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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature


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On occasions of ceremony the company were invited a considerable time previous; and on the day and at the hour appointed, an express by one or more servants, according to the number and distance of the expected guests, was dispatched to announce that the preparations were completed, and that their presence was looked for immediately (Matthew 22:8; Luke 14:17). (Grotius, in loc.; also Morier's Journey, p. 73.) This custom obtains in the East at the present day; and the second invitation, which is always verbal, is delivered by the messenger in his master's name, and frequently in the very language of Scripture (Matthew 22:4). It is observable, however, that this after summons is sent to none but such as have been already invited, and have declared their acceptance; and as, in these circumstances, people are bound by every feeling of honor and propriety to postpone all other engagements to the duty of waiting upon their entertainer, it is manifest that the vehement resentment of the grandee in the parable of the great supper (Luke 14:16 sq.), where each of the guests is described as offering to the bearer of the express some frivolous, apology for absence, was, so far from being harsh and unreasonable, as infidels have characterized it, fully warranted and most natural according to the manners of the age and country. By accepting his invitation they had given a pledge of their presence, the violation of which on such trivial grounds, and especially after the liberal preparations made for their entertainment, could be viewed in no other light than as a gross and deliberate insult.

At the small entrance-door a servant was stationed to receive the tablets or cards of those who were expected; and as curiosity usually collected a crowd of troublesome spectators, anxious to press forward into the scene of gayety, the gate was opened only so far as was necessary for the admission of a single person at a time, who, on presenting his invitation- ticket, was conducted through a long and narrow passage into the receiving-room; and then, after the whole company was assembled, the master of the house shut the door with his own hands-a signal to the servant to allow himself to be prevailed on neither by noise nor by importunities, however loud and long-continued, to admit the by-standers. To this custom there is a manifest reference in Luke 13:24, and Matthew 25:10 (see Morier's Journey, p. 142).

One of the first marks of courtesy shown to the guests, after saluting the host, was the refreshment of water and fragrant oil or perfumes; and hence we find our Lord complaining of Simon's omission of these customary civilities (Luke 7:44; see also Mark 7:4). (See ANOINTING). But a far higher, though necessarily less frequent attention paid to their friends by the great was the custom of furnishing each of the company with a magnificent habit of a light and showy color, and richly embroidered, to be worn during the festivity (Ecclesiastes 9:8; Revelation 3:4-5). The loose and flowing style of this gorgeous mantle made it equally suitable for all; and it is almost incredible what a variety of such sumptuous garments the wardrobes of some great men could supply to equip a numerous party. In a large company, even of respectable persons, some might appear in a plainer and humbler garb than accorded with the taste of the voluptuous gentry of our Lord's time, and where this arose from necessity or limited means, it would have been harsh and unreasonable in the extreme to attach blame, or to command his instant and ignominious expulsion from the banquet-room. But where a well-appointed and sumptuous wardrobe was opened for the use of every guest, to refuse the gay and splendid costume which the munificence of the host provided, and to persist in appearing in one's own habiliments, implied a contempt both for the master of the house and his entertainment, which could not fail to provoke resentment; and our Lord therefore spoke in accordance with a well-known custom of his country when, in the parable of the marriage of the king's son, he describes the stern displeasure of the king on discovering one of the guests without a wedding garment, and his instant command to thrust him out (Matthew 22:11).

At private banquets the master of the house of course presided, and did the honors of the occasion; but in large and mixed companies it was anciently customary to elect a governor of the feast (John 2:8; see also Sirach 32:1), who should not merely perform the office of chairman, ἀρχιτρίκλινος, in preserving order and decorum, but take upon himself the general management of the festivities. As this office was considered a post of great responsibility and delicacy, as well as honor, the choice, which among the Greeks and Romans was left to the decision of dice, was more wisely made by the Jews to fall upon him who was known to be possessed of the requisite qualities a ready wit and convivial turn, and at the same time firmness of character and habits of temperance. (See ARCHITRICLINUS). The guests were scrupulously arranged either by the host or governor, who, in the case of a family, placed them according to seniority (Genesis 42:33), and in the case of others, assigned the most honorable (comp. 1 Samuel 9:22) a place near his own person; or it was done by the party themselves, on their successive arrivals, and after surveying the company, taking up the position which appeared fittest for each. It might be expected that among the Orientals, by whom the laws of etiquette in these matters are strictly observed, many absurd and ludicrous contests for precedence must take place, from the arrogance of some and the determined perseverance of others to wedge themselves into the seat they deem themselves entitled to. Accordingly, Morier informs us "that it is easy to observe, by the countenances of those present, when any one has taken a higher place than he ought." "On one occasion," he adds, "when an assembly was nearly full, the Governor of Kashan, a man of humble mien, came in, and had seated himself at the lowest place, when the host, after having testified his particular attentions to him by numerous expressions of welcome, pointed with his hand to an upper seat, which he desired him to take" (Second Journey). As a counterpart to this, Dr. Clarke states that "at a wedding feast he attended in the house of a rich merchant at St. Jean d'Acre, two persons who had seated themselves at the top were noticed by the master of ceremonies, and obliged to move lower down" (see also Joseph. Ant. 15:24.) The knowledge of these peculiarities serves to illustrate several passages of Scripture (Proverbs 25:6-7; Matthew 23:6; and especially Luke 14:7, where we find Jesus making the unseemly ambition of the Pharisees the subject of severe and merited animadversion).

In ancient Egypt, as in Persia, the tables were ranged along the sides of the room, and the guests were placed with their faces toward the walls. Persons of high official station were honored with a table apart for themselves at the head of the room; and in these particulars we trace an exact correspondence to the arrangements of Joseph's entertainment to his brethren. According to Lightfoot (Exercit. on John 13:23), the tables of the Jews were either wholly uncovered, or two thirds were spread with a cloth, while the remaining third was left bare for the dishes and vegetables. In the days of our Lord the prevailing form was the triclinium, the mode of reclining at which is described elsewhere. (See ACCUBATION). This effeminate practice was not introduced until near the close of the Old Testament history, for among all its writers prior to the age of Amos, יָשִׁב, to sit, is the word invariably used to describe the posture at table (1 Samuel 16, margin, and Psalms 128:3, implying that the ancient Israelites sat round a low table, cross-legged, like the Orientals of the present day), whereas ἀνακλίνω, signifying a recumbent posture, is the word employed in the Gospels. And whenever the word "sit" occurs in the New Testament, it ought to be translated "lie," or recline, according to the universal practice of that age.

The convenience of spoons, knives, and forks being unknown in the East, or, where known, being a modern innovation, the hand is the only instrument used i

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Banquet'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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