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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

Meals —The prevalent custom amongst the Jews in the time of Jesus was to have two formal meals in the day. Both these are referred to more than once in the Gospels by the terms ἄριστον and δεῖπνον (cf.  Luke 14:12, where both words occur in the same context), and we know from these writings that it was to either of these meals that guests were invited to partake of the festive hospitality of their friends (cf.  Luke 14:12,  Luke 11:37,  Luke 14:16 f.). Besides these, it was customary to have an informal meal at an early hour of the day (ἀκράτισμα or ἄριστον πρωϊνόν), which was a very light repast, consisting of a piece of bread, or bread with some accompanying relish, such as oil or melted butter (Robinson, BRP [Note: RP Biblical Researches in Palestine.] 2 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] ii. 18). This meal is only once referred to in the NT ( John 21:12;  John 21:15), and there the word used is the same as that which occurs in the Lukan narrative of Jesus ‘dining’ (ἀριστᾶν) in the Pharisee’s house ( Luke 11:37 f).

It is probably this meal which ‘the virtuous woman’ of Proverbs rises so early to provide ( Proverbs 29:23 [LXX Septuagint] = 31:15 [Heb.]), and which at the present time constitutes the breakfast of the populace in Palestine. It is, moreover, probable that it is this meal which is called in the Talmud the ‘early snack’ (פַּתשַׁהֲדִית), though Edersheim refers this descriptive title to the ἄριστον of the NT (see his Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah , ii. 205 n. [Note: note.] 3; cf. also Plummer, ‘St. Luke,’ in Internat. Crit. Com. on  Luke 11:37).

The mid-day meal, corresponding somewhat to the modern luncheon, was partaken of at hours varying, according to rank and occupation, from 10 a.m. till noon ( Shabbath , 10 a ). It was partaken of immediately after the business of the forenoon was concluded, whether in the market-place ( Mark 7:4), in the synagogue (Edersheim, vol. ii. p. 205; cf.  1 Kings 13:7), or during the heat of the middle of the day, when the labourers were compelled to desist from their field work (cf.  Ruth 2:14). Josephus informs us that the Jews were required by their Law to make their breakfast (ἀριστοποιεῖσθαι) at noon on Sabbath days ( Vita , 54, cf. also  Genesis 43:16;  Genesis 43:25 and  2 Samuel 24:15, where the LXX Septuagint has ἕως ὥρας ἀρίστου, which is rendered by Pesh. ‘till the sixth hour’). This, too, was generally a meal of a simple character, consisting of bread with parched corn, the former being moistened with a little vinegar ( Ruth 2:14), or of bread broken down into a bowl of pottage, together with some weak or diluted wine (στάμνον οἴνου κεκερασμένου, Bel 33 [LXX Septuagint, Swete’s ed.]). Fish grilled by laying it upon the hot charcoal (ἀνθρακιά) was also a common article of food accompanying the bread (see  John 21:9).

The principal meal of the whole day was the δεῖπνον, which was eaten after the day’s work was finished (see  Luke 17:7). This would naturally be about the time of the going down of the sun, which will explain the Lukan narrative of Jesus and the two disciples at Emmaus (πρὸς ἑσπέραν,  Luke 24:29 f.). This was the time of the day when Jesus is recorded by the three Synoptists to have miraculously fed the multitudes (ὥρα πολλή,  Mark 6:35; ὀψίας δὲ γενομένης … καὶ ἡ ὥρα ἤδη παρῆλθεν,  Matthew 14:15; ἠ δὲ ἡμέρα ἤρξατο κλίνειν,  Luke 9:12). The Passover was also eaten during the evening, and it was at the conclusion of that festal meal (μετὰ τὸ δειπνῆσαι) that Jesus instituted the Feast memorial of His death.

We find numerous references to the δεῖπνον in the writings of Josephus, from whom we learn incidentally that this was usually an elaborate meal and closely connected with sacrificial feasting; that sometimes it was prolonged to a late hour, which may explain the Preacher’s reference to the dangerous habit of over-eating before retiring to sleep ( Ecclesiastes 5:11, cf.  Tobit 8:1; Josephus Vita , 44, 63, Ant. vi. iv. 1, xiv. xv. 11, etc.;  3 Maccabees 5:14).

The principal constituent of every meal was bread, which was regarded, indeed, as the meal itself. So much so was this the case, that the word ‘bread’ (לָחֶם) was used by the ancient Hebrews either for bread in particular or for food in general (see Encyc. Bibl. art. ‘Bread,’ vol. i. col. 604). It was over the bread that the blessing was pronounced which was thus supposed to have been spoken over all the rest of the solid food eaten during the first part of the meal. So strongly was this held by all Jews, that for them bread assumed a quasi -sacred character, and elaborate rules were devised for its treatment at table (see Edersheim, op. cit. vol. ii. pp. 205–210).

