From the numerous allusions in Scripture to postures expressive of adoration, supplication, and respect, we learn enough to perceive that the usages of the Hebrews in this respect were very nearly, if not altogether, the same as those which are still practiced in the East, and which the paintings and sculptures of Egypt show to have been of old employed in that country. SEE SALUTATION.
I. ADORATION AND HOMAGE. — The Moslems in their prayers throw themselves successively, and according to an established routine, into the various postures (nine in number) which they deem the most appropriate to the several parts of the service. For the sake of reference and comparison, we have introduced them all at the head of this article; as we have no doubt that the Hebrews employed on one, occasion or another nearly all the various postures which the Moslems exhibit on one occasion. This is the chief difference. (See Lane's Arabian Nights, passim; Mod. Egyptians, 1, 105 sq.; Thomson's Land and Book, 1, 26.) In public and common worship the Hebrews prayed standing (1Ki 8:54; Ezr 9:5; Da 6:10; 2Ch 6:13); but in their separate and private acts of worship they assumed the position which, according to their modes of doing homage or showing respect, seemed to them the most suitable to their present feelings or objects. It would appear, however, that some form of kneeling was most usual in private devotions. SEE ADORATION.
1. Standing in public prayer is still the practice of the Jews. This posture was adopted from the synagogue by the primitive Christians, and is still maintained by the Oriental Churches. This appears, from their monuments, to have been the custom also among the ancient Persians and Egyptians, although the latter certainly sometimes knelt before their gods. In the Moslem worship, four of the nine positions (1, 2, 4, 8) are standing ones; and that posture which is repeated in three out of these four (2, 4, 8) may be pointed out as the proper Oriental posture of reverential standing, with folded hands. It is the posture in which people stand before kings and great men.
While in this attitude of worship, the hands were sometimes stretched forth toward heaven in supplication or invocation (1Ki 8:22; 2Ch 6:12,29; Isa 1:15). This was perhaps not so much the conventional posture (1) in the Moslem series, as the more natural posture of standing adoration with outspread hands, which we observe on the Egyptian monuments. The uplifting of one hand (the right) only in taking an oath was so common, that to say "I have lifted up my hand" was equivalent to "I have sworn" (Ge 14:22; comp. 41:44; De 32:40). This posture was also common among other ancient nations; and we find examples of it in the sculptures of Persia (fig. 1) and Rome (fig. 2, above).
2. Kneeling is very often described as a posture of worship (1Ki 8:54; Ezr 9:5; Da 6:10; 2Ch 6:13; comp. 1Ki 19:18; Lu 22:41; Ac 7:60). This is still an Oriental custom, and three forms of it occur (5, 6, 9) in the Moslem devotions. It was also in use, although not very frequent, among the ancient Egyptians; who likewise, as well as the Hebrews (Ex 34:18; 2Ch 29:29; Isa 1:15), sometimes prostrated themselves upon the ground. The usual mode of prostration among the Hebrews by which they expressed the most intense humiliation was by bringing not only the body, but the head to the ground. The ordinary mode of prostration at the present time, and probably anciently, is that shown in one of the postures of Moslem worship (5), in which the body is not thrown flat upon the ground, but rests upon the arms, knees, and head. In order to express devotion, sorrow, compunction, or humiliation, the Israelites threw dust upon their heads (Jos 7:6; Job 2:12; La 2:10; Eze 24:7; Re 18:19), as was done also by the ancient Egyptians, and is still done by the modern Orientals. Under similar circumstances it was usual to smite the breast (Lu 18:13). This was also a practice among the Egyptians (Herod. 2:85). and the monuments at Thebes exhibit persons engaged in this act while they kneel upon one knee.
3. In 1Ch 17:16, we are told that "David the king came and sat before the Lord," and in that posture gave utterance to eloquent prayer, or rather thanksgiving, which the sequel of the chapter contains. Those unacquainted with Eastern manners are surprised at this. But there is a mode of sitting in the East which is highly respectful and even reverential.
It is that which occurs in the Moslem forms of worship (9). The person first kneels. and then sits back upon his heels. Attention is also paid to the position of the hands, which they cross, fold, or hide in the opposite sleeves. The variety of this formal sitting which the annexed figure represents is highly respectful. The prophet Elijah must have been in this or some other similar posture when he inclined himself so much forward in prayer that his head almost touched his knees (1Ki 18:42). SEE SITTING.
