Is often put for dwelling, residence; and hence the temple, and even the tabernacle, are called the house of God.
The universal mode of building houses in the East, is in the form of a hollow square, with an open court or yard in the center; which is thus entirely shut in by the walls of the house around it. Into this court all the windows open, there being usually no windows towards the street. Some houses of large size require several courts, and these usually communicate with each other. These courts are commonly paved; and in many large houses parts of them are planted with shrubs and trees, Ps 84:3; 128:3; they have also, when possible, a fountain in them, often with a jet d' eau, 2Sa 17:18. It is customary in many houses to extend an awning over the whole court in hot weather; and the people of the house then spend much of the day in the open air, and indeed often receive visits there. In Aleppo, at least, there is often on the south side of the court an alcove in the wall of the house, furnished with divans or sofas, for reclining and enjoying the fresh air in the hot seasons.
In the middle of the front of each house is usually an arched passage, leading into the court-not directly, lest the court should be exposed to view from the street, but by turning to one side. The outer door of this passage was, in large houses, guarded by a porter, Ac 12:13. The entrance into the house is either from this passage or from the court itself.
The following extracts from Dr. Shaw will interest the reader, and at the same time serve to illustrate many passages of Scripture. He remarks, "the general method of building, both in Barbary and the Levant, seems to have continued the same from the earliest ages, without the least alteration or improvement. Large doors, spacious chambers, marble pavements, cloistered courts, with fountains sometimes playing in the midst, are certainly conveniences very well adapted to the circumstances of these climates, where the summer heats are generally so intense. The jealously likewise of these people is less apt to be alarmed, while all the windows open into their respective courts, if we except a latticed window or balcony which sometimes looks into the streets, 2Ki 9:30.
The streets of eastern cities, the better to shade them from the sun, are usually narrow, with sometimes a range of shops on each side. If from these we enter into one of the principal houses, we shall first pass through a porch or gateway with benches on each side, there the master of the family receives visits and dispatches business; few persons, not even the nearest relations, having a further admission, except upon extraordinary occasions. From hence we are received into the court, or quadrangle, which, lying open to the weather, is, according to the ability of the owner, paved with marble, or such materials as will immediately carry off the water into the common sewers. When many people are to be admitted, as upon the celebration of marriage, the circumcising of a child, or occasions of the like nature, the company is rarely or never received into one of the chambers. The court is the usual place of their reception, which is strewed accordingly with mats and carpets for their more commodious entertainment. Hence it is probable that the place where our Savior and the apostles were frequently accustomed to give their instructions, was in the area, or quadrangle, of one of this kind of houses. In the summer season, and upon all occasions when a large company is to be received, this court is commonly sheltered from the heat or inclemency of the weather by a veil or awning, which, being expanded upon ropes from one side of the parapet wall to the other, may be folded or unfolded at pleasure. The psalmist seems to allude either to the tents of the Bedaween, or to some covering of this kind, in that beautiful expression, of spreading out the heavens like a curtain, Ps 140:2. The court is for the most part surrounded with a cloister or colonnade; over which, when the house has two or three stories, there is a gallery erected, of the same dimensions with the cloister, having a balustrade, or else a piece of carved or latticed work going round about it to prevent people from falling from it into the court. From the cloister and galleries we are conducted into large spacious chambers, of the same length with the court, but seldom or never communicating with one another. One of them frequently serves a whole family; particularly when a father indulges his married children to live with him; or when several person join in the rent of the same house. From whence it is, that the cities of these countries, which in general are much inferior in bigness to those of Europe, yet are so exceedingly populous, that great numbers op people are always swept away by the plague, or any other contagious distemper.
