Day 12- A Manger Not So Far Away: 1st Century Home Construction in Palestine

KC and Sherron Bridges of Quinlan,Texas keep a 6′ tall, 2,100 lb, horned Bison named “Wildthing” in their home.  Most people find that daunting and perhaps a bit frightening, but it wasn’t the least bit uncommon to see a neighbor leading his cow and a couple of sheep in through his front door for the night in 1st century Palestine.  Everybody did it, all the peasants at least.

Floor plan of a 1st century home in Palestine
Floor plan of a 1st century home in Palestine

A typical peasant home in 1st century Palestine was built over a cave which served as a basement “stable” of sorts.  Everyone- man, woman, child, and cow alike entered through the same front door for the night.  The animals went to the left into the basement.  The people climbed the stairs in front of the door to the living quarters above.  Upstairs, the home was generally constructed of two rooms, a main family living area and a secondary room for guests.  The floor of the main living area had a gentle slope toward the stable beneath so that debris could be swept away easily and any water spilled would drain below.

The main room of the home was used for everything, cooking, working, and sleeping. Any windows would have most likely been small, narrow and near the ceiling.  A hollow wall would have divided the main room from the guest room and served as an indoor silo of sorts.

The family would have wanted the animals to come inside at night to not only protect them from theft but to provide a heat source to the family in the winter. The next morning, the animals would be led outside and the stable swept clean.

Wooden mangers, near the ground, would have been provided for the sheep below, but the cattle would have eaten from mangers carved directly into the floor of the family room near the drop off where the floor ended and the stable began.  If the cow became hungry in the night, she could just stick her head up over the edge and grab a little midnight snack from the manger while the family slept nearby.  It is easy to imagine how in a pinch the animals might have been banished, and the manger cushioned with fresh hay to serve as a cradle. It makes perfect sense that a new mother, so young, might have rested from her labor there, her hand resting on her newborn son as his chest rose and fell, his cheeks warm and rosy from nursing, drifting off to sleep that most holy of nights in a manger not so far away.

1st century home built over a cave.  Side view
1st century home built over a cave. Side view

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