The Great Escape from Egypt

Leviticus 25 discusses rules for owning slaves. “If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to you, do not make them work as slaves. They are to be treated as hired workers or temporary residents among you; they are to work for you until the Year of Jubilee. Then they and their children are to be released, and they will go back to their own clans and to the property of their ancestors. Because the Israelites are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt, they must not be sold as slaves. Do not rule over them ruthlessly, but fear your God.”  

How Israelites are to treat their own lies in contrast to how Israelites were treated by the Egyptians. In Exodus 5 Moses asked the pharaoh to allow the Israelites to take three days to sacrifice to their God. The pharaoh responded by increasing the difficulty of their workload. “You are no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks; let them go and gather their own straw. But require them to make the same number of bricks as before; don’t reduce the quota. They are lazy; that is why they are crying out, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to our God.’ Make the work harder for the people so that they keep working and pay no attention to lies.”

In the Bible, after the Israelites fled, the pharaoh decided he preferred having the cheap labor. “What have we done? We have let the Israelites go and have lost their services!”

Papyrus Anastasi V contains another account of escaped slaves in ancient Egypt, this time from the reign of the New Kingdom pharaoh Seti II, in the 12th century BCE. Two slaves escaped, and the Egyptians sent a message to a chief in the eastern Nile Delta inquiring about the whereabouts of the escapees. “When my letter reaches you, write to me about all that has happened to [them]. Who found their tracks? Which watch found their tracks? What people are after them? Write to me about all that has happened to them and how many people you send out after them.”

The matter of escapees was not taken lightly in Egypt. In the peace treaty between Hittites and Egypt after the Battle at Kadesh in the 13th century BCE, the two sides agreed that people who flee one state for the other should not be harmed, but returned. If the terms are violated, the gods and goddesses of the country shall exterminate the king’s descendants.

Papyrus Anastasi V is held in storage at the British Museum. It can be seen via this link:

To imagine the slaves’ plight, you can think of it with this soundtrack:

Vacation Blues

Leviticus 22 contains rules that relate to a priest and his belongings:  “No one outside a priest’s family may eat the sacred offering, nor may the guest of a priest or his hired worker eat it. But if a priest buys a slave with money, or if slaves are born in his household, they may eat his food.”

Leviticus 23 lists the holidays on the Biblical calendar, including Passover. “The Lord’s Passover begins at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. On the fifteenth day of that month the Lord’s Festival of Unleavened Bread begins; for seven days you must eat bread made without yeast. On the first day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. For seven days present a food offering to the Lord. And on the seventh day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work.”

The juxtaposition of slavery and the holiday Passover presents an opportunity to discuss the earlier stories of Israel’s servitude in Egypt. In Exodus 5, Moses and Aaron approached the pharaoh to request a furlough for the Israelite slaves.

“This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the wilderness. Pharaoh said: Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go. Then they said: The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Now let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God, or he may strike us with plagues or with the sword. But the king of Egypt said: Moses and Aaron, why are you taking the people away from their labor? Get back to your work!”

The pharaoh intimates that slaves cannot be allowed a day off, but Ostracon EA5634 recovered at Thebes in southern Egypt, from the 40th year of Ramesses II’s reign, demonstrates that workers in Egypt did not always have perfect attendance records.

An ostracon is a piece of pottery that is inscribed with writing. Ostracon EA5634 contains a list of workers and the reason each worker was absent from work on a particular day.

The most common excuse for missing work was illness. This could be unspecified, or a specific malady such as ‘suffering with his eye,’ or ‘scorpion bit him.’ Other absences include a family member bleeding, embalming a relative, and wrapping the corpse of a relative. Others missed work because they were ‘brewing beer.’ It is possible to imagine that the penalty for doing so would include having to share said beer with co-workers.

Relevant for the biblical account is that certain workers were absent because they were serving the gods, either ‘with his god’ or ‘offering to his god.’ In the light of this artifact, Moses and Aaron’s request to allow the Israelites some time off to worship their God would have been within established criteria for missing work.

