Manners & Customs: Banquets and Feasts
Banquets and Expensive Feasts in the Ancient World
Banquets in Easton's Bible Dictionary
a feast provided for the entertainment of a company of
(Esther 5; 7; 1 Pet. 4:3); such as was provided for
our Lord by
his friends in Bethany (Matt. 26:6; Mark 14:3; comp.
These meals were in the days of Christ usually
after the custom of the Romans, and were partaken of
close of the day. It was usual to send a second
(Matt. 22:3; Luke 14:17) to those who had been
When the whole company was assembled, the master of
shut the door with his own hands (Luke 13:25; Matt.
The guests were first refreshed with water and
(Luke 7:38; Mark 7:4). A less frequent custom was
supplying each guest with a robe to be worn during
(Eccles. 9:8; Rev. 3:4, 5; Matt. 22:11). At private
master of the house presided; but on public
"governor of the feast" was chosen (John 2:8). The
placed in order according to seniority (Gen. 43:33),
according to the rank they held (Prov. 25:6,7; Matt.
As spoons and knives and forks are a modern
were altogether unknown in the East, the hands alone
necessarily used, and were dipped in the dish, which
to two of the guests (John 13:26). In the days of
our Lord the
guests reclined at table; but the ancient Israelites
low tables, cross-legged, like the modern Orientals.
specially honoured when extra portions were set
(Gen. 43:34), and when their cup was filled with
wine till it
ran over (Ps. 23:5). The hands of the guests were
cleaned by being rubbed on bread, the crumbs of
which fell to
the ground, and were the portion for dogs (Matt.
At the time of the three annual festivals at
banquets were common. To these the "widow, and the
and the stranger" were welcome (Deut. 16:11).
included a banquet (Ex. 34:15; Judg. 16:23).
are mentioned (Gen. 40:20; Matt. 14:6). They were
protracted, and attended with revelry and excess
29:22; 1 Sam. 25:2,36; 2 Sam. 13:23). Portions were
sent from the table to poorer friends (Neh. 8:10;
22). (See MEALS -T0002451.)
Banquets in Fausset's Bible Dictionary
Both social and religious. At the three great religious
feasts, when all the males appeared before Jehovah, the
family had its feast, of which the stranger, the fatherless,
and the widow had their share (Deuteronomy 16:11).
Sacrifices were accompanied by a feast (Exodus 34:15; Judges
16:23-25). The "lovefeasts" of the early Christians sprung
from these sacrificial feasts; as the Lord's supper came
from the Passover. The tithes and firstlings were to be
eaten at the sanctuary, if not too far off (Deuteronomy
12:17-18; Deuteronomy 14:22-23). Males and females met
together at feasts of old (John 2:1). Vashti's separate
Women's banquet was a Persian, not Jewish, custom (Esther
1:9). In magnificent feasts, as at royal weddings, a general
invitation was given; the accepters were summoned by a
second message at the time of the feast (Proverbs 9:1-3;
Luke 14:17; Matthew 22).
The entertainer provided robes for the guests, to be
worn in his honor and as a token of his regard, in Old
Testament times the Israelites sat at table (1 Samuel
16:11); and in the order of their dignity or seniority
(Genesis 43:33); which explains the point of Jesus'
exhortation to take the lowest place (Luke 14:7-10; Matthew
23:6). The Persians reclined on couches (Esther 7:8). So the
Romans. From these the Jews adopted reclining. Thus, the
sinful woman could come behind the conch where Jesus lay,
and anoint His feet (Luke 7:37-38); and Mary, sister of
Lazarus (John 12:2-3); and "John leaned on the Lord's bosom"
at the last supper (John 13:23; John 13:25). Amos reprobates
the luxury (Amos 6:4-6). Perfumes were freely used at rich
feasts (Psalm 23:5; Ecclesiastes 9:7-8). A "governor of the
feast" was appointed (John 2:8-9).
The usual time was evening, to begin earlier was a
mark of excess (Isaiah 5:11; Ecclesiastes 10:16). "Spiced
wine" was often used (Song of Solomon 8:2). Garlands or
crowns of flowers on the head (Isaiah 28:1). Music, vocal
and instrumental (Isaiah 5:12), and dancing (Luke 15:25).
