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Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature

Hospitality

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The practice of receiving strangers into one's house and giving them suitable entertainment, may be traced back to the early origin of human society. It is not, however, confined to any age or to any country, but has been observed in all parts of the globe wherever circumstances have been such as to render it desirable—thus affording one among many instances of the readiness with which human nature, in its moral as well as in its physical properties, adapts itself to every varying condition. Hospitality is therefore not a peculiarly Oriental virtue. It was practiced, as it still is, among the least cultivated nations. It was not less observed, in the early periods of their history, among the Greeks and Romans. With the Greeks, hospitality was under the immediate protection of religion. Jupiter bore a name signifying that its rights were under his guardianship. In the Odyssey we are told expressly that all guests and poor people are special objects of care to the gods. There were both in Greece and Italy two kinds of hospitality, the one private, the other public. The first existed between individuals, the second was cultivated by one state towards another. Hence arose a new kind of social relation: between those who had exercised and partaken of the rites of hospitality an intimate friendship ensued—a species of freemasonry, which was called into play wherever the individuals might afterwards chance to meet, and the right, duties, and advantages of which passed from father to son, and were deservedly held in the highest estimation.

But though not peculiarly Oriental, hospitality has nowhere been more early or more fully practiced than in the East. It is still honorably observed among the Arabs, especially at the present day. An Arab, on arriving at a village, dismounts at the house of someone who is known to him, saying to the master, 'I am your guest.' On this the host receives the traveler, and performs his duties, that is, he sets before his guest his supper, consisting of bread, milk, and bulgur, and, if he is rich and generous, he also takes the necessary care of his horse or beast of burden. Should the traveler be unacquainted with any person, he alights at any house, as it may happen, fastens his horse to the same, and proceeds to smoke his pipe until the master bids him welcome, and offers him his evening meal. In the morning the traveler pursues his journey, making no other return than 'God be with you' (good bye).

We find hospitality practiced and held in the highest estimation at the earliest periods in which the Bible speaks of human society (;;;; ). Express provision for its exercise is made in the Mosaic law (; ). In the New Testament also its observance is enjoined, though in the period to which its books refer the nature and extent of hospitality would be changed with the change that society had undergone (;;;;; ). The disposition which generally prevailed in favor of the practice was enhanced by the fear lest those who neglected its rites should, after the example of impious men, be subjected by the divine wrath to frightful punishments. Even the Jews, in 'the latter days,' laid very great stress on the obligation: the rewards of Paradise, their doctors declared, were his who spontaneously exercised hospitality.

The guest, whoever he might be, was on his appearing invited into the house or tent (;;; ). Courtesy dictated that no improper questions should be put to him, and some days elapsed before the name of the stranger was asked, or what object he had in view in his journey (). As soon as he arrived he was furnished with water to wash his feet (;; ); received a supply of needful food for himself and beast (;;;; ); and enjoyed courtesy and protection from his host (;; ). The case of Sisera, decoyed and slain by Jael (, sq.), was a gross infraction of the rights and duties of hospitality. On his departure the traveler was not allowed to go alone or empty-handed (). As the free practice of hospitality was held right and honorable, so the neglect of it was considered discreditable (; Odyss. xiv. 56); and any interference with the comfort and protection which the host afforded, was treated as a wicked outrage ( sq.). Though the practice of hospitality was general, and its rites rarely violated, yet national or local enmities did not fail sometimes to interfere; and accordingly travelers avoided those places in which they had reason to expect an unfriendly reception. So in , the 'certain Levite' spoken of said, 'We will not turn aside hither into the city of a stranger, that is not of the children of Israel.' The quarrel which arose between the Jews and Samaritans after the Babylonish captivity destroyed the relations of hospitality between them. Regarding each other as heretics, they sacrificed every better feeling. It was only in the greatest extremity that the Jews would partake of Samaritan food, and they were accustomed, in consequence of their religious and political hatred, to avoid passing through Samaria in journeying from one extremity of the land to the other. The animosity of the Samaritans towards the Jews appears to have been somewhat less bitter; but they showed an adverse feeling towards those persons who, in going up to the annual feast at Jerusalem, had to pass through their country (). At the great national festivals hospitality was liberally practiced so long as the state retained its identity. On these festive occasions no inhabitant of Jerusalem considered his house his own; every home swarmed with strangers; yet this unbounded hospitality could not find accommodation in the houses for all who stood in need of it, and a large proportion of visitors had to be content with such shelter as tents could afford.

 

 

 

 

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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Hospitality'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature". https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/kbe/h/hospitality.html.

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