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?
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.
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.
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