Wedding feasts often lasted seven days (Judges 14:12).
Portions were sent from the entertainer to each guest, and a
double or fivefold portion, or special part, to a
distinguished guest (1 Samuel 1:5; 1 Samuel 9:23-24; compare
2 Samuel 11:8; Genesis 43:34). Portions direct from table
were sent to poorer friends (Nehemiah 8:10; compare Luke
14:13; Esther 9:19; Esther 9:22). A kiss was the proper
courtesy wherewith the heat received each guest; to omit it
was to be wanting in kindliness (Luke 7:4-5).
In the absence of modern knives, forks and spoons,
they dipped their hands together in the same dish (Mark
14:20; Proverbs 19:24; Proverbs 26:15, for "bosom" translate
dish). After dinner the hands were wiped in a cloth, after a
servant had poured water on them (compare Elisha's office
for Elijah, 2 Kings 3:11), or were wiped on pieces of bread,
which were then thrown to the household dogs (which
illustrates Matthew 15:27). A banquet is a frequent emblem
of heavenly happiness (Isaiah 25:6; Luke 14:15; Revelation
"To eat bread" includes drinking. So in the case of
the Lord's supper (Acts 20:7). So the cup is not expressly
mentioned in the Passover supper in the Old Testament but
Deuteronomy 14:26; Isaiah 25:6 imply the use of wine at it.
In Eli's days drinking to excess even at the Lord's feasts
was not uncommon (1 Samuel 1:14-15). Four cups of wine were
mixed with water, blessed and passed round by the master of
the feast at the Passover. In Song of Solomon 2:4 the
heavenly Bridegroom's "banqueting house" (house of wine) is
the church in its public ordinances for refreshing the soul,
the ministry of the word, joint prayer, and the Lord's
supper (compare Psalm 36:8).
Banquets in Smiths Bible Dictionary
among the Hebrews, were not only a means of social enjoyment,
but were a part of the observance of religious festivity. At
the three solemn festivals the family also had its domestic
feast. De 16:11 Sacrifices, both ordinary and extraordinary,
Ex 34:15; Jud 16:23 includes a banquet. Birthday banquets are
only mentioned Ge 40:20; Mt 14:6 The usual time of the banquet
was the evening, and to begin early was a mark of excess. Ec
10:16; Isa 5:11 The most essential materials of the banqueting
room, next to the viands and wine, which last was often
drugged with spices, Pr 9:2 were perfumed unguents, garlands
or loose flowers, white or brilliant robes; after these,
exhibitions of music singers and dancers, riddles, jesting and
merriment. Jud 14:12; 2Sa 19:35; Ne 8:10; Ec 10:19; Isa 5:12;
25:6; 28:1; Mt 22:11; Lu 15:25 The posture at table in early
times was sitting, 1Sa 16:11; 20:5,18 and the guests were
ranged in order of dignity. (Gene 43:33; 1Sam 9:22
Words which imply the recumbent posture belong to the
Banquets in the Bible Encyclopedia - ISBE
1. The Ancient Hebrew Customs:
(1) "Banquet" and "banqueting" in the King James Version
always include and stand for wine-drinking, not simply
"feast" or "feasting" in our sense. Thus (Song 2:4), "He
brought me to the banqueting-house" is literally, "the house
of wine," and Est 7:2 has in the Hebrew "a banquet of wine."
In the New Testament we see a reflection of the same fact in
1 Pet 4:3 the King James Version, "We walked in .... excess
of wine, banquetings" (Greek "drinkings"; the Revised
Version (British and American) "carousings"). Compare Amos
6:7 the King James Version, "The banquet of them that
stretched themselves," where the reference seems to be to
reclining at wine-drinkings.
The Hebrew of Job 1:4, "make a banquet," may refer to a
social feast of a less objectionable sort (compare 41:6 the
King James Version), though the Hebrew for "to drink" yayin
"wine," was used as synonymous with "banquet."
