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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

Courtesy —The courtesies of life have always received more strict and formal recognition in the East than in the West. The people of Palestine in Christ’s time were no exception to this rule. They were punctilious about those conventional forms which hedge in and govern social life, and were not slow to resent the breach or neglect of these forms when it affected them directly ( Matthew 22:2-7,  Luke 14:16-21). A remarkably complete picture of the ordinary forms of courtesy observed by them may be made up from the Gospel narratives. The incidents of Christ’s life, together with His sayings and parables, show us the marked deference paid to authority, position, and learning ( Matthew 17:14;  Matthew 22:16;  Matthew 22:24;  Matthew 23:6-7 etc.), the elaborate and somewhat burdensome hospitality bestowed on friends and strangers when received as guests into a house ( Luke 7:44-46), the embracings and prolonged salutations practised ( Matthew 26:49,  Mark 14:45; cf.  Luke 10:4 f.,  Luke 15:20;  Luke 22:47,  Matthew 10:12), the formalities observed in connexion with feasts in rich men’s houses ( Matthew 22:12,  Luke 14:17).

These courteous habits must not be regarded as mere superficial forms. The fact that the neglect of them, especially if believed to be intentional, caused such serious offence to the suffering party, is a sufficient evidence that they were more than surface forms. At the same time the courtesies practised were not always sincere (note the kiss of Judas), and were, moreover, occasionally violated in a peculiarly flagrant manner, as we learn from the treatment Christ received once and again from those who opposed Him, especially the treatment He received immediately before His death. The warm Oriental temperament, indeed, which had so much to do with creating these courtesies, and which found so much satisfaction in observing them, was ready, under certain circumstances, to violate them to an extent that the colder Western temperament would never have done.

Christ’s attitude towards the established rules of courtesy is a question of interest and importance. His relation towards these time-worn rules was the same as His relation towards the Law of Moses. He observed them in the spirit and not in the letter, and only in so far as they sincerely revealed His thoughts and feelings. They were never mere forms to Him, much less forms used to hide the real intents of His heart. That His attitude was not the conventional attitude of others, but was peculiar to Himself, like His attitude towards the Law ( Matthew 5:17), is evident from the following considerations: (1) He recognized and followed the customary laws in so far as they served to express His real sentiments ( Luke 7:44-46;  Luke 10:5,  John 13:4 ff.); (2) He transgressed them boldly at times, as in His cleansing of the Temple, His injunction ‘Salute no man by the way’ ( Luke 10:4), and His intercourse with tax-gatherers and sinners; (3) He gave a larger and more humane interpretation to them by His generous and considerate treatment, not only of tax-gatherers and sinners, but of women, children, Samaritans, and others who were regarded as more or less outside the ordinary rules of courtesy.

There are two instances where Jesus seems to fail in the matter of courtesy—in His reply to His mother, ‘Woman, what have I to do with thee?’ ( John 2:4), and in His reply to the Syro-Phœnician woman, ‘Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it unto the dogs’ ( Matthew 15:26 ||  Mark 7:27). It is only in appearance, however, that He offends against courtesy in these instances. The study of the passages with the aid of a good commentary will clear up any difficulty attaching to them.

Literature.—Van Lennep, Bible Lands, their Modern Customs  ; G. M. Mackie, Bible Manners and Customs  ; Geikie, Holy Land and the Bible  ; Robinson, Biblical Researches in Palestine [contains passim personal experiences which throw light on the tedious courtesies of the East]; Martensen, Christian Ethics , i. 202 ff.; T. Binney, Sermons , ii. 226; Paget, Studies in the Christian Character , p. 209 ff.; Dale, Laws of Christ for Common Life , p. 107 ff.; Expositor , Ist. ser. iv. [1876] p. 179 ff.

Morison Bryce.

Webster's Dictionary [2]

(1): (n.) An act of civility or respect; an act of kindness or favor performed with politeness.

(2): (n.) Politeness; civility; urbanity; courtliness.

(3): (n.) Favor or indulgence, as distinguished from right; as, a title given one by courtesy.

(4): (n.) An act of civility, respect, or reverence, made by women, consisting of a slight depression or dropping of the body, with bending of the knees.

(5): (v. i.) To make a respectful salutation or movement of respect; esp. (with reference to women), to bow the body slightly, with bending of the knes.

(6): (v. t.) To treat with civility.