Above is a photo of the Samaritan Passover sacrifice, the kind of vacation Moses was seeking for the Israelites. But in the Bible, until the exodus, Israel was left singing the vacation blues.

Ostracon EA5634 is on display at the British Museum in London, UK. It can be view via the following link:

Bad Mixes Per the Bible

Leviticus 19 contains a series of ethical and ritual laws. Leviticus 19:19 lists rules against mixing: “Do not mate different kinds of animals. Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.”

Deuteronomy 22 is more specific about the prohibition of weaving two kinds of materials: “Do not wear clothes of wool and linen woven together.”

Linen is made from the fibers of the flax plant. When ripe, the flax is harvested, optimally close to the root to preserve the longest fibers possible. The plant is first dried. The seeds are then removed and the fibers separated from the stalk. The fibers are spun into yarn, then weaved into clothing. The garment could be dyed, but linen is less receptive to dyeing than other clothing materials.

In ancient Egypt, flax was the primary source of material for clothing. The Nile provided the water that fed the fields of flax plants. The large population of Egypt provided the manpower for the labor-intensive process of removing the fibers that would be spun into threads. Women were an important part of this process, as they engaged in the sewing of garments. Artifacts from the ancient production of linen garments abound in Egypt, from art depicting people engaged in the process of making clothes to implements used in the manufacture of clothing. The Tomb of Rekhmire in Beni Hasan is best known for the depiction of west Asian traders wearing colorful garments, but it also features an image of Egyptians weaving linen clothing.

For the early Israelites, wool would have been more prevalent in clothing production. In the Judean and Samarian hills of Canaan, the early Israelites engaged in pastoral farming, herding sheep to pasture. The sheep could be shorn and the fibers cleaned, combed and spun into the yarn that would be sewed into wool clothing.

Rabbinic sources offer a range of opinions on the reason for this unusual law. Maimonides suggests that priests to foreign gods wore clothes woven with wool and linen, and therefore they were forbidden to Israel. This is a tad ironic, since the Bible in Exodus 28 commands the Israelite priests to “Have them use gold, and blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and fine linen. Make the ephod of gold, and of blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and of finely twisted linen.” Israelite priests are told to wear clothes mixed with wool and linen.

Therefore the opinion is given that the prohibition was to differentiate between the priest and the layperson, the priests being allowed to use this mixture and laypeople prohibited. Another suggestion is that just as two animals may not be blended, yarn from a plant and an animal should not be blended.

One suggestion could be that the two forms of thread are representative of Canaan and Egypt, wool the primary material for clothing in Israelite lands and linen the dominant form in Egypt. The prohibition could be a restriction of interweaving the Egypt that the Israelites escaped and with their new identity as Israel.

Forbidden Brotherly Love

Leviticus 18 warns Israel about improper sexual relations.

“The Lord said to Moses, Speak to the Israelites and say to them: I am the Lord your God. You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices…No one is to approach any close relative to have sexual relations… Everyone who does any of these detestable things—such persons must be cut off from their people. Keep my requirements and do not follow any of the detestable customs that were practiced before you came and do not defile yourselves with them. I am the Lord your God.”

Amongst the list of prohibited relations is relations with one’s sister. “Do not have sexual relations with your sister, either your father’s daughter or your mother’s daughter, whether she was born in the same home or elsewhere.”

The story of Isis and Osiris was an important myth in ancient Egypt, and appeared over time in the important ritual Pyramid Texts, Coffin Texts and Book of the Dead.

In the myth, the earth, Geb, and the sky, Nut, gave birth to four gods: the god Osiris, the goddess Isis, the god Seth and the goddess Nephthys. Osiris became the king of Eygpt and was married to his sister Isis. Seth was jealous of Osiris’ position, so Seth killed Osiris, cut him to pieces and dispersed the dismembered body parts. Isis transformed into a bird and located Osiris’ parts and reconstituted his body long enough for her to become impregnated with their son Horus.

