Bible History Online
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
hous (bayith; oikos, in classical Greek generally "an estate," oikia, oikema (literally, "habitation"), in Acts 12:1, "prison"):
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 from Gezer. The house is protected and approached from the street by an open court, on one side of which is a covered way. The doors enter into a living-room from which the two very small inner private rooms, bedchambers, are reached. Builders varied the plan to suit requirements, but in the main, this plan may be taken as typical. When members of a family married, extra accommodation was required. Additions were made as well as could be arranged on the cramped site, and in consequence, plans often became such a meaningless jumble that it is impossible to identify the respective limits of adjoining houses. The forecourt was absorbed and crushed out of existence, so that in many of the plans recovered the arrangement is lost.
Corner-stone (pinnah, Isa 28:16; Jer 51:26; lithos akrogoniaios, 1 Pet 2:6).--In the construction of rude boulder walls, more especially on a sloping site, as can be seen today in the highlands of Scotland and Wales, a large projecting boulder was built into the lower angle-course. It tied together the return angles and was one of the few bond-stones used in the building. This most necessary support claimed chief importance and as such assumed a figurative meaning frequently used (Isa 28:16; 1 Pet 2:6; see CORNER-STONE). The importance given to the laying of a sure foundation is further emphasized by the dedication rites in common practice, evidence of which has been found on various sites in Israel (see Excavations of Gezer). The discovery of human remains placed diagonally below the foundations of the returning angle of the house gives proof of the exercise of dedication rites both before and after the Conquest. Hiel sacrificed his firstborn to the foundations of Jericho and his youngest son to the gates thereof (1 Ki 16:34). But this was in a great cause compared with a similar sacrifice to a private dwelling. The latter manifests a respect scarcely borne out by the miserable nature of the houses so dedicated. At the same time, it gives proof of the frequent collapse of structures which the winter rains made inevitable and at which superstition trembled. The fear of pending disaster to the man who failed to make his sacrifice is recorded in Dt 20:5: "What man is there that hath built a new house, and hath not dedicated it? let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle." See illustration, p. 550.
Floor (qarqa`).--When houses were built on the rock outcrop, the floor was roughly leveled on the rock surface, but it is more common to find floors of beaten clay similar to the native floor of the present day. Stone slabs were sparingly used, and only appear in the houses of the great. It is unlikely that wood was much used as a flooring to houses, although Solomon used it for his temple floor (1 Ki 6:15).
Gutter (tsinnor).--The "gutter" in 2 Sam 5:8 the King James Version is obviously difficult to associate with the gutter of a house, except in so far as it may have a similar meaning to the water duct or "water course" (Revised Version (British and American)) leading to the private cistern, which formed part of the plan. Remains of open channels for this purpose have been found of rough stones set in clay, sometimes leading through a silt pit into the cistern.
Door (deleth, pethach; thura).--Doorways were simple, square, entering openings in the wall with a stone or wood lintel (mashqoph, Ex 12:22,23; 'ayil, 1 Ki 6:31) and a stone threshold raised slightly above the floor. It is easy to imagine the earliest wooden door as a simple movable boarded cover with back bars, fixed vertically by a movable bar slipped into sockets in the stone jambs. Doorposts (caph, Ezek 41:16) appear to have been in use, but, until locks were introduced, it is difficult to imagine a reason for them. Posts, when introduced, were probably let into the stone at top and bottom, and, unlike our present door frame, had no head-piece. When no wood was used, the stone jambs of the opening constituted the doorposts. To the present day the post retains its function as commanded in Dt 6:9; 11:20, and in it is fitted a small case containing a parchment on which is written the exhortation to obedience.
Hinge (poth, 1 Ki 7:50; tsir, Prov 26:14).--Specimens of sill and head sockets of stone have been discovered which suggest the use of the pivot hinge, the elongated swinging stile of the door being let into the sockets at top and bottom. A more advanced form of construction was necessary to this type of door than in the previous instance, and some little skill was required to brace it so that it would hold together. The construction of doors and windows is an interesting question, as it is in these two details that the joinery craft first claimed development. There is no indication, however, of anything of the nature of advancement, and it seems probable that there was none.
(6) Lock and key:
Lock and key ("lock," man`ul, Neh 3:3 ff; Song 5:5; "key," maphteach, Jdg 3:25; figurative. Isa 22:22; kleis, Mt 16:19, etc.).--In later Hellenic times a sort of primitive lock and key appeared, similar to the Arabic type. See Excavations of Gezer, I, 197, and illustration in article KEY.
Threshold (caph, 1 Ki 14:17; Ezek 40:6 ff; miphtan, 1 Sam 5:4,5; Ezek 9:3, etc.).--Next to the corner-stone, the threshold was specially sacred, and in many instances foundation-sacrifices have been found buried under the threshold. In later times, when the Hebrews became weaned of this unholy practice, the rite remained with the substitution of a lamp enclosed between two bowls as a symbol of the life.
Hearth ('ach, Jer 36:22,23, the Revised Version (British and American) "brazier"; kiyyor).--The references in the Old Testament and the frequent discovery of hearths make it clear that so much provision for heating had been made. It is unlikely, however, that chimneys were provided. The smoke from the wood or charcoal fuel was allowed to find its way through the door and windows and the many interstices occurring in workmanship of the worst possible description. The "chimney" referred to (Hos 13:3) is a doubtful translation. The "fire in the brazier" (Jer 36:22 the Revised Version (British and American)) which burned before the king of Judah in his "winter house" was probably of charcoal. The modern natives, during the cold season, huddle around and warm their hands at a tiny glow in much the same way as their ancient predecessors. The use of cow and camel dung for baking-oven (tannur) fires appears to have continued from the earliest time to the present day (Ezek 4:15).