The Hebraistic φαγεῖν ἄρτὄν occurs again and again as a synonym for an ordinary meal ( Matthew 15:2,  Mark 7:2,  Luke 14:1;  Luke 14:15, cf.  John 21:13,  Genesis 43:16 [LXX Septuagint],  Exodus 3:20 [LXX Septuagint], etc., see art. Bread above and in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible, vol. i. p. 315b). Keeping this fact in mind, we are enabled to feel the force of Jesus’ words in His great sacramental discourse ( John 6:26-59), and also to understand the true reason for the rejection by the Jews of His reiterated claims. It was not that their interpretation of His words was carnal (cf.  John 6:52-58). ‘There was no gross misunderstanding on their part, but a clear perception of the claim involved in the Lord’s words’ (Westcott, Gospel of St. John, ad loc. ). The phrases in which He couched these claims were such as would present no real difficulty to a thinking Jew, as they might easily be paralleled out of his sacred literature (ὁ ἄρτος τῆς ζωῆς, ὁ ἄρτος τοῦ θεοῦ, ὁ ἄρτον ὁ ζῶν, ὁ ἄρτος ὁ ἐξ οὐρανοῦ καταβάς). Bread, which is the representative and symbol of all earthly food, is the type of Him who is the Representative Man, imparting life to all who will partake of His Spirit.

On three different occasions we are told that Jesus was the invited guest of a Pharisee; and, so far as the circumstances in each instance testify, it was at one of their ordinary meals that He was present. It is remarkable that it is St. Luke who records all these occurrences, and at the same time it is noteworthy that he uses three different expressions in his wording of the formal invitations (ἵνα φάγῃ μετ αὐτοῦ,  Luke 7:36; ὅπως ἀριστήσῃ παρʼ αὐτῷ,  Luke 11:37; σαββάτῳ φαγεῖν ἄρτον,  Luke 14:1). Not only are the invitations eouched in varying phrases, but St. Luke uses different words when referring to the attitude of the guests at the meals (κατεκλίθη,  Luke 7:36; ἀνέπεσεν,  Luke 11:37; συνανακειμένων,  Luke 14:15). There is every probability that in each case it was the mid-day meal to which Jesus was invited. It became customary amongst the Jews to make three elaborate meals on the Sabbath day (‘Observa diem Sabbati; non Judaicis deliciis,’ quoted by Plummer, op. cit. p. 354). So much so, indeed, was this the case, that specially devised rules were made for carrying out the observance of the Sabbath feasts, and special spiritual benefits were supposed to be conferred on those who, overcoming the difficulties interposed by poverty, supplied themselves with the choicest procurable food for that day (see Peah , viii. 7, and the examples quoted from Shabbath by Lightfoot in his Hor. Heb. et Talm. [Note: Talmud.] on  Luke 14:1; cf. Edersheim, op. cit. ii. 52, 437; Farrar, Life of Christ , ii. 119 n. [Note: note.] 2). It was on the occasion of one of these Sabbath meals that a fellow-guest of Jesus, on hearing Him speak, answered with the exclamation, ‘Blessed is he that shall eat bread (φάγεται ἄρτον) in the kingdom of God’ ( Luke 14:15), referring, of course, to the popular Jewish idea that the Messianic Kingdom was to be ushered in by a banquet, and that feasting was to be the chief occupation of those who shared its glories (cf.  Isaiah 25:6),—an idea which finds a place in the illustrative teaching of Jesus on the universal character of the future Kingdom of God (cf. ἀνακλιθήσονται ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ,  Luke 13:29; see Wendt, Lehre Jesu , English translation vol. i. pp. 217, 221).

At first sight it may seem strange that Jesus should countenance the Jewish custom of Sabbath banqueting, which was carried to such excess that its character for luxury became proverbial. At the same time we must remember that the principle which lay at the root of this method of feasting was the honour of the Sabbath day (cf. three quotations from Shabbath illustrative of this in Lightfoot, op. cit. iii. 149). Nor was this practice out of harmony with Jesus’ views and teaching on the Sabbath rest, so long as it was conducted in a spirit of humility, mutual toleration, and charity (cf.  Luke 14:7-14). It is of interest, and in this respect not without significance, to notice that, on the last Sabbath spent by Jesus before His Passion, He was the chief guest at a festive meal (ἐποίησαν οὖν αὐτῷ δεῖπνον ἐκεῖ,  John 12:2). This was probably on the evening of the Sabbath day as it was drawing to a close and passing away, when festivities were of the most liberal and elaborate character ( epulœ lautiores ); and it is evident from the three narratives (St. Luke’s story of the anointing of Jesus by the ‘woman who was a sinner’ [7:37] can scarcely be a record of the same event [see, however, Hengstenberg, Com. on St. John , English translation pp. 1–33, etc.]) that it made a deep impression on the minds of Jesus’ followers (cf.  Mark 14:3,  Matthew 26:6 f.,  John 12:2). From the way in which St. John dispenses with the use of the nominative before the verb, it would seem that this meal was of a semi-public character, designed to do honour to Jesus, and that the house of ‘Simon the leper’ was made the meeting-place for all who wished to meet Him (cf. Westcott, ad loc. , and Edersheim, op. cit. ii. 357 f.). It is impossible not to be struck with the way in which Jesus makes use of the opportunity afforded by His presence at these meals on the Sabbath, to inculcate lessons of large-hearted charity even when His host is inclined to be the discourteous critic ( Luke 7:39;  Luke 11:38;  Luke 11:45 ff.,  Luke 14:1 ff. cf.  John 12:7 f.). There is no appearance of disapproval in His attitude to wards what was tending to, if it had not already become, an abuse, because there were latent possibilities for good in the joyous and festive Sabbath. It was to these possibilities that He directed His attention.

