In This Article Domestic Architecture, Ancient Israel

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Israelite Dwellings: Identification and Origins
  • Household Economy
  • House Form and Family Size
  • House Form and Use of Space
  • Houses and Religion

Biblical Studies Domestic Architecture, Ancient Israel
by
Carol Meyers
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 September 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0096

Introduction

Since the advent of agriculture, all humans have lived in built environments, and traditional societies typically produce living spaces that exhibit considerable uniformity. Domestic architecture, ancient Israel refers to the typical structures that housed most Israelite families in the Iron Age (ca. 1200–587 BCE). Although some house forms that existed in the pre-Israelite periods continued into the Iron Age, mainly in enclaves of non-Israelites, one house form came to dominate in settlements identified as Israelite. This type is called by various names. It was first identified as a rectangular space divided into three longitudinal spaces and, at the back, one horizontal space, creating four rooms; it was thus designated a “four-room house.” However, as more excavated examples became known, it became clear that this house type had many variations, some having fewer than four rooms and many, especially when second stories are taken into account, having considerably more. Thus, because a row of pillars typically separates two of the longitudinal spaces, they are sometimes called “pillared” houses. Either way, the location of courtyard space in these buildings is not clear. The function of these structures was not only to provide shelter from the elements or from enemies; it was also the workspace for many of the activities that were essential for the survival of the agriculturalists who comprised the great majority of the Israelite population. Houses served as places to sleep and eat and also to carry out basic economic functions: preparing food, making and using essential household items (e.g., textiles, pottery, baskets), and storing provisions and implements. They also were the settings for religious activities and local social and political interactions. In addition, the organization of space in a dwelling probably embodied and communicated cultural values.

General Overviews

Very little information about Israelite dwellings appears in biblical texts. Thus the remains of dwellings, which are commonly found in archaeological investigations, are the most important source of information. The typical Israelite dwelling is described as an architectural type in Braemer 1982, Hardin 2010, Netzer 1992, and Wright 1985; Clark 2000 reconstructs the amount of labor required to build one. Holladay 1992 and Holladay 1997 describe the dwelling and also include a consideration of the functions of household space. Faust 2013 adds suggestions about the social meaning of spatial arrangements. Many of the sources in Israelite Dwellings: Identification and Origins also contain general descriptions of the Israelite dwelling.

  • Braemer, Frank. L’Architecture domestique du Levant à l’Age du Fer. Paris: Editions Recherche sur les Civilisations 8. Paris: Éditions Recherche sur les civilisations, 1982.

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    Comprehensive corpus of dwellings known up to 1982 and a suggested typology, with variants of the four-room house considered discrete types. Written mainly for architectural specialists and amply illustrated with plans and diagrams. Also see Israelite Dwellings: Identification and Origins.

  • Clark, Douglas R. “Bricks, Sweat and Tears: The Human Investment in Constructing a ‘Four-Room’ House.” Near Eastern Archaeology 26 (2000): 34–43.

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    Well-illustrated description of the construction materials and elements (walls, roof, floors) of the four-room house; also discusses the considerable labor expenditure required to build one. Available online.

  • Faust, Avraham. “Domestic Architecture. Bronze and Iron Age.” In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Archaeology. Vol. 1. Edited by Daniel M. Master, 301–310. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.

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    Describes the four-room house, reviews past interpretations, and focuses on the social aspects, including family structure and size, social class, and meaning, of this type. Also see Ancient Israel.

  • Hardin, James W. “The Iron Age Pillared Dwelling.” In Lahav II, Households and the Use of Domestic Space at Iron II Tell Halif: An Archaeology of Destruction. By James W. Hardin, 44–55. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2010.

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    Introduction to the plan, origin, construction, components, and design of the “pillared house,” the typical Israelite dwelling.

  • Holladay, John S. “Four-Room House.” In The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East. Vol. 2. Edited by Eric M. Meyers, 337–342. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

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    Shows how the design and layout of the four-room house reflects the agrarian economy, ethnicity, and social structure of ancient Israel.

  • Holladay, John S., Jr. “House, Israelite.” In The Anchor Bible Dictionary. Vol. 3. Edited by David Noel Freedman, 308–318. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

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    Detailed description of the typical Israelite dwelling and its structural components and one of the first studies to consider functional and socioeconomic aspects of Israelite dwellings. See also Household Economy and Israelite Dwellings: Identification and Origins.

  • Netzer, Ehud. “Domestic Architecture in the Iron Age.” In The Architecture of Ancient Israel: From the Prehistoric to the Persian Periods. Edited by Aharon Kempinski and Ronny Reich, 193–201. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1992.

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    Architectural description of the four-room house as well as the few examples of another type, the larger courtyard house, which probably developed from Canaanite prototypes and may have served administrative purposes. Suggests that courtyard space was on the second story.

  • Wright, G. H. R. Ancient Building in South Syria and Palestine: Text. Vol. 1. Handbuch der Orientalistik 7. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1985.

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    See pp. 86–87 and 293–297. Situates the “Israelite house” in a discussion, by a leading archaeological architect of the last generation, of architectural forms at Iron Age sites in Palestine.

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