The chambers of the rich were often hung with velvet or damask tapestry, Es 1:6; the upper part adorned with fretwork and stucco; and the ceilings with wainscot or mosaic work or fragrant wood, sometimes richly painted, Jer 22:14. The floors were of wood or of painted tiles, or marbles; and were usually spread with carpets. Around the walls were mattresses or low sofas, instead of chairs. The beds were often at one end of the chamber, on a gallery several feet above the floor, with steps and a low balustrade,
The top of the house, says Dr. Shaw, "which is always flat, is covered with a strong plaster of terrace; from whence, in the Frank language, it has attained the name of the terrace. It is usually surrounded by two walls; the outermost whereof is partly built over the street, partly makes the partition with the contiguous houses, being frequently so low that one may easily climb over it. The other, which I call the parapet wall, hangs immediately over the court, being always breast high; we render it the 'battlements,' De 22:8. Instead of this parapet wall, some terraces are guarded in the same manner the galleries are, with balustrades only, or latticed work; in which fashion probably, as the name seems to import, was the net, or 'lattice,' as we render it, that Ahaziah, 2Ki 1:2, might be carelessly leaning over, when he fell down from thence into the court. For upon these terraces several office of the family, are performed; such as the drying of linen and flax, Jos 2:6, the preparing of figs and raisins; here likewise they enjoy the cool, refreshing breezes of the evening; converse with one another, 1Sa 9:25; 2Sa 11:2; and offer up their devotions, 2Ki 23:12; Jer 19:13; Ac 10:9. In the feast of Tabernacles booths were erected upon them, Ne 8:16. When one of these cities is built upon level ground, we can pass from one end of it to the other, along the tops of the houses, without coming down into the street.
Such, in general, is the manner and contrivance of the eastern houses. And if it may be presumed that our Savior, at the healing of the paralytic, was preaching in a house of this fashion, we preaching in a house of this fashion, we may, by attending only to the structure of it, give no small light to one circumstance of that history, which has given great offence to some unbelievers. Among other pretended difficulties and absurdities relating to this fact, it has been urged that the uncovering or breaking up on the roof, Mr 2:4, or the letting a person down through it, Lu 5:19, suppose that the crowd being so great around Jesus in the court below, that those who brought the sick man could not come near him, they went upon the flat roof, and removing a part of the awning, let the sick man down in his mattress over the parapet, quite at the feet of Jesus.
Dr. Shaw proceeds to describe a sort of addition to many oriental houses, which corresponds probably to the upper chambers often mentioned time the Bible. He says, "To most of these houses there is a smaller one annexed, which sometimes rises one story higher than the house; at other times it consists of one or two rooms only and a terrace; while others that are built, as they frequently are, over the porch or gateway, have
Till their sojourn in Egypt the Hebrews dwelt in tents. They then for the first time inhabited cities (Ge 47:3; Ex 12:7; Heb 11:9). From the earliest times the Assyrians and the Canaanites were builders of cities. The Hebrews after the Conquest took possession of the captured cities, and seem to have followed the methods of building that had been pursued by the Canaanites. Reference is made to the stone (1Ki 7:9; Isa 9:10) and marble (1Ch 29:2) used in building, and to the internal wood-work of the houses (1Ki 6:15; 7:2; 10:11-12; 2Ch 3:5; Jer 22:14). "Ceiled houses" were such as had beams inlaid in the walls to which wainscotting was fastened (Ezr 6:4; Jer 22:14; Hag 1:4). "Ivory houses" had the upper parts of the walls adorned with figures in stucco with gold and ivory (1Ki 22:39; 2Ch 3:6; Ps 45:8).
The roofs of the dwelling-houses were flat, and are often alluded to in Scripture (2Sa 11:2; Isa 22:1; Mt 24:17). Sometimes tents or booths were erected on them (2Sa 16:22). They were protected by parapets or low walls (De 22:8). On the house-tops grass sometimes grew (Pr 19:13; 27:15; Ps 129:6-7). They were used, not only as places of recreation in the evening, but also sometimes as sleeping-places at night (1Sa 9:25-26; 2Sa 11:2; 16:22; Da 4:29; Job 27:18; Pr 21:9), and as places of devotion (Jer 32:29; 19:13).
