The Houses of Ancient Israel Exhibit

By the Editors of the Madain Project

The Houses of Ancient Israel: Domestic, Royal, Divine exhibit offers a view of life in an ancient Near Eastern agricultural society. The exhibit contains a full scale replica of an ancient Israelite home. The exhibit is arranged in terms of the buildings - the houses - associated with the different levels of that society: family dwelling, palace and temple. This exhibit traces the development and importance of the house in ancient Israel, from the family dwelling to the house of the king, and the house of the Lord (the temple).

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The four-room house, also referred to as “Israelite house” and “pillared courtyard house,” emerged in the central highlands of Canaan during the late 13th -early 12th centuries BCE in response to environmental and socio-economic needs. This “House of the Father” was the basic unit of Israelite society through which the ancient Israelites organized their social, economic, and religious worlds. The research background for this reconstruction has been presented by Phillip J. King and Lawrence E. Stager in Life in Biblical Israel (Knox/Westminster, 2001).


circa 1200–586 BCE

This pillared house is filled with ancient artifacts, as well as some replicas and estimates. It is modeled after one of several comprising a joint family compound in a hill-country village located a little north of Jerusalem. This arrangement parallels the ancients' own view of their social organization as a three-tiered hierarchy of nested households, where each level of the hierarchy was contained within the next higher level. There are two interior levels to the house. Family members lived on the upper level, though the roof was often used for this purpose due to its additional space and more-comfortable atmosphere.

circa 1200–586 BCE

The lower level was used for storage and cooking. Excavations in some Israelite house from the period indicate that sheep or goats might have been occasionally kept inside as well. 2 Samuel 12:3 talks about a poor man's lamb who ate, drank and slept with him. This might be referring to the same practice. The four-room house would not crystallize as a design until the later 12th - 11th centuries BCE, despite its functional qualities. The typical layout of the four-room house consisted of a rectilinear plan divided into three, four, or more spaces/rooms.

circa 1200–586 BCE

A larger central space was separated by one or two rows of stone pillars with an entrance that led from an exterior courtyard into the central space. Ancient Israel was a society based in agriculture, and in family. This kinship connection extended to ways kingship and government were understood and ideas of faith as well. This hierarchy is illustrated in this area, whose full title is The Houses of Ancient Israel: Domestic, Royal, Divine.

circa 1200–586 BCE

These family homes were the place for extended families to gather, and to live. This formed the base for society at the time — a time which included, among other things, the reigns of King David and King Solomon. The four-room house's popularity continued among the Israelites until the end of Iron Age II, coinciding with the Babylonian Destruction and exile. A number of such houses have been excavated in a number of places like, Tel BeerSheba, City of David.

circa 1200–586 BCE

The Harvard Semitic Museum, where the exhibit is located. By housing ancient Near Eastern exhibitions, The Harvard Semitic Museum explores the rich history of cultures connected by the family of Semitic languages. Exhibitions include a full-scale replica of an ancient Israelite home, life sized casts of famous Mesopotamian monuments, authentic mummy coffins, and tablets containing the earliest forms of writing. Like the artifacts it displays, the museum itself has a rich and nuanced history.

Virtual 360° View of Semitic House Reconstruction

In this 360° photo, step into a full-sized recreation of an Ancient Israelite home from our exhibition "The Houses of Ancient Israel." In archaeological terms, the exhibition focuses on the Iron Age (1200–586 BCE), during which the monarchy of ancient Israel emerged. This presentation was made in partnership with the Cambridge Science Festival, where a full-scale replica of an ancient Israelite home was built. The kingdom was located at the eastern end of the Mediterranean, and was divided between Israel in the north and Judah in the south. The area roughly corresponds to the modern state of Israel.

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