Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Living Conditions in Jerusalem at Time of Lehi

In the 8th century B.C., 200 years before Lehi left Jerusalem, the city reached its population density and overflowed the narrow confines of the walls. This was a flourishing growth period for the Jews, and the reason for the difference between “living in” (within) Jerusalem and “living at” (outside) Jerusalem (1 Nephi 1:4).

Within the city, there was no town planning, and houses were built to conform to the available space. Sometimes, the space between two existing houses was used to build a third, and the shapes and angles of the walls were sometimes sharp and unusual. As a result, houses took shape haphazardly amid older buildings, which gave Jerusalem an uneven checkered flavor when seen from a distance. As population continued to expand in Jerusalem, people built houses in any suitable place they could find outside the walls.

Lacking any substantial timber supply, Jerusalem houses were constructed of stone and mud-plaster. The entrance led to an open courtyard, which served, among other things, as an open-air kitchen. Flanking the courtyard were two rooms with cobblestone floors for the family's domestic animals, and two slightly smaller rooms for human inhabitants. Across the back of the house stretched a communal room about six feet by twenty feet. The size of rooms was often determined by the size of the wood beams available. Most beams were made from local conifer trees, which grew to twelve or fifteen feet in height. These half-timber ceiling beams supported second floor sleeping rooms, which were reached by a ladder. Here another ladder led to a spacious roof where large jars filled with commodities such as grain and oil were located. In the summer, family members slept on the roof to catch a welcome breeze.

The houses were filled with insects in the heat of the summer, and with smoke from the open, indoor fire in the winter. This fire smoldered in a hole in the earth floor, but wealthy people had braziers, though these were without chimneys. The interior of these houses was so dark, a lamp had to be lit at all times. These were pottery dishes with a lip at one side (lamp molds were not invented until New Testament times) and located on the wall farthest from the door. The floor was hard-packed earth, and the animals were brought in near the front door in the winter. The sleeping quarters for the family were in the rear, on a raised flooring.

Wealthy Judean homes, like that of Lehi, would have been much larger. That Lehi was wealthy is attested to by the fact that he “left his gold, and his silver, and his precious things” as he fled into the wilderness (1 Nephi 2:4), and that Lehi “left gold and silver, and all manner of riches” in his home when he left (1 Nephi 3:16).

Such a wealthy home would have had a second floor dining room, a first floor kitchen adjacent to the open-air cooking spaces in the courtyard, and servants' quarters outside the main wall. Typically, these homes were built in a U-shape surrounding the central courtyard and the entrance door located in the walled-in open end of the U. A parapet had to be constructed around the edge of the roof for safety. On the ground floor were bins and jars for grain storage, mortars for grinding grain, basins of hollowed-out stones, dishes, jugs and cooking pots, one or two cistern mouths opening in the floor, and an oven. Occasionally, outbuildings were attached for storage, additional servant quarters, and stables. Well-to-do families had comfortable furniture, including beds and chairs, but the common roof of the home was typically the most comfortable place on a sultry night, and evening meals were often served there.

For eating, a meal might consist of lentil soup ladled into individual bowls and a large plate of lamb mixed with parched grain, chick peas and cheese. Fruit and wine usually rounded out the repast.

For bathing, women rinsed in clear water, then applied unscented oil to rub off excess dirt, somewhat like modern women that use cleansing cream. Scented oil was then applied, poured from decorative juglets. While the average woman bathed alone, sitting in a type of earthen tub, a wealthy woman would likely have a servant bathe her—-as did Bathsheba when David looked down upon her on her roof.

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