House. The houses of the rural poor in Egypt, as well as in most parts of Syria, Arabia, and Persia, are generally mere huts of mud or sunburnt bricks. In some parts of Palestine and Arabia stone is used, and in certain districts caves in the rocks are used as dwellings. Amos 5:11. The houses are usually of one story only, viz., the ground floor, and often contain only one apartment. Sometimes a small court for the cattle is attached; and in some cases the cattle are housed in the same building, or the people live on a raised platform, and the cattle round them on the ground. 1 Sam. 28:24. The windows are small apertures high up in the walls, sometimes grated with wood. The roofs are commonly but not always flat, and are usually formed of a plaster of mud and straw laid upon boughs or rafters; and upon the flat roofs, tents or “booths” of boughs or rushes are often raised to be used as sleeping-places in summer. The different between the poorest houses and those of the class next above them is greater than between these and the houses of the first rank. The prevailing plan of eastern houses of this class presents, as was the case in ancient Egypt, a front of wall, whose blank and mean appearance is usually relieved only by the door and a few latticed and projecting windows. Within this is a court or courts with apartments opening into them. Over the door is a projecting window with a lattice more or less elaborately wrought, which, except in times of public celebrations, is usually closed, 2 Kings 9:30. An awning is sometimes drawn over the court, and the floor strewed with carpets on festive occasions. The stairs to the upper apartments are in Syria usually in a corner of the court. Around part, if not the whole, of the court is a veranda, often nine or ten feet deep, over which, when there is more than one floor, runs a second gallery of like depth, with a balustrade. When there is no second floor, but more than one court, the women’s apartments—hareem, harem or haram—are usually in the second court; otherwise they form a separate building within the general enclosure, or are above on the first floor. When there is an upper story, the ka’ah forms the most important apartment, and thus probably answers to the “upper room,” which was often the guest-chamber. Luke 22:12; Acts 1:13; 9:37; 20:8. The windows of the upper rooms often project one or two feet, and form a kiosk or latticed chamber. Such may have been “the chamber in the wall.” 2 Kings 4:10, 11. The “lattice,” through which Ahaziah fell, perhaps belonged to an upper chamber of this kind, 2 Kings 1:2, as also the “third loft,” from which Eutychus fell. Acts 20:9; comp. Jer. 22:13. Paul preached in such a room on account of its superior size and retired position. The outer circle in an audience in such a room sat upon a dais, or upon cushions elevated so as to be as high as the window-sill. From such a position Eutychus could easily fall.
Court of an Eastern House.
Outer Staircase of an Eastern House.
There are usually no special bedrooms in eastern houses. The outer doors are closed with a wooden lock, but in some cases the apartments are divided from each other by curtains only. There are no chimneys, but fire is made when required with charcoal in a chafingdish; or a fire of wood might be kindled in the open court of the house. Luke 22:55. Some houses in Cairo have an apartment open in front to the court, with two or more arches and a railing, and a pillar to support the wall above. It was in a chamber of this kind, probably one of the largest size to be found in a palace, that our Lord was being arraigned before the high priest at the time when the denial of him by St. Peter took place. He “turned and looked” on Peter as he stood by the fire in the court, Luke 22:56, 61; John 18:24, whilst he himself was in the “hall of judgment.”
Eastern Battlemented House.
In no point do Oriental domestic habits differ more from European than in the use of the roof. Its flat surface is made useful for various household purposes, as drying corn, hanging up linen, and preparing figs and raisins. The roofs are used as places of recreation in the evening, and often as sleeping-places at night. 1 Sam. 9:25, 26; 2 Sam. 11:2; 16:22; Job 27:18; Prov. 21:9; Dan. 4:29. They were also used as places for devotion and even idolatrous worship. 2 Kings 23:12; Jer. 19:13; 32:29; Zeph. 1:5; Acts 10:9. At the time of the feast of tabernacles booths were erected by the Jews on the tops of their houses. Protection of the roof by parapets was enjoined by the law. Deut. 22:8. Special apartments were devoted in larger houses to winter and summer uses. Jer. 36:22; Amos 3:15. The ivory house of Ahab was probably a palace largely ornamented with inlaid ivory. The circumstance of Samson’s pulling down the house by means of the pillars may be explained by the fact of the company being assembled on tiers of balconies above each other, supported by central pillars on the basement; when these were pulled down the whole of the upper floors would fall also. Judges 16:26.