NOT the least interesting feature of Eastern lands are the houses, and a good understanding of the plan of these may help in making more vivid some passages from the Book. Passing along the streets of a Jewish town, the houses do not give an attractive appearance. They are built for the most part of stone or brick; and among the wealthier classes, of hewn stone or marble. The windows are generally small, a lattice or grating taking the place of glass. In the middle of the front side of the house is a large door, with perhaps a smaller one inside of it, which can be more readily opened than the large one. Peter may have knocked with the iron knocker at just such a door as this, when, delivered by the angel from prison, he hastened to the house where the saints were gathered together to pray.

On entering, we find ourselves in a room called the porch. On the side opposite to the street door, but far enough along to screen those in the interior from the gaze of the passer-by, is another door.  Passing through it, we are struck with the contrast between the plainness of the exterior and the richness and luxuriance of the interior. The houses are purposely made plain on the outside, since the people who built them considered it a mark of vanity displeasing to God to ornament them in any manner. They would not have even the carved pieces around the windows likened "unto anything in the heaven above or in the earth beneath." In this interior is found, not rooms, as might be supposed from an external view, but a beautiful yard, surrounded on its four sides by the house.. This is called the court. This yard usually has a covered walk projecting some eight or ten feet from each side of the house. If the house extends up two stories, the roof of the walk forms a gallery, protected by a balustrade. There are not unfrequently several courts to the houses of the wealthier class. In the midst of the court is a fountain, whose waters fall in soothing murmurs into the basin below. Rich flowers exhale a delicate perfume, and the palm, cypress, olive, or pomegranate lends beauty and shade to make the scene attractive. In the picture may be seen a palm-tree possibly growing in the court of an adjoining house. Very pleasant it must be to sit under the deep blue, starlit sky, listening to the breeze sighing through the treetops, and the waters dripping, splashing from the fountain. Not unfrequently wells or cisterns are dug in the courts.

Oriental houses have no chimneys, a fire being built in the open court, or in a room having an opening in the roof for the escape of the smoke.

It was no doubt at such a fire that Peter was warming himself when he denied his Lord. "And as Peter was beneath in the palace, there cometh one of the maids of the high priest; and when she saw Peter warming himself, she looked upon him and said, And thou also wast with Jesus of Nazareth. But he denied, saying, I know not, neither understand I what thou sayest. And he went out into the porch; and the cock crew."

But let us ascend the stairs in the corner of the court. All the rooms on the second floor open into the gallery, and are more richly furnished than those on the first floor. Here, over the porch, is the guest-chamber, fitted up in the best style that the owner's means will permit. Running around the room on three sides is an elevated platform, or divan, with mattresses and cushions at the back. These divans answer for a couch by day and a bed by night. Sometimes this guest-chamber is on the ground floor, and has a floor of tiling with a fountain in the center.

It is to the roof, however, that the Orientals resort when seeking quiet and seclusion. These roofs are sometimes made of tiling covered with earth; but in the houses of the middle classes they are more generally made of beams and joists covered with poles and brush. On top of this are placed gravel and dirt rolled down hard with a stone roller. This roof has one disadvantage in that in rainy weather it is quite apt to leak. For this reason a stone roller is constantly kept on the roof to roll down the gravel after a shower. The continual dripping of the rain upon the people below must be very annoying, and Solomon seems to have understood it; for he says: "A continual dropping in a rainy day and a contentious woman are alike." Grass grows quite freely on the roof during the rainy season, and goats and sheep are sometimes turned in to graze upon it; but of course it will wither as soon as the dry season sets in, illustrating the psalmist's words, "Let them be as the grass upon the housetops, which withereth afore it groweth up."

During the greater part of the year the roof is the pleasantest part of the house. The people bring their beds up here, and sleep under a booth. constructed for the occasion, lulled to sleep by the falling waters and the sighing of the cypress trees in the court below.  Peter, it will be remembered, went up to the housetop to pray. This might seem like a rather public place for him to engage in his devotions, but the stone parapet running all around the roof would serve to screen him from the passers by.  The law of Moses commanded that such a battlement should be built "that thou bring not blood upon thy house, if any man fall from thence." The picture gives a good view of this battlement, with pots of plants growing on the top of the wall; and also represents the style of a Jewish woman's dress.

This roof is frequently put to a practical use.

Here Rahab hid the spies under the flax she was drying; and at present "the farmer, on the house-top, suns his wheat for the mill, and the flour when brought home, and dries his figs, raisins, etc., in safety both from animals and thieves."

In times of public excitement it was but natural that people should crowd to the housetops, the same as we would rush into the street, to look and wonder. These houses joined one to another, and their roofs were separated only by low stone walls.  The view from the housetop is the best that can be obtained.

Returning over the roof and down the stairs into the court, the thrifty condition of the trees brings to mind the words of the psalmist, "I am like a green olive-tree in the house of God," and "those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God."





W. E. L