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. Gen 11:3). In Pal., though stone was available, it was never, until the Gr. period, used in constructing public buildings except by Solomon, Ahab, and Omri. However, buildings were erected either of rubble stone set in mud, plastered or unplastered, or mud brick on stone base courses and plastered over with mud, and in some cases whitewashed (see Architecture). In Mesopotamia, asphalt was the mortar, whereas in Egypt it was fine clay, with the brick laid when three-quarters dry to form a tight bond between brick.

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 (1 Sam 9:25, 26; 2 Sam 11:2; Acts 10:9). Representations of awnings demonstrate attempts to protect the roof terrace during the heat of the day. It was also a place where flax was easily spread out to dry (Josh 2:6) and prob. other field products were stored there. In cases where roofs were occupied, parapets (OT, battlements) were to be supplied to prevent persons from falling off (Deut 22:8).

In Assyrian reliefs, some houses are pictured as having a cupola that served as a shelter (summer parlor, Judg 3:20). In NT times, roofs were gabled as well as flat; for the gabled type of the better houses, roof tiles formed the covering. In the case of the palsied man (Luke 5:18ff.) the type of roof, whether flat or pitched, is uncertain.

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 (2 Kings 1:2). In Rahab’s house, a window looked out over the city wall, a convenient place to observe an attacker as well as to escape, hence the query addressed to her about the spies (cf. Josh 2:15). At Damascus, the window was high enough above ground to dispense with the lattice, allowing Paul’s friends to lower him to the ground (2 Cor 11:33).

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 Matthew 25:1. Fuel was olive oil, but in Mesopotamia, frequently a crude oil provided better light. Sesame oil was sometimes used. Methods to shield or cover the candle were suggested (Matt 5:15). Torches were secured by the use of pitch on a stick.

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 Ac 12:1, "prison"):



1. Details of Plan and Construction

(1) Corner-Stone

(2) Floor

(3) Gutter

(4) Door

(5) Hinge

(6) Lock and Key

(7) Threshold

(8) Hearth

(9) Window

(10) Roof

2. Houses of More than One Story

(1) Upper Chambers and Stairs

(2) Palaces and Castles

3. Internal Appearance



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 Old Testament. Lot dwelt with his two daughters in cave (Ge 19:30). Elijah, fleeing from Jezebel, lodged in a cave (1Ki 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.

(1) Corner-stone:

Corner-stone (pinnah, Isa 28:16; Jer 51:26; lithos akrogoniaios, 1Pe 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; 1Pe 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 Palestine (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 (1Ki 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 De 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.

(2) Floor:

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 (1Ki 6:15).

(3) Gutter:

Gutter (tsinnor).--The "gutter" in 2Sa 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.

(4) Door:

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, 1Ki 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, Eze 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 De 6:9; 11:20, and in it is fitted a small case containing a parchment on which is written the exhortation to obedience.

(5) Hinge:

Hinge (poth, 1Ki 7:50; tsir, Pr 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, Ne 3:3 ff; So 5:5; "key," maphteach, Jud 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.

(7) Threshold:

Threshold (caph, 1Ki 14:17; Eze 40:6 ff; miphtan, 1Sa 5:4,5; Eze 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.

See Gezer.

(8) Hearth:

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 (Ho 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 (Eze 4:15).

See also HEARTH.

(9) Window:

(10) Roof:

2. Houses of More than One Story:

(1) Upper Chambers and Stairs:

It is certain that there were upper chambers (`aliyah; huperoon, Ac 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 (2Ki 1:2; 9:33). The escape of the spies from the house on the wall at Jericho (Jos 2:15) and that of Paul from Damascus (2Co 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 (Mr 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 1Ki 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 (Le 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.

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