The pillared house—a way of life?

Archaeologists Avraham Faust and Shlomo Bunimovitz suggest in an article that the pillared house reflects a way of life in Ancient Israel, an expression of the ideas that shaped society (“Embodying Iron Age Israelite Society” Near Eastern Archaeology 66:1–2 (2003) pp. 22–31). Houses convey messages. They are not just a place to live. After all, do we not often judge an area by its houses? Do we not want to tell the world something about ourselves through architecture? And the houses we live in shape us, guide our lives to a certain extent. They influence the interaction with the people we live with.

Avraham Faust and Shlomo Bunimovitz argue that the plan of a pillared house allows access to all other rooms from the central entrance room. This reflects a lack of hierarchical structure in the house and gives greater privacy. They suggest that the houses reflect an egalitarian ethos within Israel and the concern for purity. In contrast to many other societies, where menstruating women could not remain in the house, the Bible and the plans of pillared houses indicate that women remained in the house during menstruation but kept separate. Avraham Faust and Shlomo Bunimovitz think that the pillared house became the classic—and therefore the “right”—house type in Israel. Part of Israel’s worldview was a concern for order and wholeness, and an avoidance of chaos. Therefore, one way to build houses may have been thought ordered or right. This correct way to build houses was continued throughout the Iron Age, one that was intertwined with Israel’s way of life. Why the characteristic house type ended with the destruction of Judah is not clear. The exile and Persian rule changed how the Jews saw themselves, changed their way of life, and with it also how they built their houses.

The argument is based on a particular perception of Israel drawn from the Bible and a desire to relate archaeological phenomena to that view of society. This always requires inferences and a reliance on assumptions. Nevertheless, to make sense of what we find, such arguments are needed. Their validity will be tested over time.

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This entry was posted in Archaeology, Discussion, excavations, Scholarly articles. Bookmark the permalink.

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