Studying the household

Archaeology had an initial focus on monumental buildings, the great architecture of the past. But it became apparent that if we want to understand ancient societies, if we want to see the monumental buildings in their context, then we need to study the much more humble places where most of the people lived. That’s why some archaeologists started to look at households. Households are often seen to be the most elemental building blocks of society.

What activities were carried out in a household? How did the people who lived there provide for their daily bread? How did they live together? How did they relate to others? These are the questions archaeologists became concerned about.

As we look at households across time and space, we become aware of the variety. In the 20th century a household was often defined by the nuclear family with the father providing for the household by working outside the home. In the 21st century the household is often focussed much more on the individual, sharing space with others in less stable arrangements. In many western countries a limited form of the extended family was the norm over centuries. Other societies have groups living together that are much more loosely related.

What was it like in ancient Israel? So far we can conclude that it was the “House of the Father” that formed the household unit. It’s often seen as a household overseen by the old man – the head of the family. His sons, their wives, and his grandhildren would have also lived in the same household. But there seems to have been some emphasis on keeping nuclear families separate within that household. Everyone worked together but also had their own private space. Of course, that is just a typical, not very nuanced view of the household. Individual circumstances would have varied.

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