Eating (properly אָכִל, akal', ἐσθίω). The ancient Hebrews did not eat indifferently with all persons; they would have esteemed themselves polluted and dishonored by eating with those of another religion or of an odious profession. In Joseph's time they neither ate with the Egyptians nor the Egyptians with them (Ge 43:32), nor in our Savior's time with the Samaritans (Joh 4:9). The Jews were scandalized at his eating with publicans and sinners (Mt 9:11). As there were several sorts, of meats the use of which was prohibited, they could not conveniently eat with those who partook of them, fearing to contract pollution by touching such food, or if by accident any particles of it should fall on them. SEE FOOD. At their meals some suppose they had each his separate table; and that Joseph, entertaining his brethren in Egypt, seated them separately, each at his particular table, while he himself sat down separately from the Egyptians, who ate with him; but he sent to his brethren portions out of the provisions which were before him (Ge 43:31 sq.). Elkanah, Samuel's father, who had two wives, distributed their portions to them separately (1Sa 1:4-5). In Homer, each guest is supposed to have had his little table apart and the master of the feast distributed meat to each (Odyss. 14:446 sq.). We are assured that this is still practiced in China, and that many in India never eat out of the same dish, nor on the same table with another person, believing they cannot do so without sin, and this not only in their own country, but when traveling and in foreign lands. This is also the case with the Brahmins and various castes in India, who will not even use a vessel after a European, though he may only have drank from it water recently drawn out of a well. The same strictness is observed by the more scrupulous among the Mohammedans, and instances have been known of every plate, and dish, and cup that had been used by Christian guests being broken immediately after their departure. The ancient manners which we see in Homer we see likewise in Scripture, with regard to eating, drinking, and entertainments. There was great plenty, but little delicacy; great respect and honor paid to the guests by serving them plentifully. Joseph sent his brother Benjamin a portion five times larger than those of his ether brethren. Samuel set a whole quarter of a calf before Saul (1Sa 9:24). The women did not appear at table in entertainments with the men; this would have been an indecency, as it is at this day throughout the East. —SEE BANQUET.
The Hebrews anciently sat at table, but afterwards imitated the Persians and Chaldaeans, who reclined on table-beds or divans while eating. (See Gier, De vett. Ebr. ratione caenandi, Lips. 1639). This mode of reclining at meals was common in the East, and also among the Greeks and Romans. Under the Roman emperors the couches were sometimes made semicircular. SEE ACCUBATION. At the present day, in the East, the custom is to sit or recline upon the floor at meat, and at other times on cushions. Many of the Arabs use no knife, fork, spoon, or plate in eating their victuals (these being used only by foreigners, and that as a special privilege); they dip their hands into the milk which is placed before them in a wooden bowl, and lift it to their mouth in their palm. Dr. Russell states, "The Arabs, in eating, do not thrust their whole hand into the dish, but only their thumb and two first fingers, with which they take up the morsel, and that in a moderate quantity at a time." The present mode of eating in Syria and Palestine is thus described by Dr. Jowett: "To witness the daily family habits, in the house in which I lived at Deir el Kamr (not far from Beyrout), forcibly reminded me of Scripture scenes. The absence of the females at our meals has already been noticed. There is another custom, by no means agreeable to a European, to which, however, I would willingly have endeavored to submit, but it was impossible to learn it in the short compass of twenty days' visit. There are set on the table, in the evening, two or three messes of stewed meat, vegetables, and sour milk. To me the privilege of a knife, and spoon, and plate was granted; but the rest all helped themselves immediately from the dish, in which it was no uncommon thing to see more than five Arab fingers at one time. Their bread, which is extremely thin, tearing and folding up like a sheet of paper, is used for the purpose of rolling together a large mouthful, or sopping up the fluid and vegetables. But the practice which was most revolting to me was this: when the master of the house found in the dish any dainty morsel, he took it out with his fingers and applied it to my mouth. This was true Syrian courtesy and hospitality, and had I been sufficiently well-bred, my mouth would have opened to receive it. On my pointing to my plate, however, he had the goodness to deposit the choice morsel there" (Researches, p. 210). Niebuhr's account is as follows (Description of Arabia, page 52). "The table of the Orientals is arranged according to their mode of living. As they always sit upon the floor, a large cloth is spread out in the middle of the room upon the floor, in order that the bits and crumbs may not be lost, or the carpets soiled. (On journeys, especially in the deserts, the place of this cloth