Houses - Common
Known to man as early at least as Cain; the tent not until
Jabal, the fifth in descent from Cain (Genesis 4:7; Genesis
4:17; Genesis 4:20). The rude wigwam and the natural cave
were the abodes of those who, being scattered abroad,
subsequently degenerated from the primitive civilization
implied in the elaborate structure of Babel (Genesis 11:3;
Genesis 11:31). It was from a land of houses that Abram, at
God's call, became a dweller in tents (Genesis 12:1; Hebrews
11:9). At times he still lived in a house (Genesis 17:27);
so also Isaac (Genesis 27:15), and Jacob (Genesis 33:15). In
Egypt the Israelites resumed a fixed life in permanent
houses, and must have learned architectural skill in that
land of stately edifices. After their wilderness sojourn in
tents they entered into possession of the Canaanite goodly
cities. The parts of the eastern house are:
(1) The porch; not referred to in the Old Testament
save in the temple and Solomon's palace (1 Kings 7:6-7; 2
Chronicles 15:8; Ezekiel 40:7; Ezekiel 40:16); in Egypt
(from whence he derived it) often it consisted of a double
row of pillars; in Judges 3:23 the Hebrew word (the front
hall) is different. The porch of the high priest's palace
(Matthew 26:71; puloon, which is translated "gate" in Acts
10:17; Acts 12:14; Acts 14:13; Revelation 21:12) means
simply "the gate." The five porches of Bethesda (John 5:2)
were cloisters or a colonnade for the use of the sick.
(2) The court is the chief feature of every eastern
house. The passage into it is so contrived that the court
cannot be seen from the street outside. An awning from one
wall to the opposite shelters from the heat; this is the
image, Psalm 104:2, "who stretchest out the heavens like a
curtain." At the side of the court opposite the entrance was
(3) guest chamber (Luke 22:11-12), Hebrew lishkah,
from laashak, "to recline"; where Samuel received his guests
(1 Samuel 9:22). Often open in front, and supported by a
pillar; on the ground floor, but raised above the level. A
low divan goes round it, used for sitting or reclining by
day, and for placing beds on by night. In the court the palm
and olive were planted, from whence the psalmist writes, "I
am like a green olive tree in the house of God"; an olive
tree in a house would be a strange image to us, but
suggestive to an eastern of a home with refreshing shade and
air. So Psalm 92:13, "those that be planted in the house of
the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God." Contrast
the picture of Edom's desolation, "thorns in the palaces,
nettles and brambles in the fortresses ... a court for owls"
(4) The stairs. Outside the house, so that Ehud
could readily escape after slaying Eglon (Judges 3:23), and
the bearers of the paralytic, unable to get to the door,
could easily mount by the outside stairs to the roof, and,
breaking an opening in it, let him down in the midst of the
room where Jesus was (Mark 2:4). The Israelite captains
placed Jehu upon their garments on the top of the stairs, as
the most public place, and from them proclaimed "Jehu is
king" (2 Kings 9:13).
(5) The roof is often of a material which could
easily be broken up, as it was by the paralytic's friends:
sticks, thorn bushes (bellan), with mortar, and marl or
earth. A stone roller is kept on the top to harden the flat
roof that rain may not enter. Amusement, business,
Till their sojourn in Egypt the Hebrews dwelt in tents. They
then for the first time inhabited cities (Gen. 47:3;
Heb. 11:9). From the earliest times the Assyrians
Canaanites were builders of cities. The Hebrews
Conquest took possession of the captured cities, and
have followed the methods of building that had been
the Canaanites. Reference is made to the stone (1
Isa. 9:10) and marble (1 Chr. 29:2) used in
building, and to the
internal wood-work of the houses (1 Kings 6:15; 7:2;
2 Chr. 3:5; Jer. 22:14). "Ceiled houses" were such
as had beams
inlaid in the walls to which wainscotting was
6:4; Jer. 22:14; Hag. 1:4). "Ivory houses" had the
of the walls adorned with figures in stucco with
gold and ivory
(1 Kings 22:39; 2 Chr. 3:6; Ps. 45:8).
