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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Hospitality

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HOSPITALITY . In the life of the East there are no more attractive features than those that centre in the practice of hospitality. The virtue of hospitality ranked high in the ancient Orient, and the laws regulating its observance hold undisputed sway in the desert still. The pleasing picture of the magnanimous sheik, bidding strangers welcome to his tent and to the best he owns ( Genesis 18:1-33 ), is often repeated to this hour in the Arabian wilderness. It was to Lot’s credit and advantage that he had preserved this virtue amid the corruptions of Sodom ( Genesis 19:2 ff.). To shirk an opportunity for its exercise was shameful ( Judges 19:15 ; Judges 19:18 ). A man’s worth was illustrated by his princely hospitality ( Job 31:31 f.). Jesus sent forth the Twelve ( Matthew 10:9 f.), and the Seventy ( Luke 10:4 ff.), relying on the hospitality of the people. Its exercise secured His blessing; woe threatened such as refused it. The Samaritans’ churlish denial of hospitality to Jesus excited the wrath of His disciples ( Luke 9:53 ). The guest had a right to expect certain attentions ( Luke 7:44 ff.). The practice of hospitality distinguished those on the right from those on the left hand ( Matthew 25:35 ; cf. Matthew 10:40 , John 13:20 ). It is commended by precept ( Romans 12:13 ; Romans 12:20 , 1 Timothy 3:2 etc.), and also by example ( Hebrews 13:2 ).

Hospitality was highly esteemed amongst other ancient peoples. In Egypt its practice was thought to favour the soul in the future life. By kindness to strangers the Greeks secured the approval of Zeus Xenios, their protector. For the Romans hospitality was a sacred obligation.

In its simplest aspect, hospitality is the reception of the wayfarer as an honoured guest, providing shelter and food. In the ancient, as indeed for the most part in the modern, Orient, men journey only under necessity. Travel for purposes of pleasure and education is practically unknown. Save in cities, therefore, and in trading centres along the great highways, there was little call for places of public entertainment. Villages probably always contained what is called the medâfeh properly madyafah a chamber reserved for guests, whose entertainment is a charge upon the whole community. From personal experience the present writer knows how solicitous the humblest villagers are for the comfort and well-being of their guests. If the chief man in a village be well off, he greatly adds to his prestige by a liberal display of hospitality.

In the desert, every tent, however poor its owner, offers welcome to the traveller. In the master’s absence the women receive the guests, and according to their means do the honours of the ‘house of hair.’ It is the master’s pride to be known as a generous man; any lack of civility or of kindness to a guest meets severe reprobation. In the guest’s presence he calls neither his tent, nor anything it contains, his own. During his sojourn the visitor is owner. The women bake bread; the master slays a ‘sacrifice,’ usually a lamb, kid, or sheep, which is forthwith dressed, cooked, and served with the bread. The proud son of the wilds has high ideas of his own dignity and honour; but he himself waits upon his guest, seeking to gratify with alacrity his every wish. If his visitors are of superior rank he stands by them (Genesis 18:8 ), and in any case sits down only if they invite him. The safety and comfort of the guests are the first consideration; many place them before even the honour of wife and daughter ( Genesis 19:8 , Judges 19:24 ; cf. Lane, Mod. Egyp . 297). If a guest arrives after sunset he is entitled only to shelter, as the host might then be unable to prepare a meal creditable to himself. If food is offered, it is of the host’s goodwill ( Luke 11:5 ff.). The guest, careful of the host’s honour, will indicate that more than he requires has been provided by leaving a portion in the dish.

The open hand, as the token of a liberal heart, wins the respect and esteem of the Arabs. Leadership does not of necessity descend from father to son. Right to the position must be vindicated by wisdom, courage, dignity, and not least by generous hospitality. For the niggard in this regard there is nothing but contempt. It is a coveted distinction to be known as a ‘coffee sheik,’ one who without stint supplies his visitors with the fragrant beverage.

The Arabs are sometimes charged with want of gratitude; justly, as it seems from our point of view. But what seems ingratitude to us may be due simply to the influence of immemorial custom, in a land where the necessities of life are never sold, but held as common good, of which the traveller may of right claim a share. The ‘right of a guest’ may be taken, if not freely offered. The man who refuses covers himself with perpetual shame. The guest enjoys only his right ; therefore no thanks mingle with his farewell.

The right, however, is limited. ‘Whoever,’ says the Prophet, ‘believes in God and the day of resurrection must respect his guest; and the time of being kind to him is one day and one night; and the period of entertaining him is three days; and if after that he does it longer, he benefits him more: but it is not right for the guest to stay in the house of his host so long as to incommode him’ (Lane, Arabian Society in the Middle Ages , 143). After three days, or, some say, three days and four hours, the host may ask if he proposes to honour him by a longer stay. The guest may wish to reach some point under protection of the tribe. If so, he is welcome to stay; only, the host may give him work to do. To remain while refusing to do this is highly dishonourable. But the guest may go to another tent at the expiry of every third day, thus renewing his ‘right,’ and sojourn with the tribe as long as is necessary.

