I stand in a paved courtyard. Surrounding me is a cluster of dwellings constructed of mudbrick (or adobe). A discovery like this is not unusual in a region where wood is scarce and temperatures are extreme. What is odd is the way in which the overhead space is closed. Bricks are stacked in concentric circles that rise upwardly from thick stub walls. They culminate in a tiara made of stone that crowns a tiny chimney hole. I marvel. These are tepees of mud, sedentary versions of the pastoralist’s tent.
I am on the border between the modern countries of Turkey and Syria, but somehow it all has the feel of a movie set. I imagine I am on Tatooine in a galaxy far, far, away. Someone taps me on the shoulder. I turn, expecting Luke Skywalker.
Tanner says, “we can go inside.”
I duck and enter a small door. It is suddenly quite dark. While waiting for my eyes to adjust, I welcome the cool of the space and intuitively understand one aspect of the design. Small holes and windows, strategically placed, do little for lighting, but do much for temperature transfer and circulation. The massively thick walls provide insulation on an open plain where temperatures can swing from 120 degrees in the summer to below freezing in the winter. Rain is quickly shed by the steep domes.
As my eyes adjust I can see that the rooms are small. Each requires its own dome. Arched doorways link the rooms and provide space for extended family and dedicated activities.
Tanner nods his head in one direction. He puts his finger to his lips. Plastic sandals in the doorway suggests we are not alone. I peek through the arch. The dark room beyond has mats on the floor. Along one wall are cushions. Two men sleep soundly. Caretakers, perhaps?
This is a “display home” in Haran. It is decorated with traditional crafts and cultural artifacts from the recent past. It is well worth the stop.
Elsewhere in the village are “living” homes that we do not visit. Many of these structures are built of concrete block or local stone. A few “beehive” structures are scattered throughout and demonstrate that the technology is not extinct. And why should it be? Mud is readily available underfoot. The skill set and tools needed to form, bake, stack and face the brick cones is not complex. Structures like this are constructed quickly and are easily expandable, one dome simply presses against the next. They are the ultimate in “green technology” in a very brown land. It is not surprising that this building “style” is ubiquitous in northern Mesopotamia.
Given the patriarchal connections at Haran, I wonder if Abraham, Rebecca, Lot, Jacob, or Rachel ever lived in such a structure? It is not just possible. It is likely.
We know that Abraham was referred to as “a wandering Aramean” by later generations (Deut 26:5). Aram, of course, is the ancient name for Syria. We also know that the details of Abraham’s early travels, while obscure in some ways, are clear in others. This “first family” of faith originally hailed from the area.
(At the moment I am still juggling Umberto Cassuto’s reading of moledheth [“kindred place”] in the text of Genesis, the problem of identifying Woolley’s Tell el-Muqayyar as the “Ur of the Chaldeans,” and the layers of tradition identifying Şanlıurfa, or Urfa for short, as the birthplace of Abraham. I’ll save all that for another day.)
Archaeologically, I have seen circular domiciles elsewhere (Cyprus, Greece, and Palestine). These are either earlier or later than the time of Abraham, however. More homework is needed here on my part.
I am content at the moment to simply rest in the shade, an earthen vessel in an earthen vessel!
For more, see an interesting article on Middle Eastern beehive homes here: http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/196706/the.beehive.enigma.htm