The roofs of the dwelling-houses were flat, and are
alluded to in Scripture (2 Sam. 11:2; Isa. 22:1;
Sometimes tents or booths were erected on them (2
They were protected by parapets or low walls (Deut.
the house-tops grass sometimes grew (Prov. 19:13;
129:6, 7). They were used, not only as places of
the evening, but also sometimes as sleeping-places
at night (1
Sam. 9:25, 26; 2 Sam. 11:2; 16:22; Dan. 4:29; Job
21:9), and as places of devotion (Jer. 32:29;
The houses of the rural poor in Egypt, as well as in most
parts of Syria, Arabia and Persia, are generally mere huts
of mud or sunburnt bricks. In some parts of Israel and
Arabia stone is used, and in certain districts caves in the
rocks are used as dwellings. Am 5:11 The houses are usually
of one story only, viz., the ground floor, and often contain
only one apartment. Sometimes a small court for the cattle
is attached; and in some cases the cattle are housed in the
same building, or the live in a raised platform, and, the
cattle round them on the ground. 1Sa 28:24 The windows are
small apertures high up in the walls, sometimes grated with
wood. The roofs are commonly but not always flat, and are
usually formed of plaster of mud and straw laid upon boughs
or rafters; and upon the flat roofs, tents or "booths" of
boughs or rushes are often raised to be used as sleeping-
places in summer. The difference between the poorest houses
and those of the class next above them is greater than
between these and the houses of the first rank. The
prevailing plan of eastern houses of this class presents, as
was the case in ancient Egypt, a front of wall, whose blank
and mean appearance is usually relieved only by the door and
a few latticed and projecting windows. Within this is a
court or courts with apartments opening into them. Over the
door is a projecting window with a lattice more or less
elaborately wrought, which, except in times of public
celebrations is usually closed. 2Ki 9:30 An awning is
sometimes drawn over the court, and the floor is strewed
with carpets on festive occasions. The stairs to the upper
apartments are in Syria usually in a corner of the court.
Around part, if not the whole, of the court is a veranda,
often nine or ten feet deep, over which, when there is more
than one floor, runs a second gallery of like depth, with a
balustrade. When there is no second floor, but more than one
court, the women's apartments --hareems, harem or haram --
are usually in the second court; otherwise they form a
separate building within the general enclosure, or are above
on the first floor. When there is an upper story, the ka'ah
forms the most important apartment, and thus probably
answers to the "upper room," which was often the guest-
chamber. Lu 22:12; Ac 1:13; 9:37; 20:8 The windows of the
upper rooms often project one or two feet, and form a kiosk
or latticed chamber. Such may have been "the chamber in the
wall." 2Ki 4:10,11 The "lattice," through which Ahasiah
fell, perhaps belonged to an upper chamber of this kind, 2Ki
1:2 as also the "third loft," from which Eutychus fell. Ac
20:9 comp. Jere 22:13
Paul preached in such a room on account of its
superior rise and retired position. The outer circle in an
audience in such a room sat upon a dais, or upon cushions
elevated so as to be as high as the window-sill. From such a
position Eutychus could easily fall. There are usually no
special bed-rooms in eastern houses. The outer doors are
closed with a wooden lock, but in some cases the apartments
are divided from each other by curtains only. There are no
chimneys, but fire is made when required with charcoal in a
chafing-dish; or a fire of wood might be made in the open
court of the house Lu 22:65 Some houses in Cairo have an
apartment open in front to the court with two or more arches
and a railing, and a pillar to support the wall above. It
was in a chamber of this size to be found in a palace, that
our Lord was being arraigned before the high priest at the
time when the denial of him by St. Peter took place. He
"turned and looked" on Peter as he stood by the fire in the
court, Lu 22:56,61; Joh 18:24 whilst he himself was in the
"hall of judgment." In no point do Oriental domestic habits
differ more from European than in the use of the roof. Its
flat surface is made useful for various household purposes,
as drying corn, hanging up linen, and preparing figs and