Osiris left the world of the living and became the king of the underworld. Isis hid the baby Horus in the reeds of the Nile River to protect the rightful heir from her jealous brother Seth. When Horus came of age he fought and defeated Seth, to become the living king of Egypt. The deceased king and living king are both then connected to the union of the two siblings, Osiris and Isis.

There could be a number of advantages to royal Egyptian siblings marrying each other.

Through much of Egyptian history, the Egyptians viewed themselves as the best of humanity and Egypt the most important land, and Egyptian princesses were not given to foreign princes to marry. This limited the potential pool of equivalent and appropriate marriage partners.

Marrying a sibling had political advantages. It kept power contained within the family and limited the possibilities for palace intrigue.

The pharaohs were often seen as gods. In Egyptian art, the pharaoh could be depicted as the living Horus, and his deceased father who had been pharaoh depicted as Osiris, ruling the underworld. By marrying a sibling, the pharaoh was emulating the gods, as Osiris was married to his sister Isis. 

Examples of pharaohs marrying their sisters abound. DNA studies show that Tutankhamun, the famous inhabitant of the tomb of King Tut, was the son of the Egyptian king Akhenaten and Akhenaten’s sister.

Ptolemy II Philadelphus was the 3rd century BCE Greek ruler of Egypt. According to the Letter of Aristeas and the Babylonian Talmud, he was the ruler who translated the Bible from Hebrew into Greek. He also banished his first wife and married his sister. While this was normal practice for Egypt’s rulers, it was a shocking development to the Greeks, and Ptolemy became known as Ptolemy II Philadelphus, Philadelphus meaning brother-loving in Greek, for the brother-loving Egyptian practice of marrying his sister.

Today’s city of Amman, Jordan was named Philadelphia under Ptolemy II, in his honor. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was given its name for brotherly love, but this history of the name is different than what most imagine.

When Leviticus 18 warns, “You must not do as they do in Egypt,” this practice of marrying a sister is what it is warning against.

Above is of a coin featuring a not so great image of Ptolemy II Philadelphus, on display at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv.

Egypt Upside Down

One of the highlights of the Hagaddah that is read at the Passover Seder is the counting of the Ten Plagues. After Israel had suffered as slaves in Egypt, God began the process of their deliverance. The Egyptians were stricken by plague after plague until the pharaoh relented and freed the nation of Israel from its bondage.

The text of the Hagaddah reads: “These are the ten plagues that the Holy One, blessed be He, brought on the Egyptians in Egypt and they are: Blood, Frogs, Lice, Wild Animals, Pestilence, Boils, Hail, Locust, Darkness and Slaying the Firstborn.”

In the Bible, the plagues begin with the Nile River waters being turned to blood. The wave of plagues plunges Egypt into chaos, culminating in the deaths of the firstborn sons of Egypt.

Papyrus Leiden i344, also referred to as the Ipuwer Papyrus or as the Admonitions of Ipuwer, is a papyrus from Egypt that is kept at the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, the National Museum of Antiquities, in Leiden, Netherlands.

The papyrus is written in the Egyptian hieratic script. The papyrus itself dates to roughly the 13th century BCE, during the 19th Dynasty of Egypt’s New Kingdom period. But it is believed to be a copy of an original text from possible as early as the 12th Dynasty of Egypt, in the 20th or 19th century BCE, from the Middle Kingdom Period or later during the Second Intermediate Period.

The Ipuwer Papyrus describes chaos and disorder in Egypt. “A man regards his son as his enemy…The virtuous man goes in mourning because of what has happened in the land…the Nile overflows, yet none plough for it…Indeed, the women are barren and none conceive.”

