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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature
Originally the act of kissing had a symbolical character, and, though this import may now be lost sight of, yet it must be recognized the moment we attempt to understand or explain its signification. Acts speak no less, sometimes far more forcibly, than words. In the language of action, a kiss, inasmuch as it was a bringing into contact of parts of the body of two persons, was naturally the expression and the symbol of affection, regard, respect, and reverence; and if any deeper source of its origin were sought for, it would, doubtless, be found in the fondling and caresses with which the mother expresses her tenderness for her babe. That the custom is of very early date appears from , where we read—'When Laban heard the tidings of Jacob, his sister's son, he ran to meet him, and embraced him and kissed him, and brought him to his house:' the practice was even then established and recognized as a matter of course. In , a kiss is a sign of affection between a parent and child. It was also, as with some modern nations, a token of friendship and regard bestowed when friends or relations met or separated (;;;;;; ). The church of Ephesus wept sore at Paul's departure, and fell on his neck and kissed him. When Orpah departed from Naomi and Ruth () after the three had lifted up their voice and wept, she 'kissed her mother-in-law; but Ruth clave unto her.' It was usual to kiss the mouth (;;;; ) or the beard, which was then taken hold of by the hand (). Kissing of the feet was an expression of lowly and tender regard (). Kissing of the hand of another appears to be a modern practice: the passage of , 'Or my mouth hath kissed my hand,' is not in point, and refers to idolatrous usages, namely, the adoration of the heavenly bodies. It was the custom to throw kisses towards the images of the gods, and towards the sun and moon (; ). The kissing of princes was a token of homage (; ). Xenophon says that it was a national custom with the Persians to kiss whomsoever they honored. Kissing the feet of princes was a token of subjection and obedience; which was sometimes carried so far that the print of the foot received the kiss, so as to give the impression that the very dust had become sacred by the royal tread, or that the subject was not worthy to salute even the prince's foot, but was content to kiss the earth itself near or on which he trod (;; ). The Rabbins, in the meddlesome, scrupulous, and falsely delicate spirit which animated much of what they wrote, did not permit more than three kinds of kisses, the kiss of reverence, of reception, and of dismissal.
The peculiar tendency of the Christian religion to encourage honor towards all men, as men, to foster and develop the softer affections, and, in the trying condition of the early church, to make its members intimately known one to another, and unite them in the closest bonds, led to the observance of kissing as an accompaniment of that social worship which took its origin in the very cradle of our religion. Hence the exhortation—'Salute each other with a holy kiss' (; see also;;; in , it is termed 'a kiss of charity'). The observance was continued in later days, and has not yet wholly disappeared, though the peculiar circumstances have vanished which gave propriety and emphasis to such an expression of brotherly love and Christian friendship.
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Kiss'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature". https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/kbe/k/kiss.html.