raisins. The roofs are used as places of recreation in the
evening, and often as sleeping-places at night. 1Sa 9:25,26;
2Sa 11:2; 16:22; Job 27:18; Pr 21:9; Da 4:29 They were also
used as places for devotion and even idolatrous worship. 2Ki
23:12; Jer 19:13; 32:29; Zep 1:6; Ac 10:9 At the time of the
feast of tabernacles booths were erected by the Jews on the
top of their houses. Protection of the roof by parapets was
enjoined by the law. De 22:8 Special apartments were devoted
in larger houses to winter and summer uses. Jer 36:22; Am
3:15 The ivory house of Ahab was probably a palace largely
ornamented with inlaid ivory. The circumstance of Samson's
pulling down the house by means of the pillars may be
explained by the fact of the company being assembled on
tiers of balconies above each other, supported by central
pillars on the basement; when these were pulled down the
whole of the upper floors would fall also. Jud 16:26
Le 14:40-45; Isa 9:10; Am 5:11
Ge 11:3; Ex 1:11-14; Isa 9:10
So 1:17; Isa 9:10
-Built into city walls
-Used for worship
Ac 1:13,14; 12:12; Ro 16:5; 1Co 16:19; Col 4:15; Phm
-"A man's castle,"
Foundations of stone
1Ki 5:17; 7:9; Ezr 6:3; Jer 51:26
Ps 87:1; Isa 28:16; 48:13; Ro 15:20; 1Co 3:11; Eph
1Ti 6:19; Heb 6:1; Re 21:14
Job 38:6; Ps 144:12
Ps 118:22; Isa 28:16; Eph 2:20; 1Pe 2:6
Jud 3:23; 1Ki 7:6,7
Jud 3:20; with Am 3:15; 1Ki 17:19
Ge 43:30; 2Sa 18:33; 2Ki 1:2; 4:10; Ac 1:13; 9:37;
Jud 5:28; Pr 7:6
Ceiled and plastered
Jos 2:6; Jud 16:27; 1Sa 9:25; 2Sa 11:2; 16:22; Isa
22:1; Mt 24:17; Lu 12:3
Battlements required in Mosaic law
2Ki 23:12; Jer 19:13; 32:29; Zep 1:5
Used as place to sleep
Jos 2:8; Ac 10:9
Used as dwelling place
Pr 21:9; 25:24
Jer 22:14; Eze 8:10,12
Texts of Scripture on doorposts of
Laws regarding sale of
Le 25:29-33; Ne 5:3
De 20:5; Ps 30
2Sa 7:18; Ps 23:6; 36:8; Joh 14:2; 2Co 5:1; 1Ti
hous (bayith; oikos, in classical Greek generally "an
estate," oikia, oikema (literally, "habitation"), in Acts
I. CAVE DWELLINGS
II. STONE-BUILT AND MUD/BRICK-BUILT HOUSES
1. Details of Plan and Construction
(6) Lock and Key
2. Houses of More than One Story
(1) Upper Chambers and Stairs
(2) Palaces and Castles
3. Internal Appearance
III. OTHER MEANINGS
I. Cave Dwellings.
The earliest permanent habitations of the prehistoric
inhabitants of Israel were the natural caves which abound
throughout the country. As the people increased and grouped
themselves into communities, these abodes were supplemented
by systems of artificial caves which, in some cases,
developed into extensive burrowings of many adjoining
compartments, having in each system several entrances. These
entrances were usually cut through the roof down a few
steps, or simply dropped to the floor from the rock surface.
The sinking was shallow and the headroom low but sufficient
for the undersized troglodites who were the occupiers.
II. Stone-built and Mud/Brick-built Houses.
There are many references to the use of caves as dwellings
in the Old Testament. Lot dwelt with his two daughters in
cave (Gen 19:30). Elijah, fleeing from Jezebel, lodged in a
cave (1 Ki 19:9). The natural successor to the cave was the
stone-built hut, and just as the loose field-bowlders and
the stones, quarried from the caves, served their first and
most vital uses in the building of defense walls, so did
they later become material for the first hut. Caves, during
the rainy season, were faulty dwellings, as at the time when
protection was most needed, they were being flooded through
the surface openings which formed their entrances. The
rudest cell built of rough stones in mud and covered a with
roof of brushwood and mud was at first sufficient. More
elaborate plans of several apartments, entering from what
may be called a living-room, followed as a matter of course,
and these, huddled together, constituted the homes of the
people. Mud-brick buildings (Job 4:19) of similar plan
occur, and to protect this friable material from the
weather, the walls were sometimes covered with a casing of
stone slabs, as at Lachish. (See Bliss, A Mound of Many
Cities.) Generally speaking, this rude type of building
prevailed, although, in some of the larger buildings, square
dressed and jointed stones were used. There is little or no
sign of improvement until the period of the Hellenistic
influence, and even then the improvement was slight, so far
as the homes of the common people were concerned.