Notably, the papyrus describes events that have certain parallels with the plagues of the Bible. In the Bible, the Nile River turns to blood. In the Ipuwer Papyrus, “Indeed, the river is blood, yet men drink of it. Men shrink from human beings and thirst after water.” In the Bible, animals die from pestilence, in Ipuwer, “all animals, their hearts weep; cattle moan because of the state of the land.” Bible, hail interspersed with fire falls and destroys the land; Ipuwer, “gates, columns and walls are consumed by fire… grain has perished on every side” The Bible’s plague of Darkness is matched by the Papyrus’ “the land is without light.”

Before Israel is freed God instructs Israel to go to the Egyptians and collect the Egyptians’ gold, silver and valuables. The Ipuwer Papyrus describes a world turned upside-down, where “poor men have become owners of wealth, and he who could not make sandals for himself is now a possessor of riches.” Those who were rich are now poor.

The final plague in the Bible is the Slaying of the Firstborn, and in the Ipuwer Papyrus “He who places his brother in the ground is everywhere.”

The quotes here from the Ipuwer Papyrus are taken out of their original order; they do not align chronologically with the Bible’s version of events. The early dating of the text places it outside the range of the generally understood times for a potential exodus of an entity called Israel from Egypt. The description may or may not reflect an actual event. What it does demonstrate is that the Bible’s version of events fits into an Egyptian vision of chaotic times.

The image above is of a plague mask, which doctors in the 17th century wore to protect themselves while treating patients afflicted by plague.

The Ipuwer Papyrus i344 can be via the following link:

Semitic Slaves in Egypt

On the holiday of Passover, Jews celebrate their ancestors’ deliverance from slavery in Egypt. The Passover seder ritual follows the order laid out in the Haggadah. A central theme of the Hagaddah is about Israel’s bondage in Egypt, and it is repeated numerous times in the ‘Magid’ section. 

“We were slaves to Pharaoh in the land of Egypt. And God took us out from there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. And if the Holy One, blessed be He, had not taken our ancestors from Egypt, behold we and our children and our children’s children would all be enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt.”

“What does the innocent son say? What is this? And you will say to him, With the strength of his hand did God take us out from Egypt, from the house of slaves.”

“Blessed is the One who keeps his promise to Israel, blessed be he…and he said to Abraham, your seed will be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and they will enslave them and afflict them four hundred years. And also that nation for which they shall toil will I judge, and afterwards they will go out with much property.”

Papyrus Brooklyn 35.1446 is a seven foot long papyrus from the 12th or 13th Dynasty era of the Middle Kingdom period in Egypt, in the late 19th or 18th century BCE. The papyrus is written in the ancient Egyptian language in hieratic script.

The text discusses a woman by the name of Senebtisi and her efforts to secure ownership of 95 servants. It also relays that a number of servants failed to complete their assigned tasks and it gives instructions for how to handle them.

Most of the servants are female, and they are assigned to a variety of roles including hairdresser, fieldhand, gardener, cook, brewer, and weaver. Roughly half of the servants are identified as being ‘Asian,’ likely from the Levant, the area of Syria and Canaan. The Asiatics are listed with their original name and they are also given an Egyptian name.

Roughly a third of the total number of servants have identifiable Semitic names, Semitic being the language family to which Hebrew belongs. The names listed include: Baaltuya, Aduna, Isibtu, Shamashtu, Ayyabum, Dawidi-huat, and Esebtw. Some of the names can be readily identified as being female forms of known Hebrew names: Menahema, Ashera, and Aqaba, which is comparable to Ya’aqob.

The Papyrus Brooklyn 35.1446 dates to the early part of the 2nd millennium BCE, earlier than the generally understood timeline for any potential Israelite enslavement in Egypt. This likely eliminates the possibility that these servants or slaves are connected to the Israelite bondage in Egypt that is discussed at the Passover seder. However, it does demonstrate that at this earlier time, the Egyptians were using Asiatics, from the Levant, with Semitic names, as servants in their homes.

A fragment of the Papyrus Brooklyn 35.1446, shown in the image above, is on display at the Brooklyn Museum, in the Egyptian Galleries. Parking is generally available on Flatbush Avenue near the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens if you want to see it for yourself.

