(מִשׁתֶּה, mishteh', a feast; and so rendered except on the formal occasions in Es 5; Es 6; Es 7; in 1Pe 4:3, πότος, from the drinking prevalent among the heathen on such occasions). The entertainments spoken of in Scripture, however large and sumptuous, were all provided at the expense of one individual; the ἔρανος, pic-nic, of the Greeks, to which every guest present contributed his proportion, being apparently unknown to the Jews, or at least practiced only by the humbler classes, as some suppose that an instance of it occurs in the feast given to our Lord, shortly before his Passion, by his friends in Bethany (Mt 26:2; Mr 14:1; comp. with Joh 12:2). Festive meetings of this kind were held only toward the close of the day, as it was not till business was over that the Jews freely indulged in the pleasures of the table; and although, in the days of Christ, — these meals were, after the Roman fashion, called suppers, they corresponded exactly to the dinners of modern times, the hour fixed for them varying from five to six o'clock P.M., or sometimes later. SEE MEAL.
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 (Mt 22:8; Lu 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 (Mt 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 (Lu 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 Lu 13:24, and Mt 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 (Lu 7:44; see also Mr 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 (Ec 9:8; Re 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 (Mt 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 (Joh 2:8; see also Ecclesiasticus 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 (Ge 42:33), and in the case of others, assigned the most honorable (comp. 1Sa 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 (Pr 25:6-7; Mt 23:6; and especially Lu 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 Ps 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 in conveying food to the mouth; and the common practice, their food being chiefly prepared in a liquid form, is to dip their thin, wafer- like bread in the dish, and, folding it between their thumb and two fingers, enclose a portion of the contents. It is not uncommon to see several hands plunged into one dish at the same time. But where the party is numerous, the two persons near or opposite are commonly joined in one dish; and accordingly, at the last Passover, Judas, being close to his master, was pointed out as the traitor by being designated as the person "dipping his hand with Jesus in the dish." The Apostle John, whose advantageous situation enabled him to hear the minutest parts of the conversation, has recorded the fact of our Lord, in reply to the question, "Who is it?" answering it by "giving a sop to Judas when he had dipped" (Joh 13:27.) It is not the least among the peculiarities of Oriental manners that a host often dips his hand into a dish, and, lifting a handful of what he considers a dainty, offers the ψωμίον or sop to one of his friends, and to decline it would be a violation of propriety and good manners (see Jowett's Christian Researches). In earlier ages, a double or a more liberal portion, or a choice piece of cookery, was the form in which a landlord showed his respect for the individual he delighted to honor (Ge 43:34; 1Sa 1:4; 1Sa 9:23; Pr 31:15; see Voller's Grec. Ant. 2:387; Forbes, Orient. Mem. 3, 187.)
While the guests reclined in the manner described above, their feet, of course, being stretched out behind, were the most accessible parts of their person, and accordingly the woman with the alabaster box of ointment could pay her grateful and reverential attentions to Jesus without disturbing him in the business of the table. Nor can the presence of this woman, uninvited and unknown even as she was to the master of the house, appear at all an incredible or strange circumstance, when we consider that entertainments are often given in gardens, or in the outer courts, where strangers are freely admitted, and that Simon's table was in all likelihood accessible to the same promiscuous visitors as are found hovering about at the banquets and entering into the houses of the most respectable Orientals of the present day (Forbes, Orient. Mem.). In the course of the entertainment servants are frequently employed in sprinkling the head and person of the guests with odoriferous perfumes, which, probably to counteract the- scent of too copious perspiration, they use in great profusion, and the fragrance of which, though generally too strong for Europeans, is deemed an agreeable refreshment (see Ps 45:8; Ps 23:5; Ps 123:2).