1. Details of Plan and Construction:
One should observe an isometric sketch and plan showing
construction of a typical small house...
DEDICATION OF A NEWLY BUILT HOUSE
THAT THERE WAS a generally accepted custom among the Jews of dedicating a newly constructed dwelling is indicated from the words of the Mosaic Law: "What man is there that hath built a new house and hath not dedicated it" (Deuteronomy 20:5). No doubt the social and also the devotional elements entered into the occasion. A similar custom was in use in other ancient and in some modern lands of the East.
The title of the Thirtieth Psalm reads, "A Psalm; Song at the dedication of the house of David." This would seem to reveal that David celebrated the entering into his house with a special service or festivity of dedication. Spurgeon quotes Samuel Chandler as saying concerning this custom:
It was common when any person had finished a house and entered into it, to celebrate it with great rejoicing, and keep a festival, to which his friends are invited, and to perform some religious ceremonies, to secure the protection of Heaven. [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
THE BIBLE IN THE JEWISH HOME OF CHRIST'S TIME
In the days when JESUS grew up as a boy in his Nazareth home, whatever else of the Hebrew Scriptures the youth may have been acquainted with, they grew up to hear recited a prayer called "The Shema." This prayer was in reality the quotation of three passages from the Pentateuch. It was repeated morning and evening by the men. And Jewish boys when they became twelve years of age had to be able to repeat this prayer. The three Scriptures that made up the Shema were: Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Deuteronomy 11:13-21; and Numbers 15:37-41. It is quite likely that after JESUS returned from that pilgrimage to Jerusalem, He would borrow the manuscript from the synagogue of Nazareth (if He did not have a copy of the Scriptures in His own home) and study in it, especially the books of Moses and the prophets. In His teachings He often referred to these writers, and was especially fond of Isaiah and Jeremiah.8
The widespread use of the Shema in CHRIST's time became with many a mere form with little or no meaning. It was possible for this prayer to become as vain as a heathen prayer. Doubtless CHRIST was protesting such use of it when He said, "But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen [Gentiles] do" (Matthew 6:7).
The practice of the phylactery, which the Pharisees made such wide use of, was based on some of the Scripture in the Shema, and as used by them, was condemned by JESUS. [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
The significance of light in a Palestinian house. A lamp is considered to be the Palestinian peasant's one luxury that is a necessity. When the sun sets in the West, the door of his house is shut, and then the lamp is lit. To sleep without a light is considered by most villagers to be a sign of extreme poverty. The Bible makes synonymous such terms as lamp, light, and life. A late traveler looks to see a light in a house, and then he knows there is life there. To wish that a man's light be put out would be to wish him a terrible curse.26 Concerning the wicked man, Bildad in the Book of Job said: "The light shall be dark in his tabernacle, and his candle [lamp] shall be put out with him" (Job 18:6). But the psalmist considered himself blessed of the LORD when he said of himself in relation to GOD, "For thou wilt light my candle [lamp]" (Psalm 18:28). It was to Orientals who appreciated the value of even a humble earthenware lamp in the dark of night, or even in the obscurity of a darksome house, that JESUS originally said, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
BETHLEHEM HOUSE AND MANGER
The humble scene of the birthplace of the Baby JESUS is so often interpreted with Occidental instead of Oriental flavor that it would be well for Westerners to have the description of the kind of a Bethlehem house in which the Saviour was doubtless born, as given by John D. Whiting.40
Entering the door of this one-room Bethlehem dwelling one sees that two-thirds of the space is given over to a "raised masonry platform, some eight to ten feet above the ground and supported by low-domed arches."
This space that is raised is occupied by the members of the family, and the lower part of the house is for the cattle and flocks. Narrow stone steps lead up to where the family lives, and there are only two small windows in the room and these are high up from the ground. In winter weather the sheep and goats are kept inside the house, also a few work cattle, and perhaps a donkey. Primitive mangers for the cattle are to be seen around the walls, and these are built of rough slabs of stone placed on edge and plastered up with mortar."