Acting on these principles, we can understand His words and deeds on the evening when He instituted ‘the Lord’s Supper’ (κυριακὸν δεῖπνον,  1 Corinthians 11:20). As we have seen, the Jewish custom was to constitute the bread the representative food at their meals. In the same way wine was considered the representative drink. Many and elaborate rules were formulated as to the manner in which blessings were to be said over these, and the discussions arising out of the etiquette to be observed degenerated into meaningless verbalism (see Berakhoth , 35 a , 36 a , 41 b , referred to by Edersheim, ii. 206). In spite of this spiritual decadence and barren ritualism, Jesus did what was characteristic of His general teaching. He rescued the primitive act from its debased surroundings, and the wine blessed (τὸ ποτήριον τῆς εὐλογίας) became the means of a participating of ‘the blood of Christ’ (κοινωνία τοῦ αἴματος), and the loaf blessed and broken (τὸν ἄρτον ὅν κλῶμεν, ἄρτον εὐλογήσας) became the joyful (εὐχαριστήσας) communion of ‘the body of Christ’ (cf.  1 Corinthians 10:16 f.,  1 Corinthians 11:23-27,  Luke 22:19 f.,  Mark 14:22 f.,  Matthew 26:26 f.). In a spirit somewhat similar He dealt with the elaborate ceremonial washings which His Jewish contemporaries sought to elevate to the rank of a compulsory religions rite ( Matthew 15:2 =  Mark 7:2 ff.,  Luke 11:38; for a description of this Jewish practice during meals, see Edersheim, ii. 207). Not the least remarkable of the lessons, objective and spiritual, inculcated by Jesus was that in which He transformed what had become a tedious and worse than meaningless series of forms into a beautiful example of social service and personal humility (see  John 13:4 ff., cf.  Luke 22:27). By this single act He gathered up into one the various customs of His day, including the hospitable one of the guests’ feet being washed by their host’s servants before they sat down to eat, and taught His disciples the dignity of labour in the service of humanity (cf.  Matthew 18:1-14, see Westcott on  Matthew 13:4, and Plummer, ‘St. John’ in Camb. Gr. Test. ad loc. ). Nor must we omit to note here that the Church’s Eucharistic meal constitutes the most emphatic object-lesson of the essential oneness of all Christian people in a brotherhood as extensive as her own borders, as intensive and real as any of the claims of Jesus to rule within the sphere of human thought (cf. πἀντες δὲ ὑμεῖς ἀδελφοί ἐστε  Matthew 23:8; and  Philemon 1:16).

Several different words are employed by the Evangelists to denote the bodily attitude of the Jews at their meals, all of which, however, imply that the custom was to recline with the body stretched out (cf. Edersheim, ii. 207). In this respect it is interesting to note the differences in usage, and the preferences for one or more of these words which characterize each of the writers. St. Luke, for example, uses a word no fewer than 5 times which occurs nowhere else in the NT (κατακλίθηναι,  Luke 7:36;  Luke 14:8;  Luke 24:30; κατακλίνειν,  Luke 9:14-15). Hobart states that in his use of the active voice St. Luke is employing ‘the medical term for laying patients, or causing them to lie in bed, placing them in certain positions during operations—making them recline in a bath, etc.’ ( The Medical Language of St. Luke , p. 69; cf. however,  Luke 2:7;  Luke 12:37). As might be expected, this Evangelist exhibits a richer and more flexible vocabulary than the others. On the only occasion of his using the verb κατακεῖσθαι ( Luke 5:29 [D [Note: Deuteronomist.] has here ἀνακειμένων]) for sitting at meals, he seems to employ it because he has already, in the immediately preceding context, made use of the same word to express a different idea (cf.  Luke 5:25). The same might, of course, be said of St. Mark, who has this word in the same two senses in the parallel narrative. It is not probable, however, that St. Luke sacrificed his customary literary independence by a verbal copying of St. Mark, who, moreover, uses the same word for Jesus’ reclining at Supper in Bethany ( Mark 14:3).

Of the 5 different words employed by the four Evangelists when speaking of sitting down to meals, St. Luke uses all (ἀνακλινειν twice, ἀνατιπτειν 4 times, ἀνακεῖσθαι with its compound συν- 5 times, κατακεῖσθαι once, κατακλίνειν 5 times); St. Matthew uses three (ἀνακλινειν twice, ἀνατιττειν once, ἀνακεῖσθαι and its compound συν- 7 times); St. Mark uses four (ἀνακλίνειν once, ἀνατιτειν twice, ἀνακεῖσθαι and its compound συν- 5 times, κασακεῖσθαι twice); St. John is characteristically limited in his use, and employs only two of these words (ἀνατιττειν 5 times, ἀνακεῖσθαι 4 times without any employment of its compound).