Clay in the Israelite Potter’s Hands

In Leviticus 14, the Bible details the process for cleansing a house that was afflicted with “tzara’at,” a blemish that appears on its walls. “But if the priest comes to examine it and the mold has not spread after the house has been plastered, he shall pronounce the house clean, because the defiling mold is gone. To purify the house he is to take two birds and some cedar wood, scarlet yarn and hyssop. He shall kill one of the birds over fresh water in a clay pot. Then he is to take the cedar wood, the hyssop, the scarlet yarn and the live bird, dip them into the blood of the dead bird and the fresh water, and sprinkle the house seven times.”

Leviticus 15 contains rules regarding unusual bodily secretions. “Everything the man sits on when riding will be unclean, and whoever touches any of the things that were under him will be unclean till evening; whoever picks up those things must wash their clothes and bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening…A clay pot that the man touches must be broken, and any wooden article is to be rinsed with water.”

The repeated mentions of clay pots indicate their importance in the daily lives of the average Israelite. Clay pots were important then as they are today for the preparation, storage and transport of food.

The Book of Jeremiah, chapter 18, demonstrates the importance of pots. In Jeremiah, God tells Jeremiah to go to the potter’s house: So I went down to the potter’s house and saw him working with clay at the wheel. He was making a pot from clay. But there was something wrong with the pot. So the potter used that clay to make another pot. With his hands he shaped the pot the way he wanted it to be. Then this message from the Lord came to me: “Family of Israel, you know that I can do the same thing with you. You are like the clay in the potter’s hands, and I am the potter.”

Clay pots were made by shaping earthen clay into pottery form, either by hand, by potter’s wheel or by mold. The clay was then fired at a high temperature to induce chemical change that allowed the hardened clay to hold liquids without disintegrating.

Late Bronze Age pottery in Canaan featured a mix of different types of pottery shapes, including large storage jars, called pithoi, smaller storage jars, cooking pots, bowls, jugs, jars and flasks. The pottery derived from different sources, from the locally made to the imported. The locally made pottery was made on potter’s wheels and was painted. Imports from Cyprus and the Aegean were higher quality and more ornate than locally produced pottery and featured decorative designs and figures.

In Iron Age I Canaan the Samarian and Judean hills saw a sprouting of new settlements in areas that had not been settled previously. The inhabitants of these new villages are generally associated with the nascent Israel.

Like their Iron Age Canaanite neighbors and Late Bronze Age Canaanite predecessors, these new settlers of the Samarian and Judean hill country used pottery types that were similar in design to Canaanite pottery. Unlike their Iron Age Canaanite neighbors and Late Bronze Age Canaanite predecessors, the hill country pottery was of a lower quality.

The hill country pottery was more limited in nature, with pottery that was primarily needed for survival. There is a high concentration of large pithoi, and food storage and cooking pots dominate the pottery forms. Hill country pottery was heavier, and more poorly made relative to the Canaanite pottery. Whereas Canaanite pottery was painted, hill country pottery was unadorned. Whereas Canaanite pottery was shaped on a potter’s wheel, early hill country pottery was mostly hand made or made in a mold.

It would appear that for the Bible, the remedy for a mold in the home would involve a clay pot possibly made in a mold. 

The image above shows the less ornate pottery typical of the early Iron Age settlers of the hill country of Canaan. These are on display at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv. 

For those interested in learning more about pottery, the following video is a five-minute demonstration of very early pottery making technique:

It’s All Going to Pots

Leviticus 13 lists the laws of skin conditions and diseases. “When anyone has a swelling or a rash or a shiny spot on their skin that may be a defiling skin disease, they must be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons who is a priest. The priest is to examine the sore on the skin, and if the hair in the sore has turned white and the sore appears to be more than skin deep, it is a defiling skin disease. When the priest examines that person, he shall pronounce them ceremonially unclean. If the shiny spot on the skin is white but does not appear to be more than skin deep and the hair in it has not turned white, the priest is to isolate the affected person for seven days.”