The owner of the animals often sleeps on a small raised place, where he can keep watch over newly born lambs.
To know the heart of the land, to have learned the hospitality of its people, which is always offered, no matter how primitive or simple, makes it easy to picture Mary and Joseph returning from the inn, already filled with guests, and turning aside into a home such as we have described, the regular dwelling portion of which may have been none too large for the family which occupied it. It may have been crowded with other guests, but they find a welcome and a resting-place for the babe in a manger. [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
USES MADE OF THE ROOF OF THE HOUSE
The roof of an Oriental house is used today for a great variety of purposes, much like it was used in the days of the prophets and of the apostles.
Used as a place to sleep. The roof is a popular place for the Oriental to sleep.
For a great part of the year the roof, or "housetop,'" is the most agreeable place about the house, especially in the morning and evening. There many sleep during the summer, both in the city and the country, and in all places where malaria does not render it dangerous. The custom is very ancient.
An example in the Bible of this practice, is the incident of Samuel calling Saul, who had slept on the house-top (I Samuel 9:26).
Used as a place for storage. The flat Oriental roofs so exposed to the air and sunshine are well suited for storing grain or fruit to be ripened or dried. This custom is a common one in the East.34 Rahab hid the spies with the stalks of flax which she had on her roof (Joshua 2:6).
Used as a gathering place in times of excitement. In Isaiah 22:1 the prophet says: "What aileth thee now, that thou art wholly gone up to the housetops?" Thus is described a typical Oriental city in the midst of a time of great commotion. Just as the Westerner at such a time gathers in the streets, so the Easterner goes to the housetops, where he can see down the streets, and discover what is happening.
Used as a place for public proclamations. In the days of JESUS as well as in modern times the villages of the Holy Land have had town criers. The orders of local governors are thus proclaimed from the top of the highest house available. Such a proclamation is usually made in the evening, after the men have returned from their work in the field. The long drawn out call becomes familiar to the residents, and they learn to listen for what follows.
The call of the town crier is said to resemble a distant, prolonged railroad whistle. JESUS must have often heard the call of the town crier. To his disciples he said: "what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops" (Matthew 10:27). As a warning against the impossibility of hiding our sins in the day of judgment, he said, "That which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops" (Luke 12:3).
Used as a place of worship and prayer. The Scriptures indicate that roofs of houses were used for true worship of GOD, and also for idolatrous worship. The prophet Zephaniah speaks of "them that worship the host of heaven upon the housetops" (Zephaniah 1:5). And Luke tells us that Peter at Joppa "went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour" (Acts 10:9). It would be natural for those worshiping the heavenly bodies to do so on the roof, and no doubt Peter retired to the housetop where he could be alone with GOD.
Used as a way of escape in time of evil. In a day when escape from evil was necessary, the inhabitants of villages in CHRIST's time could do so by going from roof to roof, because the houses were located so close to each other. Dr. Edersheim describes the situation thus:
From roof to roof there might be regular communication, called by the Rabbis "the road of the roofs." Thus a person could make his escape, passing from roof to roof, till at the last house he would descend the stairs that led down its outside, without having entered any dwelling. To this "road of the roofs" our LORD no doubt referred in His warning to His followers (Matthew 24:17; Mark 13:15; Luke 17:31), intended to apply to the last siege of Jerusalem, "And let him that is on the housetop not go down into the house, neither enter therein." [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
The chimney. The Fellabin Arabs have various ways of taking care of smoke from the interior fires. Sometimes they have an opening in the ceiling that serves as a chimney, or an aperture in the side of the house will serve the purpose. Often, when the fireplace is in the corner of the room, there is a hood over it with an outlet for the smoke. Frequently, charcoal fires are started in a brazier outdoors, and when most of the smoking is over, and the coals are red hot, then it is taken indoors.30
The prophet Hosea refers to "smoke out of the chimney" (Hosea 13:3). A high latticed opening in the wall of the house would serve both as window and chimney in certain of the peasant homes. But no doubt, most of the chimney arrangements used by the Arabs as mentioned above, were also in use in Bible times. The Psalmist's comparison of himself with "a bottle in the smoke" (Psalm 119:83), could be an indoor figure; other scriptural references to smoke, that are often spoken of as being indoors, could just as well be outdoors (Proverbs 10:26; Isaiah 65:5, etc.). It can safely be assumed that Bible houses were not always as full of smoke as many have assumed to be the case.
[Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
The fuel used. The peasant often uses dried dung as fuel for his fire. Some of the poorer classes use this themselves, and sell the sticks they find to those who can afford to buy them.28
A reference in the prophecy of Ezekiel indicates this use of fuel was common in Bible times (see Ezekiel 4:15).
In the Orient fuel is usually so scarce that dried grass and withered flowers are apt to be carefully gathered into bundles and used for making a fire.29 There are Bible indications that this was often done in those days of old. JESUS said: "The grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven" (Matthew 6:30; Luke 12:28).
Another popular fuel for fires in Israel is thorns. There are many kinds of thorny shrubs that grow there, and the people gather them and make good use of them. Bible passages indicating such use of them are numerous (II Samuel 23:6, 7; Psalm 118:12; Ecclesiastes 7:6; Isaiah 9:18; Isaiah 10:17; Isaiah 33:12; Nahum 1:10).
The widow of Zarephath was gathering sticks to build a fire (I Kings 17:10), but the fire built in the courtyard of the high priest's house, where Simon Peter warmed himself, was built of charcoal (John 18:18). JESUS cooked breakfast for His disciples on a charcoal fire (John 21:9).
[Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
The stove or fireplace. Like the Nomads who live in tents, the peasants who live in one-room houses, carry on as much of their meal-cooking outside as the weather will permit. These operations are transferred inside only when the cold winter weather makes it desirable. The Occidental would hardly call what they use in cooking their meals either a stove or a fireplace, but it serves the purpose. Often the place for the fire is on the floor in the middle of the room. A small open clay-baked box, or else a thick jar with holes at the sides, is what usually serves as a stove.
[Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
The prophet's reference to smoking flax. Isaiah's prophecy concerning the Messiah was that "the smoking flax shall he not quench" (Isaiah 42:3). Dr. Thomson tells of seeing ancient clay lamps in use illustrating this text. The wick was often made of a twisted strand of flax, and this was put into the olive oil in the shallow cup of the lamp. When the oil was almost used up it would give forth an offensive smoke. This was an indication it was time to replenish the supply of oil. The implication was that the quenching of the fire was sometimes done purposely. If the wick was well worn, the housewife would quench the fire, and then put a new wick in to take its place. GOD's servant would not thus treat the poor, weak, and despairing specimens of humanity. He would replenish the oil, trim the wick, and make the dimly burning flame to burn brightly. What a picture this is of our Saviour's desire to help the helpless and lift the fallen and save the lost. [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
The lampstand. In early Bible times, lampstands were not in common use, and the lamps would be put on a place such as a stone projecting from the wall. In the days of CHRIST lampstands were in quite general use. They were tall and were usually placed on the ground. Archaeologists have unearthed some bronze lampstands fourteen inches high that had been used in palaces. They were made for holding bowls or lamps. The poor no doubt had a less expensive type.
If the family had no separate lampstand, the bushel placed on the ground upside down would serve for a lampstand, as well as a table from which the meal would be served. The lamp was to be put on the bushel and not under it (Matthew 5:15).
[Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
Character of the lamp. When the Children of Israel entered the Promised Land they adopted the lamp used by the Canaanites, which was an earthenware saucer to hold the olive oil, and a pinched lip to hold the wick. A thousand years later a Mesopotamian lamp was imported and used in some sections. This lamp had a closed tube for the wick, and thus could be carried about without spilling the oil so readily. In the fifth century B.C. Greek lamps of a beautiful black glazed variety were imported and became popular. By the third century B.C. the old saucer-type lamp had all but disappeared, but in the second century, the Maccabeans revived the use of that type of lamp, as being more in line with the old Jewish traditions. But when the Roman Empire began to dominate the land of Israel, the lamps in use were either imported, or made under foreign models. The Virgin's Lamp in use in the time of CHRIST was an improvement over the old saucer type, having sufficient covering to keep the oil from spilling. [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
Biblical use of the word candle. The use of the word "candle does not carry the meaning of the word as we would be familiar with it, but rather with lamps. [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
The Parable of the Importunate Friend which JESUS told, if understood in the light of an Oriental one-room house, will give information about sleeping arrangements.