Known to man as early at least as Cain; the tent not until Jabal, the fifth in descent from Cain (Ge 4:7,17,20). 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 (Ge 11:3,31). It was from a land of houses that Abram, at God's call, became a dweller in tents (Ge 12:1; Heb 11:9). At times he still lived in a house (Ge 17:27); so also Isaac (Ge 27:15), and Jacob (Ge 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 (1Ki 7:6-7; 2Ch 15:8; Eze 40:7,16); in Egypt (from whence he derived it) often it consisted of a double row of pillars; in Jg 3:23 the Hebrew word (the front hall) is different. The porch of the high priest's palace (Mt 26:71; puloon, which is translated "gate" in Ac 10:17; 12:14; 14:13; Re 21:12) means simply "the gate." The five porches of Bethesda (Joh 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, Ps 104:2, "who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain." At the side of the court opposite the entrance was the:
(3) guest chamber (Lu 22:11-12), Hebrew lishkah, from laashak, "to recline"; where Samuel received his guests (1Sa 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 Ps 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" (Isa 34:13).
(4) The stairs. Outside the house, so that Ehud could readily escape after slaying Eglon (Jg 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 (Mr 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" (2Ki 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, conversation (1Sa 9:25), and worship (Ac 10:9) are carried on here, especially in the evening, as a pleasant and cool retreat (2Sa 11:2) from the narrow filthy streets of an eastern town. Translated 1Sa 9:26, "about daybreak Samuel called (from below, within the house, up) to Saul upon the top (or roof) of the house (where Saul was sleeping upon the balcony, compare 2Ki 4:10), Rise up," etc. On the flat roof it was that Rahab spread the flax to dry, hiding the spies (Jos 2:6).
Here, in national calamities, the people retired to bewail their state (Isa 15:3; Jer 48:38); here in times of danger they watched the foe advancing (Isa 22:1, "thou art wholly gone up to the housetops"), or the bearer of tidings approaching (2Sa 18:24,33). On the top of the upper chamber, as the highest point of the house, the kings of Judah made idolatrous altars to the sun and heavenly hosts (2Ki 23:12; Jer 19:13; 32:29). Retributively in kind, as they burnt incense to Baal the god of fire, the Chaldeans should burn the houses, the scene of his worship, with fire (Zep 1:5). On the top of the house the tent was spread for Absalom's incestuous act with his father's concubines, to show the breach with David was irreparable (2Sa 16:21-22).
On the housetop publicly the disciples should proclaim what Jesus privately taught them (Mt 10:27; Lu 12:3). Here Peter in prayer saw the vision (Ac 10:9). From the balustraded vast roof of Dagon's temple the 3,000 Philistines witnessed Samson's feats (Jg 16:27). By pulling down the two central pillars on which in front the roof rested, he pulled down the whole edifice. Here the people erected their booths for the feast of tabernacles (Ne 8:16). The partly earth materials gave soil for grass to spring in rain, speedily about to wither, because of the shallowness of soil, under the sun's heat like the sinner's evanescent prosperity (2Ki 19:26; Ps 129:6).
Though pleasant in the cool evening and night, at other times the housetop would be anything but pleasant; so "it is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop (though there exposed to wind, rain, heat, and cold) than with a brawling woman in a wide house" (a house of community, i.e. shared with her) (Pr 21:9).
(6) The "inner chamber." 1Ki 20:30; 22:25 should be translated (fleeing) "from chamber to chamber." The "guest chamber" was often the uppermost room (Greek huperoon, Hebrew aliyeh), a loft upon the roof (Ac 1:13; 9:37; 20:8-9), the pleasantest room in the house. Eutychus from "the third loft" fell down into the court. Little chambers surround the courtyard, piled upon one another, the half roof of the lower forming a walking terrace of the higher, to which the ascent is by a ladder or flight of steps.
Such "a little chamber" the Shunammite woman made (built) "on the wall" of the house for Elisha (2Ki 4:10, compare 1Ki 17:19). Ahaziah fell down from such an "upper chamber" with a projecting latticed window (2Ki 1:2). The "summer house" was generally the upper room, the "winter house" was the lower room of the same house (Jer 36:22; Am 3:15); or if both were on the same floor the "summer house" was the outer, the "winter house" the inner apartment. An upper room was generally over gateways (2Sa 18:33). Poetically, "God layeth the beams of His upper chambers (Hebrew) in the waters, whence "He watereth the hills" (Ps 104:3,13).