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [3]

Orientals are much more studious of politeness in word and act than Europeans (Niebuhr, Beschr. p. 49; Arvieux, 3, 807). So were undoubtedly the ancient Hebrews. Inferiors in an interview with superiors (both on meeting and separating,  2 Samuel 18:21) were wont to bow ( הַשְׁתִּחֲיָה Προσκυνεῖν ; see Kastner, De Veneratione In S. S. Lips. 1735) low ( Genesis 19:1;  Genesis 23:7;  2 Samuel 9:6;  2 Samuel 18:21), in proportion to the rank towards the earth (even repeatedly,  Genesis 33:3;  1 Samuel 20:41). In the presence of princes, high civil officers, etc., persons threw themselves prostrate (at their feet) upon the ground ( הַשְׁתִּחֲוָה אִפִּיַם אִרְצָה  Genesis 42:6; נָפִל עִל פָּנָיו , or אִפָּין ,  1 Samuel 25:23;  2 Samuel 14:4;  1 Kings 18:7; comp.  Judith 10:21; נָפִל אִרְצָה ,  Genesis 44:14; Genesis 1, 18;  2 Samuel 1:2; also simply נָפִל לְפָנַים ,  2 Samuel 19:19; comp.  Matthew 2:11; Herod. 1:134; 2:80; see Hyde, Rel. vet. Pers. p. 6 sq.; Harmer, 2:39 sq.; Kype, Observ. 1:8, 410; Ruppell, Abyss. 1:217; 2:94). They also bent the knee ( 2 Kings 1:13; comp.  Matthew 27:29;  Acts 10:25). Of other gestures, which in the modern East are customary (Harmer, 2:34; Shaw, Trav. p. 207; Niebuhr, Trav. 1:232), e.g. laying the hand on the breast, there is no trace in the Bible. If an inferior mounted on a beast met a superior, he quickly alighted (Arnob. 7:13; see Orelli ad loc.), and made the due obeisance ( Genesis 24:64;  1 Samuel 25:23; see Niebuhr, Beschr. p. 44, 50; Trav . 1:139). Whether in such cases an individual turned out of the road, like the ancient Egyptians (Herod. 2:80) and modern Arabians (Niebuhr, Beschr. p. 50), is uncertain, but probable. On the greeting by a kiss, which, however,. does not appear to have been so usual or varied as among the modern Orientals (see Herod. 1:134; Harmer, 2:36 sq.; Burckhardt, Arab . p. 229), see Kiss . Rising from a sitting posture before persons entitled to respect, such as elders, was early universal ( Leviticus 19:32;  Job 29:8; comp. Porphyr. Abstin . 2:61). See Elder Forms of salutation on meeting or entrance consisted of a pious expression of well-wishing ( Genesis 43:29;  1 Samuel 25:6;  Judges 6:12;  2 Samuel 20:9;  Psalms 129:8; see Harmer, 3, 172) and inquiries concerning the health of the family ( 2 Kings 4:26; hence שָׁאִֹל לְשָׁלוֹם = to greet,  Exodus 18:7;  Judges 18:15;  1 Samuel 10:4; comp. Gesenius, Thes. Heb. p. 1347).