The various items of which an Oriental entertainment consists, bread, flesh, fish, fowls, melted butter, honey, and fruits, are in many places set on the table at once, in defiance of all taste. They are brought in upon trays — one, containing several dishes, being assigned to a group of two, or at most three persons, and the number and quality of the dishes being regulated according to the rank and consideration of the party seated before it. In ordinary cases four or five dishes constitute the portion allotted to a guest; but if he be a person of consequence, or one to whom the host is desirous of showing more than ordinary marks of attention, other viands are successively brought in, until, if every vacant corner of the tray is occupied, the bowls are piled one above another. The object of this rude but liberal hospitality is, not that the individual thus honored is expected to surfeit himself by an excess of indulgence in order to testify his sense of the entertainer's kindness, but that he may enjoy the means of gratifying his palate with greater variety; and hence we read of Joseph's displaying his partiality for Benjamin by making his "mess five times so much as any of theirs" (Ge 43:34). The shoulder of a lamb, roasted, and plentifully besmeared with butter and milk, is regarded as a great delicacy still (Buckingham's Travels, 2:136), as it was also in the days of Samuel. But according to the favorite cookery of the Orientals, their animal food is for the most part cut into small pieces, stewed, or prepared in a liquid state, such as seems to have been the "broth" presented by Gideon to the angel (Jg 6:19). The made-up dishes are "savory meat," being highly seasoned, and bring to remembrance the marrow and fatness which were esteemed as the most choice morsels in ancient times. As to drink, when particular attention was intended to be shown to a guest, his cup was filled with wine till it ran over (Ps 23:5), and it is said that the ancient Persians began their feasts with wine, whence it was called "a banquet of wine' (Es 5:6). See Rinck, De apparatu convivii regis Persarum (Regiom. 1755); Kohler, Observatt. (Lips. 1763), p. 1 sq.
The hands, for occasionally both were required, besmeared with grease during the process of eating, were anciently cleaned by rubbing them with the soft part of the bread, the crumbs of which, being allowed to fall, became the portion of dogs (Mt 15:27; Lu 16:21). But the most common way now at the conclusion of a feast is for a servant to go round to each guest with water to wash, a service which is performed by the menial pouring a stream over their hands, which is received into a strainer at the bottom of the basin. This humble office Elisha performed to his master (2Ki 3:11). SEE EWER.
People of rank and opulence in the East frequently give public entertainments to the poor. The rich man in the parable, whose guests disappointed him, dispatched his servants on the instant to invite those that might be found sitting by the hedges and the highways — a measure which, in the circumstances, was absolutely necessary, as the heat of the climate would spoil the meats long before they could be consumed by the members of his own household. But many of the great, from benevolence or ostentation, are in the habit of proclaiming set days for giving feasts to the poor; and then, at the time appointed, may be seen crowds of the blind, the halt, and the maimed bending their steps to the scene of entertainment. This species of charity claims a venerable antiquity. Our Lord recommended his wealthy hearers to practice it rather than spend their fortunes, as they did, on luxurious living (Lu 14:12); and as such invitations to the poor are of necessity given by public proclamation, and female messengers are employed to publish them (Hasselquist saw ten or twelve thus perambulating a town in Egypt), it is probably to the same venerable practice that Solomon alludes in Pr 9:3. SEE FEAST.