In the narrative of the conversion and call of Levi (Matthew), which is common to the three Synoptists, St. Luke is the only one who expressly states that Jesus was the guest of the new disciple ( Luke 5:29), the latter having made a feast in honour of his recently discovered Master. St. Matthew uses the vague expression ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ ( Matthew 9:10), which may mean ‘inside’ as contrasted with ‘outside’ (ἐπὶ τὸ τελώνιον,  Matthew 9:9), where lay the scene of Levi’s call (cf. Plummer, ad loc. ). St. Mark, on the other hand, seems to have understood that Jesus was the host and not the guest (cf. κατακεῖσθαι αὐτὸν ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ αὐτοῦ,  Mark 2:15, where his use of the same pronoun in the same sentence would point to this interpretation; see also συνανέκειντο τῷ Ἰησοῦ,  Mark 2:15; τῶν συνανακειμένων σοι,  Luke 14:10; τοῖς συνανακειμένοις [sc. τῷ Ἠρώδῃ],  Mark 6:22). On the other hand, it does not seem at all certain that either of these two writers connected the conversion of Levi with the entertainment (cf. καὶ ἐγένετο,  Matthew 9:10; καὶ γίνεται,  Mark 2:15, which marks the commencement of a fresh narrative). It is improbable that St. Luke acted merely the part of interpreter by introducing his categorical assertion as a gloss (καὶ ἐποίησεν δοχὴν μεγάλην Λευεὶς αὐτῷ κ.τ.λ.,  Luke 5:29), thus doing away with a previous ambiguity. It is more likely that he had sufficient oral, if not documentary, authority to justify his statement (the word δοχή is peculiar to St. Luke, and is used by him only once afterwards as a general equivalent for ἄριστον ἢ δεῖπνον,  Luke 14:12 f.); and we have St. Mark’s authority for connecting the conversion of Simon and Andrew with hospitality to their newly-found Master and His other disciples ( Mark 1:16 ff.,  Mark 1:29 ff.). Whether, however, this partaking by Jesus of a Sabbath-meal in the house of Simon Peter was secondary to the purpose of healing the fever-stricken πενθερὰ τοῦ Σἰμωνος, would be difficult to determine. Nor must we forget the possibility that St. Luke’s authority for the statement that Jesus was the guest of His latest convert Levi may have been influenced by the parallel case we are here noticing—the conversion of the brothers Simon and Andrew and the subsequent entertainment in their own house of the newly discovered Messiah (cf.  John 1:41).

Literature.—See for discussions of the last-mentioned questions, Wright, Synopsis of the Gospels in Greek , pp. 16 f., 23, etc.; Plummer, ‘St. Luke’ in Internat. Crit. Com. p. 159 f.; Gould, ‘St. Mark,’ ib. p. 41; O. Holtzmann, Leben Jesu , English translation p. 206; cf. art. ‘Matthew’ in Encyc. Bibl. col. 2986 f.; B. Weiss, The Life of Christ (T. & T. Clark), vol. ii. p. 125 n. [Note: note.] 2; Bengel, Gnomon of the NT on  Matthew 9:10; and, for the problem as to the identification of Matthew and Levi, which is germane to that we are discussing, see Zahn’s Einleit. in das NT , ii. p. 264.

J. R. Willis.

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [2]

MEALS. In the art. Food attention was confined to the various articles of diet supplied by the vegetable and animal kingdoms. It now remains to study the methods by which these were prepared for the table, the times at which, and the manner in which, they were served.

1 . Preparation of food . The preparation of the food of the household was the task of the women thereof, from the days of SarahGenesis 18:6 ) to those of Martha. Only the houses of royalty and the great nobles had apartments specially adapted for use as kitchens, with professional cooks , male (  1 Samuel 9:23 ) and female (  1 Samuel 8:13 ). At the chief sanctuaries, also, there must have been some provision for the cooking of the sacrificial meals (  1 Samuel 2:13 ff.), although Ezekiel (  Ezekiel 46:24 RV [Note: Revised Version.] ) is the first to mention ‘ boiling-houses ’ in this connexion (cf.   Exodus 29:31 ,   Leviticus 8:31 ).

The usual method of cooking and serving meat can have differed but little from that most commonly observed at the present day in Syria. The meat is cut into larger or smaller pieces ( 1 Samuel 2:13 ,   Ezekiel 24:3 ff.; cf. Micah’s telling metaphor   Micah 3:8 ), and put into the cooking-pot with water. It is then left to stew, vegetables and rice being added. Such a stew with perhaps crushed wheat in place of rice was the ‘savoury meat’ which Rebekah prepared for her husband from ‘two kids of the goats’ (  Genesis 27:9 ). When meat was boiled in a larger quantity of water than was required for the more usual stew, the result was the broth of   Judges 6:19 f., from which we learn that the meat and the broth might be served separately. The cooking-pots were of earthenware and bronze (  Leviticus 6:28 . For an account of cooking utensils generally, with references to illustrations, see House, § 9).

In addition to boiling, or, as in EV [Note: English Version.] more frequently, seething (‘sod,’ ‘sodden,’   Genesis 25:29 ,   Exodus 12:9 etc.; but Amer. RV [Note: Revised Version.] has ‘boil’ throughout), roasting was much in vogue, and is, indeed, the oldest of all methods of preparing meat. Originally the meat was simply laid upon hot stones from which the embers had been removed, as in the parallel case of the ‘cake baken on the coals’ (  1 Kings 19:8 RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ). The fish of which the disciples partook by the Sea of Galilee was cooked on the charcoal itself. A more refined mode of roasting was by means of a spit of Iron or wood. In NT times the Passover lamb had always to be roasted in an oven, suspended by a spit of pomegranate laid across the mouth.

Eggs (  Job 6:5 ,   Luke 11:12 ), we read in the Mishna, might be cooked by being boiled in the shell, or broken and fried, or mixed with oil and fried in a saucepan.

