Sober Essay 1

Jonathan Shavolian
Professor Sober
Jewish History
Final Essay – The Iron Age & The Four Room House
The first mention of the name “Israel”, historically, is found in the Merneptah Stele, from
1209 BCE, which states “Israel is laid waste and his seed is no more.” The is most likely
referring to Israel as a cultural entity, as more of an ethnic group than an official land or state. An
archeologist, Paula McNutt states that is likely that it is during this time which Israel began to
differentiate itself, with emphasis on its religion and views against intermarriage.
By the end of the Late Bronze Age there were only about 25 villages, however over the
Iron Age this number went well over 300, and the population doubled to 40,000. The many
villages were larger up north, and were probably somewhat shared with nomads, who left no
evidence of their presence. Archeologists have had difficulty trying to find features which
signified the origin of all the villagers. Collared rim jars and the famous four-room houses have
been found outside the highlands, which made it difficult to identify to distinguish Israelite
sites, and while the pottery of the highland villages is far more limited than that of lowland
Canaanite sites, it develops typologically out of Canaanite pottery that came before. Some
archeologists do in fact argue that the design of some of the highland sites, along with the lack of
pig bones, since Jews do not eat pig, are truly distinctive, while other archeologists think not so,
claiming this is common sense of a highland life. Other Aramaean sites do also have a lack of
pig bones.
Some archeologists took it upon themselves to preform various surveys of the land,
which completely altered the study of the land of Israel. A network of several highland villages,
all establishes within the same time, showed that a drastic social change had happened in the
central hill of Canaan around 1200 BCE, with no signs of an invasion. There was however, what
seemed a revolution in lifestyle, with about two hundred fifty hilltop communities being created
in what used to be the barely populated highlands from the Judean hills in the south to the hills of
Samaria in the north, which were far from the Canaanite cities that were in the process of
collapse and disintegration. Scholars, because of this, now see Israel as arising peacefully.
During the Iron Age, a very particular structure came into play, known as the “FourRoom House”, or “Israelite House”, or “Pillared House”. This house is made of mud and stone,
and is widely considered as an Israelite creation, though some do question if it is purely Israelite.
One writer claims that “although the Iron Age pillared houses, the four-room house, are not
uniquely Israelite, they are unlike the older, Late Bronze II pillared house discovered at Tel
Batash. They are characteristic of Israelite sites.”
The four-room house received its name due to the fact that it is divided into four sections,
although one room is usually a courtyard with no roof. It is sometimes called a pillared house
due to the fact that the many rooms are separated by rows of wooden pillars. The pillars, still, are
not the defining feature of the four-room house, and this leads to the confusion of four-room
houses with other buildings, such as storehouses and stables, where pillars were widely used.
Sometimes upper floors were used as living areas, while ground is used for livestock. There are
indeed many variations, with some breaking the average amount and having five, three or just
two rooms, or even having rooms divided into different parts. The popularity of this four-room
house went through the Iron Age and Iron Age II until the Babylonian Exile. One source notes a
factor of the houses: “The typical four-room house had a layout where all the inner rooms were
directly accessible from the house's central space, suggesting that all rooms were equal and there
was no hierarchy to the space. The four-room house was unlike the typical Canaanite-Phoenician
dwelling, which had a layout where some rooms could be entered only by passing through other
rooms, hence showing a hierarchy of access.” While the majority of these houses were not found
standing, most have been assumed to be two feet tall. The four-room house, has, and will
continue to be a staple of the Iron Age era among the Israelites.
Works Cited
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