The four-room house in Ancient Israel

In a previous post I talked about the “pillared house” as a house-type that was characteristic of Ancient Israel. In his book The Archaeology of Israelite Society in Ancient Israel Avraham Faust stresses that it is not so much the presence of pillars that characterizes this house type, but more the basic layout. He therefore prefers to call it “four-room house”, with the “three-room house” and the “five-room house” as sub-types. The four-room house had three long spaces at the front and one broad space at the back. The entrance was in one of the front long spaces, usually the middle one. The “three-room” house had just two front space, the “five-room house” four. These spaces were divided by walls or a line of pillars. Often the spaces were subdivided again to provide additional partitions as required by the household, but the basic plan remained.
Here’s an example I drew somewhat roughly in isometric view. croppedfourromhouse
The left long room is divided into two separate spaces in this example, the right long room is separated from the central room through a row of pillars.

While Avraham Faust agrees that the four-room house may have initially developed and adopted for functional reasons, that is, it served an agricultural setting well, he concludes that its later use was ideologically driven. In non-Israelite settlements it is rare, while this house-type is very frequent in Israelite settlements. He sees the absence of the four-room type of residential house as the most distinguishing features of a few villages in the Jezreel Plain and Galilee. These villages – Tel Qiri, Tel Amal and Tel Hadar – he thinks were former Phoenician-Canaanite villages, which were later incorporated into the kingdom of Israel, without changing the resident population. In contrast to villages in the Israelite highlands, they were also totally or largely unwalled. They also had public buildings, again in contrast to Israelite villages, and their houses were comparatively small. Avraham Faust suggests that these villages had previously belonged to Canaanite (absentee) landlords. When control of the area passed to the Kingdom of Israel, the estates simply received new overlords, maybe officials or military officers from Israel.

He sees a similar trend in the northern city of Hazor. While in many cities the smaller houses are mainly three-room houses, in Hazor a large group of houses of small buildings not built to any plan were uncovered. Avraham Faust suggests that Hazor was inhabited by several ethnic groups during the Iron Age. The upper and middle class, composed of Israelites, and the lower class (and maybe some of the middle class) composed of the Canaanite-Phoenician population.
Generally, he believes that identifying ethnic groups is easier in the rural sector and that only if these differences are seen in the rural setting can we approach questions of ethnic diversity in cities.

This entry was posted in Archaeology, Book Review, Discussion, excavations and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The four-room house in Ancient Israel

  1. Pingback: The Assyrians in Israel | Imagining the past: Archaeology and the Bible

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