Hospitality involves protection as well as maintenance. ‘It is a principle alike in old and new Arabia that the guest is inviolable’ (W. R. Smith, Kinship 2 , 48). That this provision applies to enemies as well as to friends shows the magnanimity of the desert law. Every stranger met in the open is assumed to be an enemy: he will owe his safety either to his own prowess or to fear that his tribe will exact vengeance if he is injured. But the stranger who enters the tent is daif Ullah , the guest whom God has sent, to be well entreated for His sake. In an enemy’s country one’s perils are over when he reaches a tent, and touches even a tent peg. A father’s murderer may find sure asylum even in the tent of his victim’s son. When he has eaten of the host’s bread, the two are at once bound as brothers for mutual help and protection. It is said that ‘there is salt between them.’ Not that literal salt is required. This is a term covering milk, and indeed food of any kind. A draught of water taken by stealth, or even against his will, from a man’s dish, serves the purpose. When protection is secured from one, the whole tribe is bound by it (W. R. Smith, RS [Note: S Religion of the Semites.] 2 76).

To understand this we must remember (1) that in Arabia all recognition of mutual rights and duties rests upon kinship. Those outside the kin may be dealt with according to each man’s inclination and ability. (2) Kinship is not exclusively a matter of birth. It may be acquired. When men eat and drink together, they renew their blood from the one source, and to that extent are partakers in the same blood. The stranger eating with a clansman becomes ‘kinsman’ to all the members of the clan, as regards ‘the fundamental rights and duties that turn on the sanctity of kindred blood’ (Wellhausen, Reste Arab. [Note: Arabic.] Heid . 119f.; W. R. Smith, RS [Note: S Religion of the Semites.] 2 273 n. [Note: . note.] ). This sanctity may be traced to the ancient belief that the clan god shared its life, and when an animal was slain for food took part in the common meal. The clan’s friends were therefore the god’s friends, whom to injure was to outrage the deity. That the slaughter of the victim was a religions act involving the whole kin is borne out ( a ) by the fact that when an animal is slain all have an undisputed right to come to the feast; ( b ) by the name dhabîhah , ‘sacrifice,’ still applied to it. The present writer was once entertained in the camp of a rather wild and unkempt tribe. His attendants supped with the crowd. Fearing this might not be agreeable to a European, the chief’s son, who presided in his father’s absence, with innate Arab courtesy, asked him to cup with him in the sheik’s tent. Bringing in a portion of the flesh, the youth repeatedly remarked, as if for the stranger’s re-assurance, edh-dhabîhah wâhideh , ‘the slaughtering sacrifice is one’; i.e. the tribesmen and he ate from the same victim.

The bond thus formed was temporary, holding good for 36 hours after parting. By frequent renewal, however, it might become permanent. ‘There was a sworn alliance between the Lihyân and the Mostalic: they were wont to eat and drink together’ ( RS [Note: S Religion of the Semites.] 2 270 f.). A man may declare himself the dakhîl from dakhala , ‘to enter,’ i.e. to claim protection of a powerful man, and thus pass under shelter of his name even before his tent is reached. Whoever should injure him then would have to reckon with the man whose name he had invoked. The rights of sanctuary associated with temples, and until recently with certain churches, originated in an appeal to the hospitality of the local deity. The refugee’s safety depended on the respect paid to the god. Joab would have been safe had he not outlawed himself in this regard ( 1 Kings 2:31 ff.). Jael’s dastard deed could be approved only in the heat of patriotic fanaticism ( Judges 4:17 ; Judges 5:24 ).

In OT times it can hardly be said that inns in the later sense existed. The ordinary traveller was provided for by the laws of hospitality. The mâtôn of Genesis 42:27 etc. was probably nothing more than a place where caravans were accustomed to halt and pass the night. A building of some kind may be intended by the ‘lodge of wayfaring men’ in the wilderness ( Jeremiah 9:2 ). For gçrûth ( Jeremiah 41:17 ) we should probably read gidrôth , ‘folds’ (cf. Jos. [Note: Josephus.] Ant . X. ix. 5). Great changes were wrought by Greek and Roman influence, and there can be no doubt that in NT times, especially in the larger centres of population, inns were numerous and well appointed. The name pandocheion = Arab. [Note: Arabic.] funduq , shows that the inn was a foreign importation. Those on the highways would in some respects resemble the khâns of modern times, and the buildings that stood for centuries on the great lines of caravan traffic, before the sea became the highway of commerce. These were places of strength, as well as of entertainment for man and beast. Such was probably the inn of the Good Samaritan ( Luke 10:34 ), identified with Khân Hadrûr , on the road to Jericho. The inns would be frequented by men of all nationalities and of all characters. Rabbinical references show that their reputation was not high. It was natural that Christians should, for their own safety, avoid the inn, and practise hospitality among themselves ( 1 Peter 4:9 etc.).

In Luke 2:7 ‘inn’ ( katatuma ) probably means, as it does in Mark 14:14 and Luke 22:11 , the guest-chamber in a private house. Such guest-chambers were open freely to Jews visiting Jerusalem at the great feasts ( Aboth R. Nathan , cap. 34). It is reasonable to suppose that they would be equally open on an occasion like the registration, requiring the presence of such numbers. If Joseph and Mary, arriving late, found the hoped-for guest-chamber already occupied, they might have no resort but the khân , where, in the animal’s quarters, Jesus was born.

In modern Palestine hotels are found only at important places on the most popular routes of travel.

W. Ewing.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Hospitality'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdb/h/hospitality.html. 1909.

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