HOUSE (בַּ֫יִת, H1074, Hebrew and Aramaic; bîtu, Akkadian; bt, Ugaritic; bayt, Arabic; οἰ̂κος, οἰ̂κία, Gr.). The word house occurs more than 2,000 times throughout the Bible, denoting a dwelling place, including references to the rudest huts, the palace, and the Temple of God.
Earliest houses found to date in the Near E occur at Haçilar in Anatolia from the 7th millennium and already were rectangular in plan, indicating the early solution to roof framing, whereas in the area near the Persian Gulf and in Egypt where reeds were plentiful, the natural shape was a round plan, having woven reed walls with the tops of tall reeds bent over dome-like to form the roof. A later variation was the row of center posts formed of bundled reeds with woven reed walls on either side, with the tops bent over to form the roof and fastened to a pole set atop the center posts (Conteneau, Everyday Life in Babylonia, 26). Only with the advent of the rectangular plan and the use of tree poles as roof beams could expansion of living space occur, for reeds grow only to limited height and have little inherent strength. In Egypt stone was plentiful, but the houses of the lower classes in all ages, after mud brick was developed c. 3500 b.c., were always constructed of brick. In Mesopotamia, the situation was reversed: there was no native stone and thus stone had to be imported, whereas mud was everywhere available and mud brick was developed earlier here than in Egypt (cf.
Jericho, however, provided the earliest usage of mud brick in the plano-convex shape; although these came later in Mesopotamia, it is not known whether Jericho builders influenced the Mesopotamians.
After the 4th millennium b.c., houses with rooms enclosing an inner court, frequently two stories high, were developed in Mesopotamia, providing for a self-contained unit to carry on family and craft occupations within the shelter of the home. A porter would have had charge of the gate from the street. Family quarters were on the second floor and animals were housed on the first floor where were also rooms for storage and the craft rooms. Second floor rooms were served by a wood balcony with access gained by a wooden stair from the court.
Two-story houses occurred already in the 5th millennium b.c. at Haçilar, well before those of UR III. Poorer houses usually consisted of one room, with people and animals sharing the space.
Roof structures were formed of tree poles or palm tree trunks, over which smaller branches, brush, reeds, or palm fronds were placed to form a base for a packed clay layer rolled into place with stone rollers, some of which have been found in house ruins. In some areas marly stone was pulverized and spread over the clay and this provided a much more impervious surface. This area, accessible by an outside stairs, became a favorite sitting area in the evening to enjoy cooling breezes (
In Assyrian reliefs, some houses are pictured as having a cupola that served as a shelter (summer parlor,
Floors for ground levels were of beaten clay and in some cases given a thin lime plaster coating. Second floors were framed and formed as for roofs with the addition in some cases of the lime plaster topping.
Cooling effect was obtained in Mesopotamia by facing the houses toward the NE and providing for drafts of cooler air to work through the rooms. In Egypt, houses were oriented northward to cut off the southern heat. Frequently they had a device on the roof to deflect the breezes into the house.
Doors were generally made of wood panels from imported wood in Egypt and Mesopotamia, and the forests of Pal. adequately provided for local needs. In other cases, cloth or hide hangings were used. Enough houses have been excavated from the time of David lacking sockets at sill and lintel to indicate that the need of doors was not pressing, and revealing general social and political safety. It would appear that David had organized the military forces to act as a police force (J. P. Free, Archeology and Bible History, 62).
Windows in walls fronting inner courts, were of larger size, while any occurring in street walls were most likely small with a protective lattice to prevent ingress (
Sanitary systems occurred sporadically. In many cases in Egypt, sanitary systems discharged into the sand outside the houses. In preplanned towns and fortresses in Nubia, drains ran down the streets and emptied outside the gates (Badawy, Architecture in Ancient Egypt and the Near East; hereafter BAAE). A Ugarit house of c. 1400 b.c. had cesspools (ibid., 156). In poorer quarters, the gutter in the street was more frequent than the cesspool. In Mesopotamia, in other cases, an aperture in the floor received wastes which were conducted off through clay pipes to cesspools. (BAAE, 160).
Water was transported to the houses and evidence indicates that for better homes, storage jars set in courtyards provided the immediate storage facility.
Furniture varied with the economic status of the householder. Cooking was done over an open hearth, the smoke finding the best way out. A stone mill of base and quern was a certain item in any kitchen to provide flour. Ovens occurred in outer courts, the poor using a community oven in a public court. In Egypt, the living room was furnished in some cases with a bench on one wall. Better class homes contained (in different periods) chairs, stools, tables, and beds. In poorer homes, mats on the floor served for sleeping. Chests of various sizes, some highly decorated, provided closed storage for some household items. Pottery of various shapes and sizes served as dishes. Metal bowls and basins have been recovered from the better houses. Babylonians had short-legged tray-like tables as well as the usual types. Houses of Haçilar from the 6th millennium b.c. had plastered wall cupboards, in addition to fire boxes, which were safer than the open hearths.
If storage room was provided in the house, large storage jars with lids were sunk in the floor for storing oil, grain and wine. Other rooms stored rough goods, i.e. field produce. Where occasion demanded, rooms provided for crafts, i.e. weaving, as shown in tomb models from Egypt.
Lighting for the house was a clay dish with a wick, set either in a pinched rim or in its own spout, the latter the lamp of
Heating for houses varied according to the climate. Egypt required little, furnished by simple means. In Mesopotamia, braziers were used for both cooking and heating in winter. In Anatolia, palace remains indicate a few cases of movable hearths (BAAE, 133). Where the kitchen hearth occurred it furnished heat for one-room houses.
Decoration varied from mere whitewashed walls to painted plaster in the better houses, often a painted wainscot, dark in color with a top stripe. Ceilings in some cases were finished with plaster or painted lath. In wealthy homes in Egypt, gold and electrum were used on a stucco base as a lining on low relief. In Mesopotamia elaborately painted plaster was frequent. Door frames at times were painted red, and in other cases stone slabs as wainscots provided the only decorative elements.
G. Conteneau, Everyday Life in Babylon and Assyria (1954); H. E. Winlock, Models of Daily Life in Ancient Egypt (1955); A. Badawy, “Architectural Provision Against Heat in the Orient,” JNES, XVII (1958), 123; National Geographic Society, Everyday Life in Ancient Times (1964); A. Badawy, Architecture in Ancient Egypt and the Near East (1966).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
(bayith; oikos, in classical Greek generally "an estate," oikia, oikema (literally, "habitation"), in
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 Palestine 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
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.
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 (
Gutter (tsinnor).--The "gutter" in
Door (deleth, pethach; thura).--Doorways were simple, square, entering openings in the wall with a stone or wood lintel (mashqoph,
(6) Lock and key:
Lock and key ("lock," man`ul,
See also HEARTH.
2. Houses of More than One Story:
(1) Upper Chambers and Stairs:
It is certain that there were upper chambers (`aliyah; huperoon,
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
3. International Appearance:
Walls were plastered (
III. Other Meanings.
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