The Tent Genesis 13:3

It is an interesting fact, which we had occasion to notice before the deluge—that the house was earlier than the tent, and the settled than the migratory condition of life. No sooner, however, did man betake himself to that mode of life which obliged him to move often from place to place in search of pasturage, than he found the necessity of devising some kind of portable habitation. It would be interesting to trace, were it possible, the stages by which tents reached the form and texture which they have now for many ages retained in South Western Asia. This limitation is necessary, for the nature of these portable habitations depends very much upon the climate, and other local circumstances, of the country in which they are found. It is by no means probable, that the tents invented by Jabal before the deluge, were in all respects the same as those which formed the encampment of the patriarchs in the land of Canaan—even apart from the question, whether the climate of the region in which Jabal wandered, was not materially different from that in which Abraham sojourned.

Thus, in well-wooded countries the temporary habitations are often, in various parts of the world, formed of the interwoven branches of trees, constructed so rapidly, and with so little cost of labor, as to be abandoned without regret when the station is quitted; and if a return is made thereto, new dwellings are formed in the same manner, while the dry  materials of the previous encampment, left formerly on the spot, then become useful as fuel. It is by no means clear that the patriarchs did not resort to this plan, perhaps as an agreeable change, when the nature of the country allowed. What else were the “booths” that Jacob dwelt in for a time on his return from Mesopotamia? Note: Gen_33:17.] It is even likely that the Israelites during their forty years’ wandering did not live wholly in tents. In their annual commemoration of their pilgrimage in the feast of tabernacles, they lived not in tents, but in booths made of the green boughs. Note: Lev_23:42.] This would have been very inappropriate, had not such habitations formed, in some part at least, the dwelling of the Israelites during the time of their sojourning; for a tent would have been, in many respects, better suited for commemorative use, as a family that once possessed it could retain it many years for that service. A tent is, however, a better habitation than a booth; and since in every large encampment, as in a large town or village, there must be some indigent persons, it is likely that these possessed no tents, but constructed for themselves, at each removal, temporary habitations of such materials as could be found on the spot, and these would frequently be booths of green branches.

In some parts of the East, as among the Hindus, the tents or huts are of bamboo or osier reeds, and easily portable. We have ourselves seen the encampments of Arabian and Kurdish tribes wholly formed of reeds; but this is chiefly on the banks of rivers where such materials are easily obtained.
Portable habitations may even be rendered suitable to the exigencies of severe climates. Thus, the Samoede constructs a somewhat warm habitation with the bark of trees, sewed together and covered over with skins. This is, however, a later invention, when men got into climates where they found that the tent of skin alone was an insufficient protection from the severity of the cold.

Perhaps the most perfect and convenient habitation of this  class, at least of all the different kinds with which we have ourselves had occasion to become acquainted, is that of the Kalmuck Tartar. It owes its completeness, probably, to its being required, not only to afford shelter from the heat of summer, but from somewhat severe cold in winter. These tents consist of a number of parts, which are easily put together and taken to pieces. They are round, with a funnel-shaped roof, and blunt at the top. The frame-work is composed of willow laths about an inch thick, perforated where they cross, and fastened with leathern thongs. Six or eight frame-works, when fastened together with woollen bands, compose a circular wall of lattice-work not quite the height of a man. The door-way is inserted separately in its own frame, and consists of two small folding valves. From this lower frame-work proceed a number of poles on every side, which tend to meet in a common center above, where they are intercepted by a sort of hoop, into holes made in which their extremities are inserted. Over these poles a few woollen girths are passed crosswise, and attached to the framework below. The whole of the skeleton is then covered over with coarse, porous, unfulled felts, of considerable size, secured by woollen girths and bands.

Seeing that this kind of habitation originated in the pastoral life, we incline to think that the original tents were covered with skins-the skins of sheep or goats, at first probably with the wool or hair on, but eventually the skin alone, separated from the hair, and, in time, prepared with various leys and earths, so as to resist the influences of heat and wet. When men became hunters—for the pastoral preceded the hunting life—they, for the most part, retained this form of tent, with the difference, that it was covered with the skins of the beasts of their pursuit, instead of those they tended. Hence the tent or wigwam of the North American Indian is covered with the skins of bison, instead of the skins of sheep. This is about the sole difference. There is a trace of this usage of skins for the covering of tents in the Pentateuch; for one of the coverings of the splendid tabernacle constructed  in the wilderness, was of “goats’ skin dyed red.” Why “dyed red?” Doubtless the skins were prepared with some red ochreous matter to prepare it for throwing off the rain, and thus of protecting the more costly inner coverings.

At the present day, and as far back as historical intimations can be formed, the tents of South Western Asia have been of wool or goats’ hair, usually dyed black, if not naturally of that color, or else in broad stripes of black and white. They are, in fact, of cloth, woven in the camp by the women from the produce of the flocks. Such, without doubt, are most of the tents mentioned in Scripture. The women in the wilderness spun and wove goats’ hair coverings for the tabernacle; Note: Exo_35:26.] and in Solomon’s Song, Note: Solomon’s Son_1:5.] black is the color ascribed to Arabian tents.
Still, it is not very clear whether the patriarchal tents were of skin, or felt, or cloth. As tents of skin were the earliest, the continued use of skin coverings, together with those of woven cloth in the tents of the wilderness, may be thought to imply that the latter were a comparatively recent invention, seeing that it had not yet wholly driven out the older usage. Nevertheless, we incline to think that the patriarchal tents were much the same as those which we now find among the Arabian tribes. These are mostly of an oblong shape, and eight or nine feet high in the middle. They vary in size, land have accordingly a greater or lesser number of poles to support them—from three to nine. If the sheikh or emir is a person of much consequence, he may have three or four tents for his own purposes—one for himself, one for his wives, one for his immediate servants, and one for the entertainment of strangers. It is more usual, however, for one very large tent to be divided into two or more apartments by curtains; and this is the model followed in the holy tabernacle. Note: Exo_26:31-37.] The patriarchal tents were probably not of the largest class. We find that the principal members of the family have each a separate tent—as Sarah, Rachel,  Leah, and the maid-servants. Note: Gen_24:67; Gen_31:33.] That they consisted of but one apartment may seem probable, from the fact, that the camel furniture in the same chamber with the sick Rachel excites no suspicion; Note: Gen_31:34-35.] and that apartment, except perhaps in the rainy season, may seem to have been used for sleeping merely, as Abraham at Mamre receives and entertains the three strangers outside his tent. Note: Gen_18:4; Gen_18:8.] Yet these tents, whatever their size or quality, were considered valuable; for “tents” are mentioned among the possessions of Lot. Note: Gen_13:5.]

As the whole camp belonged to the patriarchs, and consisted of persons for whom they were bound to provide, these were all doubtless accommodated in the tents. This is not so in ordinary encampments, and hence there are many who are too poor to have any tent. Such contrive to shelter themselves from the inclemencies of the weather by a piece of cloth stretched out upon poles, or by retiring to the cavities of the rocks. This was also the case in the patriarchal age; for Job describes the poor as “embracing the rock for want of shelter.” Note: Job_24:8.] Trees have become too scarce in those regions to afford booths to such persons now; but as the shade of trees is very agreeable in a very warm climate, the Bedouins, like the patriarchs, are at great pains to find out shaded situations for their encampment. Abraham’s tent at Mamre was under a tree, Note: Gen_18:4.] and at Beersheba in a grove. Note: Gen_21:33.]