"And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him? and he from within shall answer and say. Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee (Luke 11:5-7).
Among the common folks of the Holy Land individual beds in separate bedrooms have been unknown. Instead the arrangements for sleeping in the parable, and today in Syria and Israel among the peasants, have been thus described:
The cushion-mattresses are spread side by side in the living room, in a line as long as the members of the family, sleeping close together, require. The father sleeps at one end of the line, and the mother at the other end, "to keep the children from rolling from under the cover." So the man was absolutely truthful when he said by way of excuse, "My children are with me in bed." [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
FURNISHINGS OF THE HOUSE
The furnishings of a one-room Palestinian house were and still are very simple. Mats and cushions are in use to sit on by day. and carpets or mats are slept on at night. There will be vessels of clay for household needs, with perhaps some cooking utensils of metal. There will be a chest for storing bedding, a lamp either placed on a lampstand or a bushel, a broom for house cleaning, and a handmill for grinding the grain, and the goatskin bottles in which liquids are kept. The fireplace would be on the floor often in the middle of the room. This gives a general picture of the furnishings of the average Palestinian home.
More details regarding some of these items will be given as the study proceeds.
[Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
Houses of One Room
AFTER ISRAEL had been in the land of Canaan many years and had settled down from the nomadic life to the more stable agricultural pursuits, houses began to take the place of tents as places of abode. The average home of the common people was a one-room dwelling dwelling.1
Dr. Thomson thinks that because the poor widow who entertained Elijah had an upper room in her house, it indicates she was not of the poorer class but was in straits only because of the terrible famine.2 (cf. I Kings 17:8-19).
[Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
Doors. The doors as well as windows were ordinarily built of sycamore wood. It was only for ornamental purposes of the wealthy that cedar wood was used16 (cf. Isaiah 9:10). These doors turned on hinges, as. the familiar proverb about the sluggard makes mention of the turning of a door upon its hinges (Proverbs 26:14). If the doors were fastened when shut, bars were usually used for this purpose (Proverbs 18:19).
The door of the peasant's one-room house is opened before sunrise in the morning, and stays open all day long as an invitation to hospitality. The Book of Revelation speaks thus: "Behold, I have set before thee an open door" (Revelation 3:8). For such a door to be shut would indicate the inhabitants had done that of which they were ashamed (cf. John 3:19). At sunset the door is shut and remains shut during the night (cf. Luke 11:7). The rule about the open door for the simple house does not hold for the city houses of more than one room. The reference to the Master knocking at the door has to do with such a door (Revelation 3:20; cf. Chapter 3). The distinction between the house of the villager and of the city dweller must always be made, in order to understand the scriptural references to houses. [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
Windows. The Oriental has few windows that open on the street side of the house, and those that do are usually high. As a rule the window has wooden bars serving as a protection against robbers, while the lower half of the window is screened by a framework of latticework. The Book of Proverbs speaks of such a window: "For at the window of my house I looked through my casement [lattice]" (Proverbs 7:6). Wooden shutters close the windows at night. When the window is open, those inside may see out without themselves being seen. [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
ITEMS OF INTEREST GROWING OUT OF THE CHARACTER OF THE ROOF AND WALLS
Grass on the housetops. With the roofs of the houses made largely of dirt or clay, one can easily imagine how grass could grow on the tops of the houses as Bible references indicate. "Let them be as the grass upon the housetops, which withereth afore it growth up" (Psalm 129:6; see also II Kings 19:26, and Isaiah 37:27).
Examples of this in connection with similarly built roofs in modern times have often been seen. One book published in the latter part of the nineteenth century carries a picture of a Palestinian roof all covered with growing grass. The notation beneath the picture says: "This is a good example of the appearance of 'grass upon the housetops.' After the winter rains, every flat and mud-roofed building is overgrown with grass and weeds, which soon perish."