Among the Hebrews banquets were not only a means of social enjoyment, but were a part of the observance of religious festivity. At the three solemn festivals, when all the males appeared before the Lord, the family also had its domestic feast, as appears from the place and the share in it to which "the widow, the fatherless, and the stranger" were legally entitled (De 16:11). Probably, when the distance allowed and no inconvenience hindered, both males and females went up (e.g. to Shiloh; 1Sa 1:9) together to hold the festival. These domestic festivities were doubtless to a great extent retained, after laxity had set in as regards the special observance by the male sex (Ne 8:17). Sacrifices, both ordinary and extraordinary, as among heathen nations (Ex 34:15; Jg 16:23), included a banquet, and Eli's sons made this latter the prominent part. The two, thus united, marked strongly both domestic and civil life. It may even be said that some sacrificial recognition, if only in pouring the blood solemnly forth as before God, always attended the slaughter of an animal for food. The firstlings of cattle were to be sacrificed and eaten at the sanctuary if not too far from the residence (1Sa 9:13; 2Sa 6:19; Ex 22:29-30; Le 19:5-6; De 12:17,20-21; De 15:19-22). From the sacrificial banquet probably sprang the AGAPAE; as the Lord's Supper, with which it for a while coalesced, was derived from the Passover. Besides religious celebrations, such events as the weaning a son and heir, a marriage, the separation or reunion of friends, and sheep-shearing, were customarily attended by a banquet or revel (Ge 21:8; Ge 29:22; Ge 31:27,54; 1Sa 25:2,36; 2Sa 13:23). At a funeral, also, refreshment was taken in common by the mourners, and this might tend to become a scene of indulgence, but ordinarily abstemiousness seems on such occasions to have been the rule. The case of Archelaus is not conclusive, but his inclination toward alien usages was doubtless shared by the Herodianizing Jews (Jer 16:5-7; Eze 24:17; Ho 9:4; Ec 7:2; Josephus, War, 2:1). Birthday-banquets are only mentioned in the cases of Pharaoh and Herod (Ge 40:20; Mt 14:6). A leading topic of prophetic rebuke is the abuse of festivals to an occasion of drunken revelry, and the growth of fashion in favor of drinking-parties. Such was the invitation typically given by Jeremiah to the Rechabites (Jer 35:5). The usual time of the banquet was the evening, and to begin early was a mark of excess (Isa 5:11; Ec 10:16). The slaughtering of the cattle, which was the preliminary of a banquet, occupied the earlier part of the same day (Pr 9:2; Isa 22:13; Mt 22:4). The most essential materials of the banqueting- room, next to the viands and wine, which last was often drugged with spices (Pr 9:2; Song 8:2), were garlands or loose flowers, exhibitions of music, singers, and dancers, riddles, jesting and merriment (Isa 28:1; Wisdom of Song 2:6; 2Sa 19:35; Isa 25:6; Isa 5:12; Jg 14:12; Ne 8:10; Ec 10:19; Mt 22:11; Am 6:5-6; Lu 15:25). Seven days was a not uncommon duration of a festival, especially for a wedding, but sometimes fourteen (Tobias 8:19; Ge 29:27; Jg 14:12); but if the bride were a widow, three days formed the limit (Buxtorf, De Conviv. Hebr.). The reminder sent to the guests (Lu 14:17) was probably only usual in princely banquets on a large scale, involving protracted preparation. There seems no doubt that the Jews of the O.T. period used a common table for all the guests. In Joseph's entertainment a ceremonial separation prevailed, but there is no reason for supposing a separate table for each, as is distinctly asserted in the Talmud (Tosephot Berach. c. 6) to have been usual, The latter custom certainly was in use among the ancient Greeks and Germans (Hem. Od. 23, 10 2:74; Tac. Germ. 22), and perhaps among the Egyptians (Wilkinson, 2:202, engravings). But the common phrase to "sit at table," or "eat at any ore's table," shows the originality of the opposite usage. The separation of the woman's banquet was not a Jewish custom (Es 1:9). Portions or messes were sent from the entertainer to each guest at table, and a special part was sometimes reserved for a late comer (1Sa 1:5; Ge 43:34; 1Sa 9:23-24). Portions were similarly sent to poorer friends direct from the banquet-table (Ne 8:10; Es 9:19,22). The kiss on receiving a guest was a point of friendly courtesy (Lu 7:45). It was strictly enjoined by the rabbins to wash both before and after eating, which they called the "first water" and the "last water" (מִיִם רִאשׁוֹנִים and מִיִם אִחֲרוֹנִים); but washing the feet seems to have been limited to the case of a guest who was also a traveler. SEE ABLUTION.
In religious banquets the wine was mixed, by rabbinical regulation, with three parts of water, and four short forms of benediction were pronounced over it. At the Passover four such cups were mixed, blessed, and passed round by the master of the feast (ἀρχιτρίκλινος). It is probable that the character of this official varied with that of the entertainment; if it were a religious one, his office would be quasi-priestly; if a revel, he would be the mere symposiarch (συμποσιάρχης) or arbiter bibendi. (See Smith's Dict. of Class. Ant. s.v. Symposium; Comissatio.) — Smith, s.v. SEE ENTERTAINMENT; SEE EATING; SEE HOSPITALITY, etc.