Much of the action in Prize of War takes place in Acsah’s house. Acsah and Othni live in a typical Israelite home, also known as a four-room house. These mud-and-brick houses are characteristic of the Iron Age of the Eastern Mediterranean. The inhabitants lived on the second floor, and the ground floor—divided into four sections by pillars, half-walls, and walls—was used as a stable and for storage. When part of a walled city, the outer, defensive city wall connected all the back broadroom walls.
The broadroom at the back of the house was usually split into two parts. One part was used for storage, and one allowed women to separate from the men during times of ritual impurity. The other three rooms ran long ways and parallel to each other. One section was used to house the family’s animals during the cold, wet months of the year. This kept the animals safe and warm, and brought heat to the people as well. (This is likely the manger in the “stable” that Jesus was placed in.) The other two parts housed a “kitchen,” with a fire pit and cistern, and daytime living area for the family. There would sometimes be an open courtyard in the front of the home. In the summers most of the activity took place on the open-air roof. More well-to-do homeowners built an “upper room” on the roof as a guest room.
Floors were made of dirt; roofs were thatched. Walls were mudbrick or sometimes fieldstone, depending on the location. These houses were the predominant type of home from about 1200 BC through at least the first century AD. An astounding amount of Jesus’s ministry took place in people’s homes.
Excavations tell us these houses were about 25 feet wide by about 50 feet deep. Sometimes many generations lived in one house. To us, this may seem terribly small and crowded, but we must remember that the Israelites, and most peoples of this era, spent most of their time outside. The Hebrew word for house carries more of a meaning of shelter, not home. This was a place to which they retired to sleep, and not much more. They didn’t hang out there to watch TV and play games and work from home.
In ancient Israel, houses were a shelter from storms and cold, and a refuge from the enemy. As the psalmist said,
For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe.
I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.