The Hebrew word “tzara’at” is commonly translated as leprosy, but it represents a variety of skin conditions and blemishes that appear on human skin, hair or even on clothes or buildings.

In the book of Numbers 12 “tzara’at” is associated with sin. Moses’ brother Aaron and sister Miriam criticized Moses’ choice of wife. In response, God punished Miriam with a skin condition, and her skin turned white as snow, and she was isolated outside the camp for seven days.

Leviticus 6 lists the laws for bringing a sin offering. One law regarding the process is that “the clay pot the meat is cooked in must be broken; but if it is cooked in a bronze pot, the pot is to be scoured and rinsed with water.”

Clay pots are involved in the Bible’s rituals, and are one of most important items that archaeologists study.

Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie was a 19thcentury archaeologist who was responsible for excavations in Egypt and Palestine. His most prominent find was of the Merneptah Stele, the granite monument which contains the first known mention of a people called “Israel.” He himself quickly recognized the importance of this find for archaeology and the Bible. According to a biography, when he realized the Egypitan hieroglyphic characters referred to Israel, he remarked “Won’t the reverends be pleased?”

Flinders Petrie true lasting contribution to the field of archaeology is in the development of ‘seriation.’ While unearthing a cemetery at Luxor, Egypt, Petrie established a system of digging gradually and recording the findings by layer. The artifacts and pottery found in each layer could be compared. Layers from different graves that contained similar pottery could be estimated to come from similar time periods. In doing so, Petrie was able to establish a relative chronology of objects across time.

A tell, or tel, is a mound that is created over time by settlers. In ancient times, if a site was abandoned or destroyed, it would be easier for the next group of settlers to fill in the earlier layer with dirt and build on that layer, than to remove all the debris from the earlier settlement. Over time, these mounds grew taller to the point where they provide the natural defense of a high ground.

The southern Levant, including Canaan, is rich in ancient tells because of a poverty in water. In lands where there was consistent rainfall or rivers, a destroyed settlement could be abandoned and the next generation of settlers could relocate to another spot with enough water. The settlers of Canaan were limited in how far they could wander from the water sources, and were more apt to build on the site of prior settlements.

Using methods established by Flinder Petrie, William Foxwell Albright produced important studies of clay pottery in the southern Levant west of the Jordan River. These studies proved to be important for the identification of early Israel, and Israel’s development over time.

The image above is from Tel Megiddo. The area served as a temple site, and earlier structures were found beneath later structures as archaeologists dug down to lower levels on the site.

In recognition of the importance of pots in archaeology, you can enjoy this tune:

The Pig Divide

In Leviticus 11, the Bible lists the animal species that one is permitted to eat and those that one is prohibited from eating. For animals, the Bible instructs, “You may eat any animal that has a divided hoof and that chews the cud.“ The pig is specified with an additional prohibition: “And the pig, though it has a divided hoof, does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you. You must not eat their meat or touch their carcasses; they are unclean for you.” Deuteronomy 14 later repeats the restriction: “The pig is also unclean; although it has a divided hoof, it does not chew the cud. You are not to eat their meat or touch their carcasses.”

With the end of the Late Bronze Age and the beginning of the Iron Age in the 12th century BCE, the central hill country of Canaan saw a sharp rise in population and the creation of hundreds of new villages. The inhabitants of these new villages lived in unique “Four-Room Houses,” and the consensus is that these new settlers were the early Israelites.

While the Israelites inhabited the hill country, the groups that comprised the ancient Canaanites inhabited the coastal region to the west and north, extending into the area of Lebanon. In the 12th century, a group of people referred to as Sea Peoples invaded from the sea and established footholds in the southwestern corner of the southern Levant. One of the groups of Sea Peoples was called the Peleset, the group that later came to be known as the Philistines. These Sea Peoples established themselves in five major cities near the southern coast of Canaan: Gaza, Gath, Ekron, Ashdod and Ashkelon.