As regards the important group of the cereals , wheat and barley ears were roasted on an iron plate or in a pan, producing the ‘ parched corn ’ (Amer. RV [Note: Revised Version.] ‘parched grain’) of OT. A porridge of coarse wheat or barley meal has also been referred to under Food, § 2 . The seeds of the leguminous plants were mostly boiled (  Genesis 25:29; cf.   2 Kings 4:38 ). A ‘good savour’ ( 1E  Esther 1:12 ) was imparted to the stew by the addition of other vegetables of a more pungent character, such as onions. In short, it may be affirmed that the Hebrew housewives were in no way behind their modern kinsfolk of the desert, of whom Doughty testifies that ‘the Arab housewives make savoury messes of any grain, seething it and putting thereto only a little salt and samn [clarified butter].’

The direction in which Hebrew, like most Eastern, cooking diverged most widely from that of our northern climate was in the more extensive use of olive oil , which served many of the purposes of butter and fat among ourselves. Not only was oil mixed with vegetables, but it was largely used in cooking fish and eggs (as we have just seen), and in the finer sorts of baking. The poor widow of Zarephath’s ‘little oil’ was not intended for her lamps, but to bake her ‘handful of meal’ withal (  1 Kings 17:12 ). The flour was first mixed with oil, then shaped into cakes and afterwards baked in the oven (  Leviticus 2:4 ); or a species of thin flat cake might first be baked in the usual way and then smeared with oil. The latter are the ‘wafers anointed with oil’ of   Exodus 29:2 etc. Honey and oil were also used together in the baking of sweet cakes (  Ezekiel 16:13;   Ezekiel 16:19 ). In this connexion it is interesting to note that while   Exodus 16:31 compares the taste of manna to that of ‘wafers made with honey,’ the parallel passage,   Numbers 11:8 , compares it to ‘the taste of cakes baked with oil’ (RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ).

2. The two chief meals . Among the Hebrews, as among their contemporaries in classical lands, it was usual to have but two meals, properly so called, in the day. Before beginning the work of the day the farmer in the country and the artizan in the city might ‘break their fast’ (  John 21:12;   John 21:15 RV [Note: Revised Version.] ) by eating a morsel of bread the ‘morning morsel’ as it is called in the Talmud with some simple relish, such as a few olives; but this was in no sense a meal. Indeed, to ‘eat [a full meal] in the morning’ was a matter for grave reproach (  Ecclesiastes 10:16 ).

The first meal-time (  Ruth 2:14 RV [Note: Revised Version.] ), speaking generally, was at an hour when the climate demanded a rest from strenuous exertion, namely, about noon; the second and more important meal of the two was taken a little before or after sunset, when the labourers had ‘come in from the field’ (  Luke 17:7 ). This was the ‘ supper time ’ of   Luke 14:17 . The former, the ariston of the Greeks in EV [Note: English Version.] rendered dinner ,   Matthew 22:4 , also   Luke 11:38 but RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] here breakfast was in most cases a very simple meal. ‘A servant plowing or keeping sheep’ or harvesting would make his midday meal of bread soaked in light wine with a handful of parched corn (  Ruth 2:14 ), or of ‘pottage and bread broken into a bowl’ (Bel 33), or of bread and boiled fish (  John 21:13 ). All the evidence, including that of Josephus, goes to show that the second or evening meal was the principal meal of the day.

3. Position at meals . Within the period covered by OT the posture of the Hebrews at meals, in so far as the men were concerned, was changed from sitting to reclining. In the earliest period of all, the Hebrews took their meals sitting, or more probably, squatting on the ground (  Genesis 37:25 etc.), like the Bedouin and fellahin of the present day, among whom squatting ‘with both knees downwards, and with the legs gathered tailor-fashion, alone is the approved fashion when at table’ ( PEFSt [Note: Quarterly Statement of the same.] , 1905, 124). The food was served in a large wooden bowl placed upon a mat of leather or plaited grass, round which the company gathered. The first advance on this primitive practice was to present the food on a wooden or other tray, set upon a low stand raised but a few inches from the ground. The next step was the introduction of seats, which would naturally follow upon the change from nomadic to agricultural life after the conquest of Canaan. Saul and his mess-mates sat upon ‘seats’ (  1 Samuel 20:25 ), the precise form of which is not specified, as did Solomon and the high officials of his court (  1 Kings 10:5 , where the queen of Sheba admires the ‘sitting,’ i.e . the seated company of his servants; cf.   1 Kings 13:20 etc.).||

With the growth of wealth and luxury under the monarchy, the Syrian custom of reclining at meals gradually gained ground. In Amos’ time it was still looked upon as an innovation peculiar to the wealthy nobles ( Amos 3:12;   Amos 6:4 ). Two centuries later, Ezekiel is familiar with ‘a stately bed’ or couch (as   Esther 1:5 RV [Note: Revised Version.] ) with ‘a table prepared before it’ (  Ezekiel 23:41 ). In the post-exilic period the custom must have taken firm root, for by the end of the 3rd cent. b.c. it was probably universal save among the very poor ( Jdt 12:15 , Tob 2:1 ). In NT, accordingly, whenever ‘ sitting at meat ’ is mentioned, we are to understand ‘reclining,’ as the margin of RV [Note: Revised Version.] everywhere reminds us. At table, that is to say, the men for women and children still sat reclined on couches with wooden frames, upholstered with mattresses and provided with cushions, on which they leaned the left elbow (see Sir 41:19 ), using only the right hand to eat with (see § 5 below).