II. SUPPLICATION, when addressed externally to man, cannot possibly be exhibited in any other forms than those which are used in supplication to God. Uplifted hands, kneeling, prostration, are common to both. On the Egyptian monuments suppliant captives, of different nations, are represented as kneeling or standing with outspread hands. This also occurs in the sculptures of ancient Persia (Persepolis). The first of the accompanying figures is of peculiar interest, as representing an inhabitant of Lebanon.
1. Prostration, or falling at the feet of a person, is often mentioned in Scripture as an act of supplication or of reverence, or of both (1Sa 25:21; 2Ki 4:37; Es 8:3; Mt 18:29; Mt 28:9; Mr 5:22; Lu 8:41; Joh 11:32; Ac 10:25). In the instance last referred to, where Cornelius threw himself at the feet of Peter, it may be asked why the apostle forbade an act which was not unusual among his own people, alleging as the reason, "I myself also am a man." The answer is that, among the Romans, prostration was exclusively an act of adoration, rendered only to the gods, and therefore it had in him a significance which it would not have had in an Oriental (Kuinol, ad Act. 10:26). This custom is still very general among the Orientals; but, as an act of reverence merely, it is seldom shown except to kings; as expressive of alarm or supplication, it is more frequent (Hackett's Illustra. of Script. p. 109).
2. Sometimes in this posture, or with the knees bent as before indicated, the Orientals bring their forehead to the ground, and before resuming an erect position either kiss the earth, or the feet, or border of the garment of the king or prince before whom they are allowed to appear. There is no doubt that a similar practice existed among the Jews, especially when we refer to the original words which describe the acts and attitudes of salutation, as נָפִל אִרצָה, to bend down to the earth, הַשׁתִּחֲוָה אִרצָה, to fall prostrate on the earth, כָּרִע אִפַּים אִרצָה, to fall with the face to the earth, and connect them with allusions to the act of kissing the feet or the hem of the garment (Mt 9:20; Lu 7:38,45).
3. Kissing the hand of another as a mark of affectionate respect we do not remember as distinctly mentioned in Scripture. But as the Jews had the other forms of Oriental salutation, we may conclude that they had this also, although it does not happen to have been specially noticed. It is observed by servants or pupils to masters, by the wife to her husband, and by children to their father, and sometimes their mother. It is also an act of homage paid to the aged by the young, or to learned and religious men by the less instructed or less devout. Kissing one's own hand is mentioned as early as the time of Job (Job 31:27), as an act of homage to the heavenly bodies. It was properly a salutation, and as such an act of adoration to them. The Romans in like manner kissed their hands as they passed the temples or statues of their gods. SEE ADORATION. It appears from 1Sa 10:1; 1Ki 19:18; Ps 2:12, that there was a peculiar kiss of home age, the character of which is not indicated. It was probably that kiss upon the forehead expressive of high respect which was formerly, if not now, in use among the Bedouins (Antar, 2, 119). SEE KISS.
III. BOWING. — In the Scriptures there are different words descriptive of various postures of respectful bowing: as קָדִד to incline or bow down the head; כָּרִע, to bend down the body very low; בָּרִך, to bend the knee, also to bless. These terms indicate a conformity with the existing usages of the East, in which the modes of bowing are equally diversified, and, in all likelihood, the same. These are, 1, touching the lips (is this the kissing of the hand noticed above?) and the forehead with the right hand, with or without an inclination of the head or of the body, and with or without previously touching the ground; 2, placing the right hand upon the breast, with or without an inclination of the head or of the body; 3, bending the body very low, with folded arms; 4, bending the body and resting the hands on the knees: this is one of the postures of prayer, and is indicative of the highest respect in the presence of kings and princes. In the Egyptian paintings we see persons drop their arms toward the ground while bowing to a superior, or standing respectfully with the right hand resting on the left shoulder. SEE BOWING.
It is observable that, as before noticed, the word בר, barak, means to bless and to bend the knee, which suggests the idea that it was usual for a person to receive a blessing in a kneeling posture. We know also that the person who gave the blessing laid his hands upon the head of the person blessed (Ge 48:14). This is exactly the case at the present day in the East, and a picture of the existing custom would furnish a perfect illustration of the patriarchal form of blessing.
4. For the attitude at meals, SEE ACCUBATION.