Archaeologist study human history by looking at material remains. There is a tendency to think of great monuments, but monuments and inscriptions can often be subject to bias. One artifact that does not lie is garbage. Archaeologists study ancient garbage dumps to determine what foods were part of the local diet.

Prior to the Iron Age, pig was a component of the diet across the landmass of Canaan. With the invasion of the Sea Peoples, the Philistines brought pigs along with them and pig was a major part of the Philistine diet. At the same time, pig disappears from diets in the central hill country inhabited by the early Israelites and in certain Canaanite areas in the lowlands of Canaan.

The question is, what is the reason for the avoidance of the pig in the diet in the Iron I villages of the central hill country? The potential exists for pig avoidance to have been an Israelite cultural marker, perhaps the result of a religious belief. 

The image above is of an incised pig bone discovered at a Philistine site. It is on display at the Corinne Mamane Museum of Philistine Culture in Ashdod, the one time city of the ancient Philistines.

The border lines, the divide between the Israelites and the Philistines, can be roughly drawn where the pig bones are found. With pigs on one side and no pigs on the other, the Philistines might have enjoyed this cheer:

The Pure Home

Along with rules for sacrificial offerings, Leviticus addresses laws of ritual purity. Leviticus 5 requires an offering from someone who was unwittingly ritually impure. Leviticus 6 contains instructions for the treatment of ritually impure pots. Leviticus 7 warns that anyone ritually unclean must not eat from a ritual offering.

At the end of the Late Bronze Age, the central highlands of Canaan experienced a significant rise in population. In Iron Age I, 1200-1000 BCE, hundreds of new villages appeared at previously unoccupied sites. One of the unique aspects of these villages is the appearance of the ‘Four-Room House.’

The ‘Four-Room House’ was a type of dwelling that became the predominant style of home in these new central hill country villages. The main feature of the four-room house is a broad rectangular room in the back and three narrow rectangular rooms running the length of the broad room. The entrance was to the central narrow room, which often had no roof and was exposed to the elements. The rooms were separated by a wall or by pillars. The presence of these pillars could be what Proverbs 9:1 is referring to when it says “Wisdom has built her house, she has set up its seven pillars.”

The houses could also have a second floor above the broad rectangular room. The first floor would be used for storage and housing, and the second floor designated for the family to eat and sleep. The courtyard often included a cistern for storing water, silos for storing food and an oven.

The ‘Four-Room House,’ did not necessarily have four rooms. The space could contain three rooms or the rooms could be subdivided to create five or more rooms. But the general layout remained the same.

The Four-Room House became the dominant home style in Israelite villages for the span of the Iron Age in Canaan, from 1200 BCE until the Babylonian conquest of the kingdom of Judah and the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem.

The origin of this home style is debated. There are differing opinions but no clearly accepted antecedent. This adds to the mystery of the origins of the settlers in the central hill country of Canaan who fueled the population increase and dwelled in the four-room house.

The uniformity and location of the homes have led some archaeologists to point to the Israelites and to consider these homes a unique Israelite cultural marker. Various suggestions have been offered as to why the ubiquity and uniformity of these structures. One thought is that the homes reflected an egalitarian ethic. Unlike some homes built with a linear layout, where more important rooms would be positioned in the back of the home, in the four-room house every room was accessible from the courtyard area.

Another claim is that the uniformity of the layout across these villages was to be in accordance with ritual purity laws. In the four-room house, a ritually impure person, such as a menstruating woman, could enter the courtyard and then enter any room in the home without exposing the other rooms to ritual impurity.

Ritual impurity laws such as those in Leviticus could have contributed to the widespread use of an architectural style in Canaan’s central highlands and early Israel’s settlement.

The photo above is of the archaeological remains of a ‘Four-Room House,’ taken at Gezer in Israel. Note the remains of the standing pillars that separate the different rooms.