Music, dancing and merriment usually attended all such
festivities. Certainly the ancient Hebrews, like other
peoples of the ancient East, were very fond of social
feasting, and in Christ's day had acquired, from contact
with Greeks and Romans, luxurious and bibulous habits, that
often carried them to excess in their social feasts.
2. In Christ's Teaching and Practice:
Among the Greeks the word for "feast" (doche) is from
dechomai "to receive" (compare our English usage, "to
receive" and "reception"). This word doche is used with
poiein "to make," to signify "to make" or "give a feast."
Compare Lk 5:29 where Levi "made a feast."
(1) In view of existing customs and abuses, Christ taught
His followers when they gave a banquet to invite the poor,
etc. (Lk 14:13), rather than, as the fashion of the day
called for, to bid the rich and influential. Much in the New
Testament that has to do with banquets and banquetings will
be obscure to us of the West if we do not keep in mind the
many marked differences of custom between the East and the
(2) "Banquets" were usually given in the house of the host
to specially invited guests (Lk 14:15; Jn 2:2), but much
more freedom was accorded to the uninvited than we of the
West are accustomed to, as one finds to be true everywhere
in the East today. The custom of reclining at meals (see
MEALS; TRICLINIUM, etc.) was everywhere in vogue among the
well-to-do in Christ's day, even in the case of the ordinary
meals, the guest leaning upon...
Banquets Scripture - Amos 6:7
Therefore now shall they go captive with the first that go
captive, and the banquet of them that stretched themselves
shall be removed.
Banquets Scripture - Esther 5:12
Haman said moreover, Yea, Esther the queen did let no man come
in with the king unto the banquet that she had prepared but
myself; and to morrow am I invited unto her also with the
Banquets Scripture - Esther 5:14
Then said Zeresh his wife and all his friends unto him, Let a
gallows be made of fifty cubits high, and to morrow speak thou
unto the king that Mordecai may be hanged thereon: then go
thou in merrily with the king unto the banquet. And the thing
pleased Haman; and he caused the gallows to be made.
Banquets Scripture - Esther 5:5
Then the king said, Cause Haman to make haste, that he may do
as Esther hath said. So the king and Haman came to the banquet
that Esther had prepared.
Banquets Scripture - Daniel 5:10
[Now] the queen, by reason of the words of the king and his
lords, came into the banquet house: [and] the queen spake and
said, O king, live for ever: let not thy thoughts trouble
thee, nor let thy countenance be changed:
Banquets Scripture - Esther 5:4
And Esther answered, If [it seem] good unto the king, let the
king and Haman come this day unto the banquet that I have
prepared for him.
Banquets Scripture - Esther 5:8
If I have found favour in the sight of the king, and if it
please the king to grant my petition, and to perform my
request, let the king and Haman come to the banquet that I
shall prepare for them, and I will do to morrow as the king
Banquets Scripture - Esther 7:2
And the king said again unto Esther on the second day at the
banquet of wine, What [is] thy petition, queen Esther? and it
shall be granted thee: and what [is] thy request? and it shall
be performed, [even] to the half of the kingdom.
Banquets Scripture - Esther 7:7
And the king arising from the banquet of wine in his wrath
[went] into the palace garden: and Haman stood up to make
request for his life to Esther the queen; for he saw that
there was evil determined against him by the king.
Banquets Scripture - Esther 7:8
Then the king returned out of the palace garden into the place
of the banquet of wine; and Haman was fallen upon the bed
whereon Esther [was]. Then said the king, Will he force the
queen also before me in the house? As the word went out of the
king's mouth, they covered Haman's face.
Dining and Entertainment
FOOD AND ENTERTAINMENT AT BANQUETS
The prophet Amos, although he denounced extravagant luxuries and sinful excesses, nevertheless has given us a description of the eating, drinking, and other customs at an Oriental banquet. This is the way he describes it:
"And stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat the lambs out of the flock, and the calves out of the midst of the stall; that chant to the sound of the viol, and invent to themselves instruments of music, like David; that drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the chief ointments" (Amos 6:4-6).
