Palace

PALACE (Heb. ’armôn, bîrâh, hēkhāl, Gr. aulē). The dwelling place of an important official. Palaces are found all over the biblical world. The science of archaeology has given much light on these ancient structures. Israel built many palaces, and one finds frequent mention of them in Scripture. At Gezer the remains of a palace belonging to the period of Joshua’s conquest have been found. It is thought to be the palace of Horam, king of Gezer, whom Joshua conquered (Josh.10.33). This palace belongs to the group of palaces known as fortress palaces. Many of these old palaces were made of stone. They were sometimes the entrances to great tunnels. Some were constructed over important wells or springs of water, which they controlled.

The ruins of another palace at this site stem from a much later period. It is the Maccabean palace and is thought to be the private headquarters of John Hyrcanus, the military governor.

W. F. Albright has excavated Saul’s palace-fortress at Gibeah. Not much remains in order here, but there is enough to reveal the massive walls that once made up this structure.

David had two palaces at different times in his reign. The first was a simple one located at Hebron, but the second one was much more elaborate, built of cedar trees furnished by Hiram of Tyre and erected by workmen that Hiram supplied (2Sam.5.11). Solomon’s palace, which was built later, was a much more lavish structure, judging from its description given in 1Kgs.7.1-1Kgs.7.51. It was about 150 feet (47 m.) by 75 feet (23 m.) in size, constructed mostly of cedar in the interior and of hand-hewn stones for the exterior. Some of the foundation stones were 15 feet (4.6 m.) long. Solomon’s wealth and the skill of the Phoenician craftsmen must have produced a magnificent building. Nothing remains of this building today.

Remains of a palace have been found at Megiddo. Another palace has been discovered at Samaria and identified as belonging to Omri. The foundation of this palace is in the bedrock common in that area. Most of these palaces are similar in style—a series of open courts with rooms grouped around them.

An ivory palace belonging to Ahab is mentioned in 1Kgs.22.39. For a long time scholars denied the truthfulness of this record, but archaeologists have confirmed the report. It was a large edifice 300 feet (94 m.) long from north to south. Many of its walls were faced with white marble. Wall paneling, plaques, and furniture made of or adorned with ivory have been uncovered.

Later on in the history of Israel material prosperity produced a very great wickedness that led to murder even in these royal palaces of splendor. This was especially true in the time of Jeroboam II.

Probably the most famous palace in the NT period was the one belonging to Herod the Great. Josephus informs us that this structure was built in Jerusalem. Its rooms were of a very great height and were adorned with all kinds of costly furniture.

Besides these palaces of Palestine, there were many splendid structures in Mesopotamia in the Assyrian and Babylonian period. The remains of the great temple of Sargon II have been found at Khorsabad, twelve miles (twenty km.) north of the site of old Nineveh. It was a mammoth structure covering twenty-five acres. Some of its walls were from nine to sixteen feet (three to five m.) thick. In the Oriental Institute Museum in Chicago one may see one of the stone bulls that once stood at the entrance of this palace. It is sixteen feet (five m.) long and sixteen feet (five m.) high, weighing forty tons (thirty-six metric tons).

There are many other important palaces in Mesopotamia. One was built by Nebuchadnezzar at Babylon, elaborately decorated. Another has been found on the Euphrates at Mari. This one has been quite well preserved and reveals paintings, offices, apartments, and even a scribal school. Albright refers to it as one of the “show places of the world.” This discovery was important for many reasons, but especially because it “revolutionized our idea of the development of Near-Eastern art in the early second millennium b.c.” (Albright).

Many famous palaces belonging to the pharaohs have also been found in Egypt. Perhaps the best known of these is the palace of Merneptah, from about 1230 b.c. Many of these were very elaborate structures.——HZC


Herod's three-tiered northern palace at the edge of Masada; looking from the lower level up.

One of the earliest palatial type structures was the “palace” of Ai, about twenty-two ft. wide by sixty-six ft. long, with four interior pillars down the middle and a second story, a pre-Biblical Canaanite structure of the Early Bronze Period. At Taanak from the Middle Bronze II Age was a palace about sixty-six ft. per side that included several rooms approximately 10x14 ft. with a large court occupying a corner of the plan. The “palace” at Megiddo (c. 1650-1150 b.c.) was named for its character and size. It extended through several levels with variations, indicating a prolonged era of power.

Solomon’s palace, of which nothing remains and which may have been destroyed by Shishak as the Lord’s penalty for Rehoboam’s apostasy, was called the House of the Forest of Lebanon because its columns and roof structure was of Lebanon cedar (1 Kings 7:2ff.). It was built in close proximity to the Temple on the S and measured 50 by 100 cubits. Near it was a porch leading to the throne room, the latter possibly a bit hilani form, and was connected to the Temple enclosure by a single gate. The House had an enclosing wall of three courses of stone reinforced against earthquake shock by a row of wood beams. Valuable stones were used in the masonry work (1 Kings 7:9).

