Diverse yet recognizable, the basic layout of all four-room houses follows the same pattern: A central courtyard (which may have been roofed or unroofed) is flanked by a room on each side, with a broad room across the far end. The side rooms may be separated from the courtyard with walls or pillars and, as with the broad room, may be subdivided into smaller rooms. Scholars have pointed out that this layout, with rooms set aside for storage, stabling animals and food preparation, is eminently suited to the agricultural lifestyle—but its practicality alone can’t explain why Israelites, and only Israelites, used this particular house design.

Authors Bunimovitz and Faust note that inhabitants could enter each room of a four-room house directly from the central courtyard instead of having to pass through intermediate rooms; as a result, certain parts of the house, or certain of its inhabitants, could not be set off as significantly more important than others. In this way, the authors argue, the four-room house symbolically expressed the egalitarian values that were important to Israelite society.