4. From the Mishna we learn that in NT times the tables were chiefly of wood, and furnished with three or four feet. They were lower and smaller than with us. The couches or divans were as a rule capable of accommodating several people. In the houses of the great each guest at a banquet might have a couch and table for himself. The Greek custom was to assign two, the Roman three, guests to each couch. As each guest reclined on his left elbow, the person next on his right on the same couch could be said to ‘recline in the bosom’ of his fellow-guest. Such were the relative positions of John and Jesus at the Last Supper (  John 13:23 RV [Note: Revised Version.] ).

5 . Procedure at meals , etc. In our Lord’s day, as we learn from the Gospels, great importance was attached by the Jewish authorities to the ‘ washing of hands ’ before meals. This consisted of pouring water (which had been kept from possible defilement in large closed jars, the ‘waterpots of stone’ of   John 2:6 ) over the hands and allowing it to run to the wrist (cf.   Mark 7:3 RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] and commentaries).

This washing over, the food was brought in by the women of the household ( Mark 1:31 ,   Luke 10:40 ); in wealthy families by male slaves, the ‘ministers’ of   1 Kings 10:5 , ‘waiters’ of Jdt 13:1 , ‘servants’ of   John 2:5;   John 2:9 . At this stage grace was said. The date of the introduction of this custom is unknown, for   1 Samuel 9:13 is not a case in point. In NT the blessing before a meal has the repeated sanction of our Lord’s example (  Matthew 15:36;   Matthew 26:25 , etc.; cf.   Acts 27:35 for Paul).

As to what may be termed, with the Mishna, ‘the vessels for the service’ of the table, these naturally varied with the social position of the household, and more or less with the progress of the centuries. In early times earthenware vessels would be used, for which, as civilization advanced, bronze would be substituted, and even in special cases, silver and gold (see House, § 9). Bread, we know, was usually served in shallow wicker baskets (  Exodus 29:23 ). The main part of the meal in the homes of the people will have been served in one or more large bowls or basins , of earthenware or bronze, according to circumstances. Such was the ‘dish’ into which our Lord dipped the ‘sop’ (  Matthew 26:23 ,   Mark 14:20 ). A shallower dish is that rendered ‘charger’ in   Matthew 14:8;   Matthew 14:11 , and ‘platter,’   Luke 11:39 .

In the case of a typical dish of meat and vegetables, prepared as described above, those partaking of the meal helped themselves with the fingers of the right hand ( Proverbs 19:24 =   Proverbs 26:15 RV [Note: Revised Version.] ,   Matthew 26:23 ), knives and forks being, of course, unknown at table, while the more liquid parts were secured, as at the present day, by using pieces of thin wafer-like bread as improvised spoons, or simply by dipping a morsel of bread, the sop of   John 13:26 , into the dish. It was customary, as this passage shows, for the head of the family to hand pieces of food to various members; these are the portions of   1 Samuel 1:4 .

6. In the event of a Jew of some position resolving to entertain his friends at dinner, it was usual to send the invitations by his servants (  Matthew 22:3 ), and later to send them again with a reminder on the appointed day (  Matthew 22:4 ,   Luke 14:17 ). Arrived at his host’s residence, the guest is received with a kiss (  Luke 7:45 ), his feet are washed (  Luke 7:44 ), and his head is anointed with perfumed oil (  Luke 7:38; cf.   Psalms 23:5 ). He himself is dressed in white gala costume (  Ecclesiastes 9:8; see Dress, § 7), for to come to such a feast in one’s everyday garments would be an insult to one’s host (cf.   Matthew 22:11 f.). After the ‘chief places’ (  Matthew 23:6 RV [Note: Revised Version.]; AV [Note: Authorized Version.] ‘uppermost rooms’) on the various couches had been assigned to the principal guests, the hands duly washed, and the blessing said, the meal began. This would consist of several courses, beginning with light appetizing dishes, such as salted fish, pickled olives, etc. During the course of the dinner those whom the host wished to single out for special distinction would receive, as a mark of favour, some dainty portion, such as Samuel had reserved for Saul (  1 Samuel 9:23 ). These were the messes sent by Joseph to his brethren (  Genesis 43:34 , for a list of the parts of an animal in order of merit, so to say, used for this purpose at a fellahin banquet to-day, see PEFSt [Note: Quarterly Statement of the same.] , 1905, 123).

At the close of the dinner the hands were again washed, the attendants bringing round the wherewithal, and tables with all sorts of fruit were brought in, over which a second blessing was said. Although wine was served in the first part of the banquet as well, it was at this second stage that the ‘fruit of the vine’ was chiefly enjoyed. The wine-cups were filled from the large mixing bowls (  Jeremiah 35:5 ) in which the wine had been diluted with water and perfumed with aromatic herbs. It was usual, also, to appoint a ‘ruler of the feast’ (  John 2:8 RV [Note: Revised Version.]; cf. Sir 32:1 ) to regulate the manner and the quantity of the drinking, and to enforce penalties in the case of any breach of etiquette. ‘Music and dancing’ (  Luke 15:25 ) and other forms of entertainment, such as the guessing of riddles (  Judges 14:12 ff.), were features of this part of the banquet. For instruction in the ‘minor morals’ of the dinner-table, Jesus ben-Sira has provided the classical passages, Sir 31:12-18; Sir 32:3-12 , expanding the wise counsel of the canonical author of   Proverbs 23:1 f.

