Manners & Customs: Roofs
Roofs in the Ancient World
Products of the carpenter. There are several products of the Eastern carpenter's skill. Many have wondered what JESUS as a carpenter made. There is an old tradition that has come down to us, that he was a maker of plows and yokes.
The yoke, and most of the plow, with the exception of the iron ploughshare, are constructed of wood, and so would be the task of the carpenters. As there were many farmers among the ancient Hebrews, as there are among the Arab peasants today, there would be a great demand for yokes and plows. Other products of the carpenter would include wooden locks and wooden keys for houses, doors, roofs, windows, low tables, chairs or stools and chests for storage use. The carpenter's most ornamental work would include paneling of the roof, latticework for windows, and decorative art on house doors. [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]
LETTING THE SICK MAN THROUGH THE ROOF TO JESUS
A knowledge of the Oriental house is necessary in order to understand the story of the palsied man, who was let down through a hole in the roof, in order to get him to JESUS to be healed. Mark and Luke both give this aspect of the story. Mark says: "They uncovered the roof where he was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed" (Mark 2:4). Luke puts it this way: "And let him down through the tiling with his couch into the midst before Jesus" (Luke 5:19). These accounts present some difficulties, and several interpretations have been offered in solving them. The two most plausible ones will be given here.
The simplest explanation is that advocated by Dr. Thomson. He suggests that the sticks, thorn-bush, mortar, and earth of the roof were broken up, and thrown aside sufficiently, to let the sick man down into the house. He says that this could be done and the place could be repaired easily. Often this very thing is done in order to let grain, or straw or other things through. He testifies to having seen it done himself. The one difficulty about such a process, with the crowd below, would be the amount of dust caused. It would seem that Luke's account mentioning the letting down of the man through the tiling presents a difficulty to this interpretation. But some have considered "the tiling" to be a reference to the ordinarily constructed roof in the Orient. The Greek word for "tiling" means, "pottery ware," and such a word could describe a dirt roof when rolled and allowed to harden into clay.21
Other teachers of the Word have a different idea of what was done with the man. Advocating this view, Dr. Edersheim has this to say:
It is scarcely possible to imagine that the bearers of the paralytic would have attempted to dig through this into a room below, not to speak of the interruption and inconvenience caused to those below such an operation. But no such objection attaches if we regard it not as the main roof of the house, but as that of the covered gallery under which we are supposing the LORD to have stood . . . In such case it would have been comparatively easy to "unroof' the covering of "tiles"; and then "having dug out" an opening through the lighter framework which supported the tiles, to let down their burden "into the midst before Jesus."
In this connection Edersheim indicates that there were outside as well as inside stairways leading up to the roof.
[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]
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]
Roof Scripture - 2 Samuel 18:24
And David sat between the two gates: and the watchman went up
to the roof over the gate unto the wall, and lifted up his
eyes, and looked, and behold a man running alone.
Roof Scripture - Deuteronomy 22:8
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.
Roof Scripture - Ezekiel 3:26
And I will make thy tongue cleave to the roof of thy mouth,
that thou shalt be dumb, and shalt not be to them a reprover:
for they [are] a rebellious house.
Roof Scripture - Judges 16:27
Now the house was full of men and women; and all the lords of
the Philistines [were] there; and [there were] upon the roof
about three thousand men and women, that beheld while Samson
Roof Scripture - Lamentations 4:4
The tongue of the sucking child cleaveth to the roof of his
mouth for thirst: the young children ask bread, [and] no man
breaketh [it] unto them.
Roof Scripture - Luke 7:6
Then Jesus went with them. And when he was now not far from
the house, the centurion sent friends to him, saying unto him,
Lord, trouble not thyself: for I am not worthy that thou
shouldest enter under my roof:
Roof Scripture - Matthew 8:8
The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that
thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only,
and my servant shall be healed.
Roof Scripture - Nehemiah 8:16
So the people went forth, and brought [them], and made
themselves booths, every one upon the roof of his house, and
in their courts, and in the courts of the house of God, and in
the street of the water gate, and in the street of the gate of
Roof Scripture - Psalms 137:6
If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of
my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.
Roof Scripture - Song of Solomon 7:9
And the roof of thy mouth like the best wine for my beloved,
that goeth [down] sweetly, causing the lips of those that are
asleep to speak.
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