The term “four-room house” designates a typical dwelling in Iron Age Israel whose “ideal” plan was composed of four main areas, with three parallel longitudinal spaces that are backed by a broad space. A “four-space house” or “four-area house” would be more appropriate terms, since the basic four areas are often subdivided into smaller rooms, and the actual number of rooms varied. The long spaces were sometimes separated by pillars, but the existence of pillars is not part of the definition. The entrance was usually located at the central longitudinal space.

Subtypes of the “ideal” form comprised two longitudinal spaces (i.e., three-room houses) and even one or four such spaces. The term “four-room” is generic and incorporates all of these subtypes. The common denominator is a long house with a number of long spaces in the front and a broad space at the back.

The four-room house developed in the Iron Age I (c. 1200–1000 B.C.E.), and, from the early Iron Age II (c. 1000 B.C.E.) until the Babylonian destructions of the sixth century B.C.E., it was the dominant type of domestic building in ancient Israel. The fact that the spatial and temporal distribution of the house type corresponds with that of the Israelite settlement has led most scholars to associate the house with the Israelites.a A few scholars attempted to discredit this association on the basis of some houses unearthed outside Israelite territories, such as at Sahab, Tel Qiri, Tel Keisan, and Afula.1 Such assertions, however, should be rejected on a number of grounds.

First, most of the houses mentioned by these scholars do not fall in the typological category of four-room houses. Some of them do have four rooms—for example, at Tel Keisan and Afula—yet their overall architectural configuration is completely different.

The “example” at Sahab represents another type of erroneous comparison, in which a house with a few pillars (in one room!), but completely different in form and configuration, is mistaken for a four-room house.2

Moreover, some of the supposedly exceptional examples of four-room houses are located in Transjordan and were probably used by Israelite groupsb living in this region.3

While there are some exceptional four-room houses in what appear to be non-Israelite settlements, we should note that most of them date to the Iron Age I (e.g., the few examples at Tel Qasile), prior to the final crystallization of ethnic groups in the region and of the house itself.

Notably, Iron Age II four-room houses are practically missing in areas outside the Israelite settlement. In this period, the distribution of four-room houses almost overlaps Israelite territory. The association of the four-room house with the Israelites is strengthened by the fact that it is the dominant house type of the Israelite settlements, with most houses belonging to one of its subtypes. This house type became a mental template, used also in the construction of public buildings, palaces, and forts, so that from the eighth century B.C.E.—when burying in caves became the norm in Judah—even tombs followed this plan. This, of course, makes the sixth-century disappearance of the four-room house all the more telling.

The temporal span of the four-room house therefore also associates it with the Israelites, as it emerged in the Iron Age I, the period of the Israelite settlement, became prominent during the period of the monarchy, and disappeared with the destruction of the kingdom of Judah.

Beyond the temporal and spatial correspondence of the house type with the Israelites, the structure fits the Israelites’ way of life, reflecting their mindset and daily practice (including purity) and shaping them at the same time. Whether the association with the Israelites was direct (a form of an ethnic marker) or indirect (it developed as a result of group behavior), the Israelites used it extensively, and it can rightly be called “the Israelite house.”