having a larger number of rooms, arranged in a suite on the ground floor rather than in stories. Special rooms for the summer and the winter are mentioned (Amos 3:15; Jeremiah 36:22). The increasing luxury in the time of the later kings is exemplified in the building of palatial houses with many rooms (Jeremiah 22:14), and especially in the richness of the materials. Hewn stone was used instead of brick (Amos 5:11); in post-exilic times marble also (1 Chronicles 29:2; Song of Solomon 5:15; Josephus, "Ant." 15:392, ed. Niese; "B. J." 5:4, § 4). The walls were painted or paneled (Jeremiah 22:14); olive or cedar-wood was used for doors and windows (ib.); the floor was paved, or covered with wood (1 Kings 6:15; 2 Kings 16:17); the woodwork of the walls and the jambs of doors and windows were inlaid with ivory (Amos 3:15; 1 Kings 22:39), covered with beaten gold (1 Kings 6:20), or ornamented with carving (1 Kings 6:18). But the style of building remained, and still remains, unchanged. The Greco-Roman style, with which the Jews became acquainted in the Hellenic period, did not exert any great or lasting influence on the domestic architecture of Palestine, being confined to the larger edifices—palaces, baths, and theaters.

  • Benzinger, Arch.;
  • Nowack, Lehrbuch der Hebräischen Archäologie.
E. G. H.
I. Be.
Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'House'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tje/​h/house.html. 1901.
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