A. R. S. Kennedy.

Fausset's Bible Dictionary [3]

The Ariston , often translated "dinner," is rather breakfast or luncheon ( Matthew 22:4);  Luke 14:12 "a dinner (breakfast or luncheon) or a supper" ( Deipnon , a late dinner). The principal Egyptian meal was at noon ( Genesis 43:16); but the Jews' chief meal at even ( Genesis 19:1-3, Lot;  Ruth 3:7, Boaz). Israel ate bread or manna in the morning, flesh in the evening ( Exodus 16:12); the Passover supper in the evening confirms this. The ancient Hebrew sat at meals ( Genesis 27:19;  Judges 19:6), but not necessarily on a chair, which was reserved as a special dignity ( 2 Kings 4:10). Reclining on couches was latterly the posture at meals ( Amos 6:4);  Amos 3:12 says, "dwell in the corner of a bed," i.e. the inner corner where the two sides of the divan meet, the place of dignity (Pusey), "and in Damascus (in) a couch"; not as Gesenius "on a damask couch," for Damascus was then famed for the raw material "white wool" ( Ezekiel 27:18), not yet for damask.

Derived from the Syrians, Babylonians, and Persians ( Esther 1:6;  Esther 7:8). For "tables,"  Mark 7:4, translated "couches"; and for "sitting at meat" in New Testament translated everywhere "reclining." As three were generally on one couch, one lay or "leaned" on another's bosom, as John did on Jesus' chest. Such a close position was chosen by friends, and gave the opportunity of confidential whispering, as when John asked who should betray Jesus ( John 13:23-25). Ordinarily, three couches (the highest, the middle, and the lowest) formed three sides of a square, the fourth being open for the servants to bring the dishes. On each couch there was the highest, the middle and the lowest guest. "The uppermost room" desired by the Pharisees was the highest seat on the highest couch ( Matthew 23:6). Females were not as now in the East secluded from the males at meals, as the cases of Ruth among the reapers ( Ruth 2:14), Elkanah with his wives ( 1 Samuel 1:4), Job's sons and daughters ( Job 1:4) show.

The women served the men ( Luke 10:40;  John 12:2). The blessing of the food by thanks to the Giver preceded the meal; the only Old Testament instance is  1 Samuel 9:13. Our Lord always did so ( Matthew 15:36;  John 6:11); so Paul ( Acts 27:35), confirming precept ( 1 Timothy 4:3-4) by practice.  Deuteronomy 8:10 implies the duty of grace at the close of a meal. A bread sop held between the thumb and two fingers was dipped into the melted grease in a bowl, or into a dish of meat, and a piece taken out. To hand a friend a delicate morsel was esteemed a kindly act. So Jesus to Judas, treating him as a friend, which aggravates his treachery ( John 13:18;  John 13:26;  Psalms 41:9). Geier, in Poli Synopsis, translated  Proverbs 19:24 "a slothful man hides his hand in the "dish" ( Tsaliachat ) and will not so much as bring it to his mouth again"; KJV means the cavity in the bosom like a dish. Great feasts were held at the end of each third year ( Deuteronomy 14:28) when the Levite, stranger, fatherless, and widow were invited (compare  Luke 14:12-13;  Nehemiah 8:10-12).

After a previous invitation, on the day of the feast a second was issued to intimate all was ready ( Esther 5:8;  Esther 6:14;  Matthew 22:3-4). The guests were received with a kiss; water for the feet, ointment for the person, and robes were supplied ( Luke 7:38-45). The washing of hands before meals was indispensable for cleanliness, as the ringers were their knives and forks, and all the guests dipped into the same dish ( Matthew 26:23). The Pharisees overlaid this with a minute and burdensome ritual ( Mark 7:1-13). Wreaths were worn on the head:  Isaiah 28:1, where the beauty of Samaria is the "fading flower on the head of the fat valleys." Its position on the brow of a hill made the comparison appropriate. Hebraism for "woe to the proud crown of the drunkards of Ephraim" (Horsley).

Its people were generally drunken revelers literally, and metaphorically like such were rushing on their own ruin ( Isaiah 28:7-8;  Isaiah 5:11-22;  Amos 4:1;  Amos 6:1-6). The nation would perish as the drunkard's soon fading wreath. A "governor of the feast" ( Architriklinos , the Greek Sumposiarchees , the Latin Magister Convivii ) superintended, tasting the food and liquors, and settling the order and rules of the entertainment ( John 2:8). The places were assigned according to the respective rank ( Genesis 43:33;  1 Samuel 9:22;  Luke 14:8;  Mark 12:39). Drinking revels were called Mishteh (the Komos of the Greeks, Latin Comissatio ),  1 Samuel 25:36. Condemned by the prophets ( Isaiah 5:11;  Amos 6:6) and apostles ( Romans 13:13;  Galatians 5:21;  Ephesians 5:18;  1 Peter 4:3).

Smith's Bible Dictionary [4]

Meals. Our information on the subject of meals is but scanty. The early Hebrews do not seem to have given special names to their several meals, for the terms rendered "dine" and "dinner" in the Authorized Version,  Genesis 43:16;  Proverbs 15:17, are in reality, general expressions, which might more correctly be rendered "eat" and "portion of food." In the New Testament, "dinner" and "supper,"  Luke 14:12;  John 21:12, are more properly "breakfast" and "dinner."

