The twelve tribes of Israel
were predominately rural agriculturalists with herds of cattle, sheep, goats and domesticated animals. They grew grain crops, and tended olive, nut, date and fruit orchards. In addition there were members of the tribes who were skilled craftsmen which supported all the needs of the clans. The types of dwellings in ancient Israel accomodated the needs accordingly in the rural lifestyle, small villages and larger cities. Tents were used by nomadic and semi-nomadic clans and mudbrick houses accomodated village people. More elaborate structures accomodated people in cities.
Tents were used by rural nomadic people, who followed their flocks to pasture and water and moved according to the seasons. The semi-nomadic people were based in a village, but also lived part of the year in upper or lower pasture areas.
These tents had two sections; a front section where the men lived with their family and where visitors were entertained; and a private section at the rear for the women and their children. Each family tent had an area set aside for cooking and other forms of woman’s labour.
In addition there was a special women’s tent for birthing and seperation from the men during the women’s menstral cycle. Such tents existed for the reasons specified according to Lev.15:19-33 and Lev 12: 1-8. In addition an elder woman or widow who was also a midwife, managed the admissions and dismissals. It would have been a very busy tent with young girls reaching puberity, women in menses and of course women giving birth who where also required to stay away from there husbands as well as other men and young unmarried males for various lengths of time. Naturally the birthing area of the tent was seperated from other women for the purpose of privacy. A normal minimum stay would be at least seven days. The number of days women stayed within this tent was determined by their circumstances. In addition women were educated in this tent regarding relationships, their womanhood and they all shared and exchanged experiences.
In cases where there was more than one wife, each wife had her own personal tent with her children. The husband would summon one of the wives for companionship to his tent according to the women’s cycles. In addition woman shared child care where and when needed.
It is a custom for religious Jewish couples to have seperate beds. A religious Jewish women is strict with her conduct during the restricted times of her cycles. Women of Islam follow the same conduct.
Another key point is that there was also a special men’s tent for men, when men with certain medical conditions warranted them unclean and therefore they were also seperated from the clan.
The tents were made from goats’ hair, woven in strips on large looms and then stiched together with leather strands. Women wove the fabric for the tents; stitched them together; kept them in good repair, assembled them when the camp was established; and packed them when it was time to move on. The women were skilled and accustomed to working as a group. Today nomadic Bedouin women continue to live this way.
Rural houses gradually replaced tents when the agricultural nomadic way of life became secured in villages. Stone was used in the house foundations. The basic plan used for houses included a central courtyard with a number of rooms opening from it. These rooms were small with a minimum of windows. Lattice and shutters were used to cover window openings (Judges 5:28). Rooms were divided by wooden beams that supported a flat roof. The beams were covered with mudbrick or thatching and clay. The inner walls were finished with a smooth coat of clay or plaster and were frequently decorated with frescoes. The floors were generally wood or mosaic tiles. Wood or stone benches were used for sitting and sleeping. People reclined on cushions or mats on the floor. There were shelves for storage and the furnishings included the necessities such as a table, stools and oil lamps.
A wooden ladder or a set of stairs led to the roof, which was used as an outdoor room that was shaded by a matted awning. The courtyard and the roof were important parts of the house and were used for tasks such as spinning and weaving; and food preparation. The flat roof area might be used for sleeping, working and drying food or textiles (Joshua 2:6).
In the courtyard you might find toilet facilities, the bath-houses, for both men and women, a cooking area with a fire, cooking utensils and possibly an oven, implements for grinding small amounts of grain, a covered area where people sat while they worked or talked and an area for the family animals, a dog, a cat, possibly a donkey, goats or a cow.
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