is supplied by a round piece of leather, which the traveler carries with him, Travels, 2:372.) Upon this cloth is placed a small stool, which serves as a support for a large round tray of tinned copper; on this the food is served up in various small dishes of copper, well tinned within and without. Among the better class of Arabs, one finds, instead of napkins, a long cloth, which extends to all who sit at table, and which they lay upon their laps. Where this is wanting, each one takes, instead of a napkin, his own handkerchief, or rather small towel, which he always carries with him to wipe himself with after washing. Knives and forks are not used. The Turks sometimes have spoons of wood or horn. The Arabs are so accustomed to use the hand instead of a spoon, that they can do without a spoon even when eating bread and milk prepared in the usual manner. Other kinds of food, such as we commonly eat with a spoon, I do not remember to have seen. It is, indeed, at first, very unpleasant to a European, just arrived in the East, to eat with people who help themselves to the food out of the common dish with their fingers; but this is easily got over, after one has become acquainted with their mode of life. As the Mohammedans are required, by their religion, very often to wash themselves, it is therefore even on this account probable that their cooks prepare their food with as much cleanliness as those of Europe. The Mohammedans are even obliged to keep their nails cut so short that no impurity can collect under thereon; for they believe their prayers would be without any effect if there should be the least impurity upon any, part of the body. And since, now, before eating, they always wash themselves carefully, and generally too with soap, it comes at length to seem of less consequence whether they help themselves from the dish with clean fingers or with a fork. Among the sheiks of the desert, who require at a meal nothing more than pillau, i.e., boiled rice, a very large wooden dish is brought on full, and around this one party after another set themselves till the dish is emptied, or they are satisfied. In Merdin, where I once ate with sixteen officers of the Waiwode, a servant placed himself between the guests, and had nothing to do but to take away the empty dishes, and set down the full ones which other servants brought in. As soon as ever the dish was set down, all the sixteen hands were immediately thrust into it, and that to so much purpose, that rarely could any one help himself three times. They eat, in the East, with very great rapidity; and at this meal in Merdin, in the time of about twenty minutes, we sent out more than fourteen empty dishes." SEE DINE.
The Hebrews, like the modern Orientals, rose early, about the dawn of the day, when they breakfasted. They were accustomed to take a slight repast about noon; and this to husbandmen and mechanics was probably the principal meal (1Ki 20:16; Ru 2:14; Lu 14:12). Wilkinson says, "That dinner was served up at midday among the ancient Egyptians may be inferred from the invitation given by Joseph to his brethren: 'Bring these men home, and slay and make ready, for these men shall dine with me at noon' (Ge 43:16); but it is probable that, like the Romans, they also ate supper in the evening, as is still the custom in the East." Supper appears to have been the principal meal among the Hebrews, as it was among the Greeks and Romans. Among the Romans it anciently took place about three o'clock; but in the East, as at the present day in Persia, about six or seven in the evening, in order to avoid the enfeebling heat of the afternoon (Mr 6:21; Lu 14:16,24; Joh 12:2). In 1Sa 9:13, we read that the people would not eat of the feast until Samuel had arrived and consecrated the sacrifice. But this circumstance affords no evidence of the custom of asking a blessing on food. In the time of Christ, however, it was common before every meal to give thanks (Mt 14:19; Mt 15:36). SEE MEAL-TIME.
In closing this subject, we may properly notice the obligations which are considered by Eastern people to be contracted by eating together. Niebuhr says, "When a Bedouin sheik eats bread with strangers, they may trust his fidelity and depend on his protection. A traveler will always do well, therefore, to take an early opportunity of securing the friendship of his guide by a meal." The reader will recollect the complaint of the Psalmist (Ps 41:9), penetrated with the deep ingratitude of one whom he describes as having been his own familiar friend, in whom he trusted "who did eat of my bread, even he hath lifted up his heel against me!" Hence, in part, no doubt, the corviviality that always followed the making of a covenant. Hence, also, the severity of some of the feelings acknowledged by the indignant man of patience, Job, as appears in several passages of his pathetic ex-postulations. It is well known that Arabs, who have: given food to a stranger, have afterwards thought themselves bound to protect him against the vengeance, demanded by consanguinity, for even blood itself. (See Layard's Nineveh, 2d series, p. 217.) SEE HOSPITALITY.
To "eat" is frequently spoken metaphorically in Scripture of the enjoyment or partaking of temporal or spiritual blessings (Jer 15:16; Eze 3:1; Re 10:9). Wemyss's Symbol. Dict. s.v. SEE DRINK; SEE TASTE.