There is some uncertainty as to the hours at which meals were taken; the Egyptians undoubtedly took their principal mean at noon,  Genesis 43:16, laborers took a light meal at that time.  Ruth 2:14. Compare  Ruth 2:17. The Jews rather followed the custom that prevails among the Bedouins, and made their principal meal after sunset, and a lighter meal at about 9 or 10 A.M.

The old Hebrews were in the habit of sitting.  Genesis 27:19;  Judges 19:6;  1 Samuel 20:5;  1 Samuel 20:24;  1 Kings 13:20. The table was in this case but slightly elevated above the ground, as is still the case in Egypt. As luxury increased, the practice of sitting was exchanged for that of reclining was the universal custom.

As several guests reclined on the same couch, each overlapped his neighbor, as it were, and rested his head on or near the breast of the one who lay behind him; he was then said to "lean on the bosom" of his neighbor.  John 13:23;  John 21:20. The ordinary arrangement of the couches was in three sides of a square, the fourth being left open for the servants to bring up the dishes. Some doubt attends the question whether the females took their meals along with the males.

Before commencing the meal the guests washed their hands. This custom was founded on natural decorum: not only was the hand the substitute for our knife and for, but the hands of all the guests were dipped into one and the same dish. Another preliminary step was the grace or blessing, of which we have but one instance in the Old Testament -  1 Samuel 9:13 - and more than one pronounced by our Lord himself, in the new Testament -  Matthew 15:36;  Luke 9:16;  John 6:11.

The mode of taking the food differed in no material point from the modern usages of the East. Generally there was a single dish, into which each guest dipped his hand.  Matthew 26:23. Occasionally separate portions were served out to each.  Genesis 43:34;  Ruth 2:14;  1 Samuel 1:4. A piece of bread was held between the thumb and two fingers of the right hand, and was dipped either into a bowl of melted grease, (in which case it was termed "a sop,"),  John 13:26, or into the dish of meat, whence a piece was conveyed to the mouth between the layers of bread.

At the conclusion of the meal, grace was again said in conformity with  Deuteronomy 8:10, and the hands were again washed. On state occasions, more ceremony was used, and the meal was enlivened in various ways. A sumptuous repast was prepared; the guests were previously invited,  Esther 5:8;  Matthew 22:3, and on the day of the feast, a second invitation was issued to those that were bidden.  Esther 6:14;  Proverbs 9:3;  Matthew 22:4.

The visitors were received with a kiss,  Luke 7:45, water was furnished for them to wash their feet with,  Luke 7:44, the head, the beard, the feet, and sometimes the clothes, were perfumed with ointment,  Psalms 23:5;  John 12:3, on special occasions, robes were provided,  Matthew 22:11, and the head was decorated with wreaths.  Isaiah 28:1.

The regulation of the feast was under the superintendence of a special officer,  John 2:8. (Authorized Version, "governor of the feast"), whose business it was to taste the food and the liquors before they were placed on the table, and to settle about the toasts and amusements; he was generally one of the guests,  Sirach 32:1-2, and might therefore take part in the conversation.

The places of the guests were settled according to their respective rank,  Genesis 43:33;  Mark 12:39, portions of food were placed before each,  1 Samuel 1:4, the most honored guests receiving either larger,  Genesis 43:34, or more choice,  1 Samuel 9:24, portions than the rest. The meal was enlivened with music, singing and dancing,  2 Samuel 19:35, or with riddles,  Judges 14:12, and amid these entertainments, the festival was prolonged for several days.  Esther 1:3-4.

People's Dictionary of the Bible [5]

Meals. The Hebrews took a light meal in the forenoon, consisting of bread, milk, cheese, etc.  1 Kings 20:16;  Ruth 2:14;  Luke 14:12. The dinner was at mid-day among the ancient Egyptians.  Genesis 43:16. Supper, after the labors of the day were over, appears to have been the principal meal among the Hebrews, as it was among the Greeks and Romans.  Mark 6:21;  Luke 14:16;  Luke 14:24;  John 12:2. In eating, knives and forks were not used, but each morsel of food was conveyed from the dish to the mouth by the hand. This mode of eating made it necessary to wash the hands before and after meals.  Ruth 2:14;  Proverbs 26:15;  John 13:26;  Matthew 15:2;  Matthew 15:20;  Luke 11:38. In ancient times, at formal entertainments, every one seems to have had his separate portion of meat placed before him,  Genesis 43:34;  1 Samuel 1:4-5;  1 Samuel 9:23-24; in later times every one helped himself from the dish nearest to him.  Matthew 26:23. The Orientals do not drink during meals, but afterwards water or wine is handed round.  Matthew 26:27. The Hebrews seem to have had two modes of sitting; seldom used seats or chairs, like the ancient Egyptians, but they sat on the floor, and the meal was laid on a cloth spread on the floor, or on a table raised only a few inches. During the captivity the Jews acquired the Persian practice of reclining at meals upon couches, or upon mats or cushions, around the tables, in such a way that the head of every person approached the bosom of the one who reclined next above him.  John 13:23;  Luke 7:38. In the time of Christ it was common before every meal to give thanks.  Matthew 14:19;  Matthew 15:36.

Easton's Bible Dictionary [6]

 Amos 6:4,7 Luke 7:36-50

Holman Bible Dictionary [7]


American Tract Society Bible Dictionary [8]

See Eating .

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [9]

(See Dine); (See Repast); (See Sup); and the article following.