See also HEARTH.
Window (thuris, Acts 20:9; 2 Cor 11:33).--It would appear that windows were often simple openings in the wall which were furnished with some method of closing, which, it may be conjectured, was somewhat the same as the primitive door previously mentioned. The window of the ark (challon, Gen 8:6), the references in Gen 26:8; Josh 2:15, and the window from which Jezebel looked (2 Ki 9:30), were presumably of the casement class. Ahaziah fell through a lattice (cebhakhah) in the same palace, and the same word is used for the "networks" (1 Ki 7:41) "covering the bowls of the capitals," and in Song 2:9, "through the lattice" (charakkim). It would appear, therefore, that some variety of treatment existed, and that the simple window opening with casement and the opening filled in with a lattice or grill were distinct. Windows were small, and, according to the Mishna, were kept not less than 6 ft. from floor to sill. The lattice was open, without glass filling, and in this connection there is the interesting figurative reference in Isa 54:12 the King James Version, "windows of agates," translated in the Revised Version (British and American) "pinnacles of rubies." Heaven is spoken of as having "windows" ('arubbah) for rain (Gen 7:11; 8:2; 2 Ki 7:2, etc.).
Roof (gagh; stege).--These were flat. Compare "The beams of our house are cedars, and our rafters are firs" (Song 1:17). To get over the difficulty of the larger spans, a common practice was to introduce a main beam (qurah) carried on the walls and strengthened by one or more intermediate posts let into stone sockets laid on the floor. Smaller timbers as joists ("rafters," rahiT) were spaced out and covered in turn with brushwood; the final covering, being of mud mixed with chopped straw, was beaten and rolled. A tiny stone roller is found on every modern native roof, and is used to roll the mud into greater solidity every year on the advent of the first rains. Similar rollers have been found among the ancient remains throughout the country; see Excavations of Gezer, I, 190; PEFS, Warren's letters, 46. "They let him down through the tiles (keramos) with his couch into the midst before Jesus" (Lk 5:19) refers to the breaking through of a roof similar to this. The roof ("housetop," gagh; doma) was an important part of every house and was subjected to many uses. It was used for worship (2 Ki 23:12; Jer 19:13; 32:29; Zeph 1:5; Acts 10:9). Absalom spread his tent on the "top of the house" (2 Sam 16:22). In the Feast of the Tabernacles temporary booths (cukkah) were erected on the housetops. The people, as is their habit today, gathered together on the roof as a common meeting-place on high days and holidays (Jdg 16:27). The wild wranglings which can be heard in any modern native village, resulting in vile accusations and exposure of family secrets hurled from the housetops of the conflicting parties, illustrate the passage, "And what ye have spoken in the ear in the inner chambers shall be proclaimed upon the housetops" (Lk 12:3).
2. Houses of More than One Story:
(1) Upper Chambers and Stairs:
It is certain that there were upper chambers (`aliyah; huperoon, Acts 9:37, etc.) to some of the houses. Ahaziah was fatally injured by falling from the window of his palace, and a somewhat similar fate befell his mother, Jezebel (2 Ki 1:2; 9:33). The escape of the spies from the house on the wall at Jericho (Josh 2:15) and that of Paul from Damascus (2 Cor 11:33) give substantial evidence of window openings at a considerable height. Elijah carried the son of the widow of Zarephath "up into the chamber." The Last Supper was held in an upper chamber (Mk 14:15). Some sort of stairs (ma`alah) of stone or wood must have existed, and the lack of the remains of stone steps suggests that they were wood steps, probably in the form of ladders.
(2) Palaces and Castles:
Palaces and castles ('armon, birah, hekhal; aule, parembole).--These were part of every city and were more elaborate in plan, raised in all probability to some considerable height. The Canaanite castle discovered by Macalister at Gezer shows a building of enormously thick walls and small rooms. Reisner has unearthed Ahab's palace at Samaria, revealing a plan of considerable area. Solomon's palace is detailed in 1 Ki 7 (see TEMPLE). In this class may also be included the megalithic fortified residences with the beehive guard towers of an earlier date, described by Dr. Mackenzie (PEF, I) .
3. International Appearance:
Walls were plastered (Lev 14:43,18), and small fragments of painted (Jer 22:14) plaster discovered from time to time show that some attempt at mural decoration was made, usually in the form of crudely painted line ornament. Walls were recessed here and there into various forms of cupboards (which see) at various levels. The smaller cuttings in the wall were probably for lamps, and in the larger and deeper recesses bedmats may have been kept and garments stored.
III. Other Meanings.
The word has often the sense of "household," and this term is frequently substituted in the Revised Version (British and American) for "house" of the King James Version (e.g. Ex 12:3; 2 Ki 7:11; 10:5; 15:5; Isa 36:3; 1 Cor 1:11; 1 Tim 5:14); in certain cases for phrases with "house" the Revised Version (British and American) has "at home". (Acts 12:46; 5:42).
See HOUSE OF GOD; HOUSEHOLD.
Macalister, Excavations at Gezer; PEFS; Sellin, Excavations at Taanach; Schumacher, Excavations at Tell Mutesellim; Bliss, Mound of Many Cities; articles in Dictionaries and Encyclopedias.
Arch. C. Dickie
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Definition for 'house'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". bible-history.com - ISBE
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