Later, Omri and Ahab (kings of Israel) built their palaces at Samaria, the latter’s palace distinguished by a large, enclosed court formed by a wall of casemate construction. Saul’s palace has been located by Albright in the heavily constructed building at Tell el-Ful.

Jeremiah makes several references to parts of the palace (36:20, 22; 37:21; a guard room, 38:6), which was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar.

In Nehemiah’s time, wood beams were parcelled out on the king’s order (Neh 2:8). The luxury and splendor of Pers. palaces are detailed in Esther 1, and they are amply verified from the excavations. For ornamentation and beauty, painted plaster was frequently employed in Babylonian palaces. Except for cut stone in the eras of Solomon and Ahab, general construction was of rubble stone and plaster finish.

The postexilic period presents a governor’s residence at Tell ed-Duweir from Lachish that featured an inner, enclosed court with rooms arranged on three sides, having several arched doors and vaulted roofs, and covered an area of c. 2700 square yards.

In Trans-Jordan, Araq el-Amir presents on the outside a bare, flat wall of desert fortification enclosing soldier and living quarters within, from the end of the Ptolemaic age.

Antiochus Epiphanes is reported to have built a palace to the S of the Temple in Jerusalem, but nothing remains of it. The site of the tower of Hananeel was incorporated by Herod into his tower of Antonia, a rectangular palace with four corner towers, and apartments between, enclosing an open court which is the site of the present Sisters of Zion Convent in whose basement may be seen the pavement of the court of Herod’s Tower of Antonia. Cisterns below the pavement are still used.

Herod also built a fortress atop the table rock at Masada, along the W shore of the Dead Sea (cf. Y. Yadin, Masada: Herod’s Fortress and the Zealots’ Last Stand). This fortress was of great beauty and included several fountains. Excavations have justified Josephus’ descriptions. It became the last holdout of the Jews against the Romans in a.d. 73.

In the NT, αὐλή, G885, signifies the “palace” of the high priest (Matt 26:3; John 18:15), actually his official quarters and prob. were located on the site of St. Pierre in Gallicantu situated across the Tyropoean to the SW from the Temple. Jesus was taken from there to the πραιτώριον, G4550, (court in the Governor’s house—Tower of Antonia) where the soldiers mocked Him.

The progressive adornment of the palaces by earthly rulers lifted them to the levels of symbols of oppression and made them forget their dependence on God. Ideally God was the protector of the palace and its chief dweller (Ps 48:3) when faith occupied the king’s heart. Usually sumptuous palaces were accompanied by exploitation of the people. The presence of many ivory pieces in the ruins of Samaria (cf. Amos 6:4) indicate lavish use of this material as decoration, emphasizing the disparity between the classes.

The prophets did not hesitate to single out the palace as symbolizing the king, nor to denounce him for his excesses. Amos (1:5) declared that fire would destroy Benhadad’s palace, which would be God’s vengeance for atrocities in Gilead. Gaza (v. 7) was to be burned with fire because she had sold Hebrews to Edom (v. 6), who would, in turn, experience the destruction of fire because of enmity to Israel (v. 12). Tyre would experience a similar fate for the same unbrotherly attitude (v. 10). The destruction of the palace declared that the kingdom was at an end (Amos 2:2). Such fate would befall Judah (v. 5), which ended the dynasty of Jeconiah.

The seat of power and authority in Ashdod and Egypt was the palace, but bad news could not be excluded by that power when God brought judgment (3:9), for they had filled their storehouses with violence, i.e., gotten their goods by violent means; therefore Samaria would be delivered up because of its corruption and unfeeling luxury (6:8). The action of aggressor usurpers burning a king’s house because of the evils of the former king often is declared to be God’s judgment (1 Kings 16:18).

When the king followed God, God would abide in the king’s palace, i.e., giving His blessings on the king’s rule (Ps 48:3), and the palaces of the city that followed God would be known as those that mark God’s blessings—a great lesson for all governments (v. 13). To the end that rulers in Israel should fear God, David declared the palace was for God; i.e., the king was only God’s viceroy, and justice was to be the palace inhabitant (1 Chron 29:1). On this basis David petitioned God that Solomon would build the palace.

Bibliography

I. Benzinger, Hebräische Archäologie (1927); BASOR, CXX (1950); J-M. Fenasse, “Palais,” Dictionnaire de la Bible Supp. VI. (1960), cols. 976-1021; A Badawy, Architecture of Egypt and the Near East (1966).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


See House.