One of the simplest formulae was "Jehovah be with thee;" to which was replied, "The Lord bless thee;" ( Ruth 2:4). Among the later Jews, the phrase יַישֵׁר , "May it go well with thee," was general (Lightfoot, p. 502). With the modern Arabs the expression of salutation, Salam Aleykum , "Peace be upon you," and the reply, Aleykum Es-Salam , "On you be peace," are customary (Niebuhr, Beschr. p. 48 sq.; Welsted, Trav . 1:242). The Hebrews equivalent, שָׁלוֹם לְךָ , "Peace to thee," does not appear in the O.T. ( Judges 19:20;  1 Chronicles 12:18) as a constant form of salutation (yet comp.  Luke 24:36;  John 20:26; also Tobit v. 12; and comp. on this Purman's Expositio Forn. Salut . "Pax Vobiscum," Freft. a. M. 1799). The Punic greeting was Avo ( חְווֹ ) or Avo Douni ( חְווֹ אֲדֹנַי ), according to Plautus (Pan. v. 2, 34, 38; comp. Αὔδονις , Anthol . Gr. 3, 25; epigr. 70). Persons were also sent on their way with a similar formula (Tobit 5:23). But besides such set terms, individuals meeting one another made use of verbose methods of inquiring after each other's circumstances (as appears from the prohibition in  2 Kings 4:29;  Luke 10:4; see Niebuhr, Beschr. p. 49; Arvieux , 3, 162; Russel, Aleppo , 1:229; Jaubert, p. 170; Ruppell, Abyssin. 1:203). (See Salutation). Whether the well- known custom among the Greeks and Romans (Homer, Odyss . 17:541; Pliny, 28:5; Petron . 98) of wishing well to one who sneezed (which was regarded as ominous, Eustatho ad Odyss. 17:545; Cicero, Divin. 2:40; Pliny, 2:7; Xenoph. Anab. 3, 2, 9; Propert. 2:2, 84; Augustine, Doctr. Chr. 1:20; comp. Apulaei Metam. 9, p. 209, ed. Bip.; Harduin ad Pliny 28:5; see Wernsdorf, De ritu sternutanti'bus bene precandi, Lips. 1741; Rhan, De more sternutantibus salutem apprecandi, Tigur. 1742), prevailed also among the Israelites, is uncertain; the later Jews observed it, and the Rabbins maintain that it was an ancient usage (Buxtorf, Synag. p. 129).

In conversation (q.v.) the less important person spoke of himself in the third person, and styled himself the other's servant ( Genesis 18:3;  Genesis 19:2;  Genesis 33:5;  Genesis 43:28;  Judges 19:19) and the other master ( Genesis 24:18;  1 Samuel 26:18, etc.). Sometimes he applied, by way of further abasement, epithets (e.g. dog) of disparagement to himself ( 2 Samuel 9:8;  2 Kings 8:13; comp. Oedmann, Samml. v. 42 sq.). The usual title of respect was אֲדֹנַי ,"My lord' (later מָרַי ); other respectful terms were also אָבַי , "My father" (especially to prophets,  2 Kings 5:13;  2 Kings 6:21;  2 Kings 13:14; comp. the Romanist title "father" for priest); on the later name, רִבַּי , "My master," see Rabbi The later Jews seem to have utterly excluded, in their bigotry, the heathen from all salutation ( Matthew 5:47?), as now, in Syria and Egypt, Mohammedans and Christians hardly deign to greet each other (Harmer, 2:35). The public sentiment of those times also released holy persons (saints) from the obligation of returning complimentary salutations (Lightfoot, p. 787), which, however, they eagerly claimed ( Mark 12:38;  Luke 11:43;  Luke 20:46). The right side was regarded as the place of honor in standing or sitting by the Hebrews from early times ( 1 Kings 2:19;  Psalms 45:10;  Matthew 25:33; comp. Sueton. Ner . 18, see Dougtaei Anal. 1:169 sq.; Wetstein, 1:456, 512; Einigk, De manu dextra honoratiore, Lips. 1707). Public reverence and homage toward monarchs, generals, etc., consisted in shouts (among others, the cry huzza, יְחַי הִמֶּלֶךְ , "Long live the king!" Barhebr. Chron . p. 447) of acclamation (Josephus, Ant. 11:8, 5; War, 7:5, 2; Ammian. Marc . 21:10; Philo, 2:522), with music ( 2 Samuel 16:16;  1 Kings 1:39-40;  2 Kings 9:13; Judith 3, 8; comp. Herodian, 4:8, 19); also in strewing carpets or garments along the road (comp. A Eschyl. Agam . 909; Plutarch, Cato Min . c. 12; Talmud, Chetuboth , fol. 66:2; as still is practiced in Palestine, Robinson, 2:383), with branches (see Ugolini Thesaur. 30) or flowers ( 2 Kings 9:13;  Matthew 21:8; comp. Curtius, v. 1, 20; 9:10, 25; Herod. 7:54; A Elian, Var. Hist. 9:9; Tacitus, Hist. 2:70; Herodian, 1:7, 11; 4:8, 19; see Dougtei Analect . 3:39; Paulsen, Regier. Des Morgenl . p. 229 sq.), and in torchlight entrances at night ( 2 Maccabees 4:22). Festive escorts in procession (with the priests at the head) were also not unusual (Josephus, Ant. 11:8, 5; 16:2, 1; see Schmieder, De solemnitatt. vett. reges impera! oresq. recapiendi, Brig. 1823). (See Gift); (See Visit).