(7) Fireplaces are seldom in the houses; but fire pans in winter heated the apartment. Jer 36:22 translated he stove (a brazen vessel, with charcoal) was burning before him." Chimneys were few (Ho 13:3), simple orifices in the wall, both admitting the light and emitting the smoke. Kitchens are first mentioned in Eze 46:23-24. A fire was sometimes burned in the open court (Lu 22:55-56,61); Peter warmed himself at such a fire, when Jesus on His trial in the large hall, open in front to the court, with arches and a pillar to support the wall above, "turned and looked" on him. Cellars often were made under the ground floor for storage, "secret chambers" (Mt 24:20). Sometimes the granary was "in the midst of the house" (2Sa 4:6).
(8) The cisterns cut in the limestone rock are a leading feature in the houses at Jerusalem, varying from 4 ft. to 30 ft. in width, 8 inches to 30 inches length, 12 inches to 20 inches depth. Almost every house has one, and some as many as four. The rain water is conducted from the roofs into them. Hence the inhabitants within Jerusalem never suffered from want of water in the longest sieges, whereas the besiegers have often suffered. So Ne 9:25, "cisterns hewn" margin, compare 2Ki 18:31; 2Ch 26:10 margin," Uzziah cut out many cisterns." Israel's forsaking God for earthly trusts is called a "forsaking of the fountain of living waters" for "broken cisterns that can hold no water" (Jer 2:13). Pr 5:15, "drink waters out of thine own cistern," means, enjoy thine own wife's love, seek none else. So the heavenly spouse is called "a fountain sealed" (Song 4:12).
(9) The foundation was an object of gr
The history of human habitation in Palestine goes back to the undated spaces of the pal
There are but few things mentioned in scripture that throw light upon the construction of the houses in the East. Of modern eastern houses it may be said the backs of the houses are in the street. There is a door, with perhaps a lattice over it, and one or two lattices high up, with all the rest a blank wall. A house may be watched all day, and not a soul be seen, unless some one comes to the door, though all going on in the street may be seen from the lattices. The door opens into a porch or passage, which leads into an open court, but so arranged that no one can see into the court when the door is opened. The court is large, sometimes open to the sky, in which visitors are received and business transacted: some have two courts, or even three. Often there is a fountain and trees in the court. Around the court are entrances to more private rooms, where meals are served and to chambers where the inmates repose. The 'parlour' where Samuel entertained Saul would be one of such rooms.
Stairs in the corner of the court lead to upper private rooms; and often there are stairs outside the house that lead to the roof. These enabled the sick man to be carried to the roof in Mr 2:4, when entrance could not be obtained by the door. The roof is often made of sticks, thorn bushes, mortar and earth; which often have to be rolled to consolidate the structure after rain. A hole could easily be broken through such a roof to let down the paralytic. Other roofs were more substantial, with a parapet round them for safety. On such roofs persons retired for private conversation and for prayer, 1Sa 9:25; Ac 10:9; and in the evening for coolness. 2Sa 11:2.
The Lord speaks of the disciples publishing on the housetop what He had told them privately. Mt 10:27; Lu 12:3. This mode of proclamation may often be seen in the East when the public crier calls out from the housetop the information he has to make known.
Houses were mostly built of stone, that being plentiful and wood comparatively scarce. In Bashan there are still numbers of ancient houses, solidly built of stone, some with the ancient stone doors still on their hinges, or rather pivots, many of the houses having no inhabitant. Temporary houses and those for the poor were often built of mud, which could easily be dug through by a thief, and which left to themselves soon became a heap of rubbish. Job 4:19; 15:28; 24:16; Mt 24:43. Cattle were often kept in some part of the house, as they are to this day, for safety. 1Sa 28:24.
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 Palestine and Arabia stone is used, and in certain districts caves in the rocks are used as dwellings.
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.
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.
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.
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."
The "lattice," through which Ahasiah fell, perhaps belonged to an upper chamber of this kind,
as also the "third loft," from which Eutychus fell.
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
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.
They were also used as places for devotion and even idolatrous worship.
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.
Special apartments were devoted in larger houses to winter and summer uses.
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.