A possible implication of Matthew 5:15 is that houses generally had only one room:

15Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. ESV

Does archeology support this in general, or do we need to look for another way to interpret Jesus words here (e.g. all in the house get light from the lamp when they happen to be in the room where it is placed)?

  • 2
    Stager's 1985 "Archaeology of the Family in Ancient Israel" is a standard study on the earlier period (much cited); see also King & Stager, Life in Biblical Israel, page 29 for pic (nicked here, it appears). There must be studies bringing this into Hellenistic/Roman period(s), though - domestic space around Herodian temple has been much studied. Probably there are urban-civic/rural-village differences to take into account, too.
    – Dɑvïd
    Jun 1, 2015 at 6:55
  • Israelites were known to use A standard 4 room house back to the time of the Exodus. The presence of for room houses in Avaris, Egypt, are a major proof for the Israelites presence in Egypt. While this apparently died out around the time of the Babylonian exile, clearly they were advanced to have four rooms a millennia before the time of Jesus. So it seems unreasonable to me they would just have one.ancient.eu/The_Four-Room_House
    – Joshua
    Feb 5, 2016 at 22:33

4 Answers 4


A typical 1st century family home in Palestine was not one room but several rooms, on one or two floors, around a common open courtyard. Each room opened to the central space, so one lampstand in the central courtyard could shine into all the rooms of the house.

The courtyard architectural type is well documented. The Neolithic site of Sha'ar HaGolan on the southern end of the Sea of Galilee has the oldest known example in the world, dating from 8,000 years ago. The classic four-room house of Israel’s Iron Age is another simple example, though by the time of Jesus, explains Wofford College’s Bryan McCane, the layout of the four-room house had changed:

“At Gamla, Yodfat, Capernaum, Khirbet Qana, and Sepphoris, excavated houses from the Early Roman period consist of a cluster of rooms around a courtyard and/or work area. Most of the rooms around the courtyard were used as bedrooms and/or storage. The arrangement of rooms is organic – new rooms were added when needed, as space permitted. Like their four-roomed predecessors, these Early Roman houses were well suited for habitation by extended family groups. Several houses at Sepphoris also include a mikveh, or ritual bath.”

Many large, richly decorated courtyard homes of the period have been unearthed throughout the ancient Greek and Roman world. Archaeological sites in Galilee display both lavish and modest examples. Perhaps this is what Jesus had in mind.


There are plenty of Biblical and archaeological evidence that even lower class people had houses of more than one room. The famous 1st century remains of a house in Capernaum is said to be the house of Simon Peter:


Peter was a lead fisherman along with his younger brother Andrews and might have had a good business as such, hence he could have most likely afforded a house like the one said to have belonged to him. This house has a couple of rooms, kitchen, small patio and guest room where most likely Jesus healed Peter's mother in law (Mark 1:29-31). Other passages suggest that common houses had more than one room like when Peter asks to be left alone with Tabitha and the others left that particular room(Acts 9:36-43).


Although I could admit to the possibility that there were homes of an one-room nature in Israel at the time of Jesus, especially when the occupants of a particular dwelling were poor, it certainly was not a universal norm. Jesus himself asked his disciples to prepare the Last Supper in the "Upper Room." (Luke 22: 10-13). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cenacle On October 18, 1881 two missionaries discovered what is commonly believed, in some Catholic circles, to be the House of the Virgin Mary. Whether this is true or false is not in question here. What is important is that this dwelling dates back to the 1st century and had at least two rooms. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_the_Virgin_Mary


There is an enormous amount of archaeological evidence for houses in the Near East 2000 years ago, and indeed 4000 or 6000 years ago. There is absolutely no reason to think "that houses generally had only one room" during the Roman period. I think you are taking the passage in Matthew excessively literally.

  • If the picture linked in David's comment is typical, it appears that there is indeed one big room on the ground floor, which looks like it might be where work is done and light is needed by the whole household. Jun 1, 2015 at 10:21
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    Do have a look at the accompanying text, not just at the picture. There it is described as a "four-room house" in the "Iron age", not in the Roman period.
    – fdb
    Jun 1, 2015 at 11:24
  • Yes, it's from an earlier period (as David also mentions in his comment) - so my question is soliciting some sort of evidence as to whether the style was still basically "one room downstairs, further rooms upstairs" in the time of Jesus - I don't want to be told the answer, I want to be shown some evidence - even though I trust you, not everyone who stumbles on the question from Google will, it would be great to have a link at least. Jun 1, 2015 at 13:11

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