Israelite Cosmology and the Orientation of Iron Age Houses

Ancient houses reveal how the Israelites saw their world

Looking at the plans of Iron Age settlements excavated in Israel and Judah, Avraham Faust, Professor of Archaeology at Bar-Ilan University, noticed an odd pattern: most of the houses were oriented to the east. He had to ask himself: Is there a reason behind this predominant easterly orientation of Iron Age houses?

aerial-beer-sheva

The Iron Age settlement at Beer-Sheva demonstrates clearly that ancient Israelites preferred their houses oriented to the east. The houses excavated at the site prove the Israelites’ tendency to avoid the unfavorable westerly orientation, as only one in 29 doorways identified in the excavation was built facing west. Avraham Faust argues that Israelite cosmology is responsible for this pattern. Photo: The Institute of Archaeology, Tel Aviv University/Courtesy Ze’ev Herzog.

To make sense of his cursory observation, Faust collected and examined more archaeological documentation of Iron Age settlements and also turned to the Bible to look for possible indications of why the ancient Israelites might have preferred their houses oriented to the east.

Faust summarizes his examination in the November/December 2017 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, noting that what he found in the Bible confirmed the archaeological evidence on the ground.

So what do archaeology and the Bible tell us about urban planning in ancient Israel? Apparently, ancient Israelites considered the east favorable, hence the prevalent orientation of the Iron Age houses in this direction. West, on the other hand, meant chaos, disorder, and danger in the Israelite cosmology, and was therefore considered inauspicious. And there were practical considerations, too, such as winds. As a result, most of the Iron Age houses excavated in ancient Israel and Judah are oriented with their doorways to the east.

For the nuanced argument and systematic review of the archaeological and Biblical evidence, read the Biblical Views column “Archaeology, Israelite Cosmology and the Bible” by Avraham Faust in the November/December 2017 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. In this article, Faust reveals the consistency in the orientation of Iron Age houses excavated in Israel and Judah. By considering the possible practical, cosmological, and religious reasons, he concludes that archaeology, cosmology, and the Bible all confirm the overwhelmingly easterly orientation of Iron Age houses in ancient Israel.

The free eBook Life in the Ancient World guides you through craft centers in ancient Jerusalem, family structure across Israel and ancient practices—from dining to makeup—throughout the Mediterranean world.

BAS Library Members: Read the full article “Archaeology, Israelite Cosmology and the Bible” by Avraham Faust in the November/December 2017 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Join the BAS Library today.


 

Related reading in Bible History Daily:

The Four-Room House: Typically Israelite?

Was Biblical Israel an Egalitarian Society?

Ancient Israel Through a Social Scientific Lens

Daily Life in Ancient Israel

Ancient Samaria and Jerusalem

Tel ‘Eton Excavations Reveal Possible Judahite Administrative Center


 

Posted in Daily Life and Practice.

Tagged with , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Add Your Comments

One Response

Stay in touch with the conversation, subscribe to the RSS feed for comments on this post.

  • Barbara says

    Thoughts on cosmological models: The Temple of Jerusalem faced east. If I recall, there were doors on each side, but only the eastern door was opened, so that the Lord could enter. A bronze cauldron stood in front of the Temple, on the backs of twelve bronze oxen. The rising sun shone over the cauldron to strike the font of the Temple. Inside the Temple, along the walls, were painted the images of the twelve patriarchs of the twelve tribes. (One description says the images of the twelve angels of the twelve tribes.) Oronce Fine, in his 16th century work, points out that east and spring were the attributes of planet Jupiter. Jupiter takes twelve years to perform a revolution, dividing the sky into twelve parts. The Greeks said Jupiter (called Zeus) defeated his father Saturn (called Chronos or Time) and so time should be measured and laid out by Jupiter. And so our clock faces are divided into twelve parts, the year is divided into twelve parts, the sky is divided into twelve parts. The Greeks and Romans worshiped Jupiter as king of the gods, they were polytheistic. The Greeks and Romans worshiped the pantheon of twelve great gods that were assigned to the twelve divisions in the sky, according to Manilius. The late Hebrews were not polytheistic. The Romans called Jupiter, Jove. The Hebrews worshiped JHVH, there are no vowels in Hebrew. The Greeks, the Romans and the Hebrews each felt they had the right view of heaven.

  • 1 2


    Some HTML is OK

    or, reply to this post via trackback.


Send this to a friend

Hello! You friend thought you might be interested in reading this post from https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org:
Israelite Cosmology and the Orientation of Iron Age Houses!
Here is the link: https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/ancient-cultures/daily-life-and-practice/israelite-cosmology-iron-age-houses/
Enter Your Log In Credentials...

Change Password

×