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Ancient Israelite palacesComments

Ancient Israelite palaces

Ashlar masonry, palm capitals, ivory inlays, and the biblical record all confirm that public architecture and decorative art of Israel belonged to the Syro-Phoenician tradition.
[Woe to] him who says, “I will build me a spacious house with large upper stories,” and cuts out windows for it, paneling it with cedar and painting it bright red. Jer 22:14

Royal palaces were built of ashlars, rectangular stone blocks that were well-cut and closely fitted together. Ashlar construction frequently included pilasters with capitals that were decorated with a central triangle separating two rising volutes. The pilaster and capital together formed a stylized palm tree or palmette. Palmettes also graced the interior of the Jerusalem Temple. Limestone balustrades decorated with petals and volutes served as railings in the palace windows at Ramat Rahel, just outside Jerusalem.

[Woe to] those who lie on ivory beds! The ivory palaces shall perish. Amos 6:4, 3:15

Palaces were decorated with inlaid ivory, and ivory-inlaid furniture filled palace rooms. Ahab was remembered for having built an ivory palace at Samaria, and archaeologists have recovered hundreds of pieces of carved ivory from the site.

The House of the King ideally encompassed all the households of the kingdom, and the king served as royal paterfamilias. The prophets, however, saw the palace and its furnishings as representing royal abuse, not as a patrimonial ideal. In the 8th century, Amos bewailed the ivory palaces and ivory beds. More than a century later in Judah, Jeremiah excoriated Jehoiakim for exploiting the labor of his people to build an extravagant palace. The palace at Ramat Rahel may have been the very object of Jeremiah’s contempt.