Leaky roofs. With a dirt roof it can be understood how natural it would be for a heavy rainfall to produce a leak, which would make it quite inconvenient for those inhabiting the house at the time. Travelers who stop for the night at one of these dwellings, have sometimes had to change their sleeping quarters, because of the dripping of the rain water.
The Book of Proverbs compares this dropping to a contentious woman (Proverbs 19:13; 27:15).
Digging through of thieves. Since the walls of the houses are so often built of clay or dirt, or of stones with mud between them, it makes it an easy task for a robber to dig through and get into the house.13 Job referred to this: "In the dark they dig through houses" (Job 24:16). JESUS also spoke of the same thing in His great Sermon on the Mount: "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal" (Matthew 6:19; cf. Matthew 24:43).
Snakes in house walls. Because the walls of the stone houses were built so that the joints between the stones were wide and irregular, therefore a snake might readily crawl into the crevices and unexpectedly come in contact with an inhabitant.14 Concerning this kind of house the prophet Amos said that a man "leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him" (Amos 5:19).
[Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
CONSTRUCTION OF THE ROOF
The roof of these humble Palestinian houses is made by laying beams across from wall to wall, then putting on a mat of reeds, or perhaps thorn bushes, and over it a coating of clay or earth; sand and pebbles are scattered over this, and a stone roller is used to make it smooth and able to shed rain. This roller is usually left on the house top and the roof is rolled again several times, especially after the first rain in order to keep it from leaking.
A low parapet or wall, with spaces to allow the rain water to flow off, was expected to be built on these houses in Bible times, in order to prevent people from falling off. The failure to build such a wall in modern times has often caused accidents.
The law of Moses was very definite in commanding the erection of such. Its regulation says: "When thou buildest a new house, then thou shalt make a battlement for thy roof, that thou bring not blood upon thine house, if any man fall from thence" (Deuteronomy 22:8). The common use of the houseroof for so many purposes, as shall be seen, made this law essential. [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
FLOOR AND WALLS OF THE HOUSE
Concerning the nature of the floor of these Oriental houses, Dr. George A. Barton says:
"The houses generally had no floor except the earth, which was smoothed off and packed hard. Sometimes this was varied by mixing lime with the mud and letting it harden, and sometimes floors of cobblestones or stone chippings mixed with lime were found. In the Roman period mosaic floors, made by embedding small smoothly cut squares of stone in the earth, were introduced."
The walls of the houses were often made of bricks, but these were not ordinarily burned, but were composed of mud dried in the sun.7 Job speaks of these kinds of dwelling as "houses of clay" (Job 4:19). They are similar to the adobe houses so common in Mexico today, and often seen in the southwestern states of America, where the Spanish influence of the past is still felt.
But sometimes the walls were made of rough sandstones. so common in the land. These were of varying sizes and were set in mud. The joints between them were apt to be wide and irregular.8 It was only the palaces or houses of the wealthy that were constructed of hewn stones, like the palaces of Solomon (I Kings 7:9), and the rich of Isaiah's day, who boasted they would replace fallen down brick walls with walls of hewn stones (Isaiah 9:8-10).
[Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
PURPOSES OF THE HOUSE
In Bible times men did not build houses with the idea in mind that most of their daily living would be spent inside them. Their first interest was in spending as much time as possible in GOD's out-of-doors. The house served as a place of retirement. For this reason the outside walls of the humble house were not inviting. There was no effort to attract attention to this place of retirement.3
The purpose of these dwellings is borne out by the meaning of the Hebrew and Arabic words for "house." Abraham Rihbany, who was born in Syria and spent his early life there, has made a very illuminative statement about the meaning and purpose of the Palestinian house: The Hebrew word bavith and the Arabic word bait mean primarily a "shelter." The English equivalent is the word "house." The richer term, "home," has never been invented by the son of Israel because he has always considered himself "a sojourner in the earth." His tent and his little house, therefore, were sufficient for a shelter for him and his dear ones during the earthly pilgrimage.
Because the Palestinians lived out-of-doors so much, the sacred writers were fond of referring to GOD as a "shelter" or as a "refuge," rather than as a "home." Such expressions in connection with Deity are numerous in the Book of Psalm and also in the prophetic writings5 (cf. Psalm 61:3; Isaiah 4:6).
[Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]