The meat eaten at these suppers included the best lambs from the flock and calves that had been stall-fed. The drinking of wine at the feast was considered an important feature. Playing on stringed instruments was another activity and the guests evidently vied with one another in anointing their bodies with very costly ointments.
Dancing was often a part of the entertainment at these feasts. When the Prodigal Son returned home, and his father celebrated with a feast, there was music and dancing (Luke 15:24, 25). Dancing was a social diversion of the Hebrew women and girls, especially when they made merry. Men did sometimes engage in it, as when David danced when the ark was brought to Jerusalem (II Samuel 6:14). But more often, it was the activity of the fair sex (cf. Jeremiah 31:4).
But there is no Scriptural record that the Jewish men danced with the women, as is the modern custom of the West. Neither is there indication that there were public female dancers, as is true in some Eastern places today. The dancing of the daughter of Herodias (Matthew 14:6) before men at a sensual banquet was the kind introduced among the Jews by corrupt Greek influence. [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
Dipping in the Dish
DIPPING INTO THE DISH AND GIVING THE SOP
Oriental customs of eating must be kept in mind in order to understand the meaning of the words and action of JESUS, in relation to Judas Iscariot at the last supper. Mark's account reads:
"Jesus said, Verily I say unto you, One of you which eateth with me shall betray me. And they began to be sorrowful, and to say unto him one by one, Is it I? and another said, Is it I? And he answered and said unto them, It is one of the twelve, that dippeth with me in the dish" (Mark 14:18-20).
Some have supposed that Judas was in the position where he would be dipping at the same time with JESUS into the dish, and that he was thus singled out as the betrayer. But this could hardly be, since the other disciples did not discover who the betrayer was from these words of JESUS. Since they all had been eating from the same large dish, these words of JESUS, he "that dippeth with me in the dish," did not identify anyone of them. All of them, as well as Judas, had been dipping into the dish with Jesus. JESUS was simply informing them that one of them now eating with Him would become His betrayer. [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
In some parts of the East a custom of double invitations to an entertainment has been observed. Some time before the feast is to be served, an invitation is sent forth; and then, when the appointed time draws near, a servant is sent again, this time to announce that everything is ready.
There are several examples of this custom in the Bible. Ahasuerus and Haman were invited by Esther to a feast, and then when it was ready the king's chamberlains went to get Haman (Esther 5:8; 6:14). Another example is in the Parable of the Wedding of the King's Son. "The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, and sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding" (Matthew 22:2, 3).
Again, the Parable of the Great Supper has this double invitation in it: "A certain man made a great supper, and bade many: and sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready" (Luke 14:16,17).
[Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
Eating Posture at Feasts
POSTURE WHILE EATING AT FEASTS
It has already been observed that on ordinary occasions the people of the Bible age mostly sat or squatted on the floor around a low table at mealtime. In the king's circle, or at other times of special ceremony, seats were sometimes provided. The prophet Amos is the first sacred writer to refer to the custom of "[stretching] themselves upon their couches" when eating (Amos 6:4).
By the time of JESUS, the Roman custom of reclining on couches at supper had been adopted in some Jewish circles. The Roman table and couches combined was called a triclinium. There were three couches which were located on the three sides of a square, the fourth side being left open, so that a servant could get on the inside to assist in serving the meal. The guest's position was to recline with the body's upper part resting on the left arm, and the head raised, and a cushion at the back, and the lower part of the body stretched out. The head of the second guest was opposite the breast of the first guest, so that if he wanted to speak to him in secret he would lean upon his breast.
This custom at a banquet table throws light on several passages from the four gospels. The Apostle John asked JESUS a question while in this position at supper (John 13:23-25). In the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, when JESUS said that "the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom" (Luke 16:22), he doubtless meant to imply that he was reclining at a heavenly table next to Abraham where he could lean upon his breast. This is clear in the light of CHRIST's description of that heavenly feast: "Many shall come from the east and the west; and shall sit down [recline] with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 8:11). Also this position of reclining at table explains how the woman could come during a dinner and take her position behind at the feet of JESUS and wash them (Luke 7:38).
[Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
Special Suppers and Banquets
SINCE THE DAILY MENU of the ordinary Oriental meal is and always has been very simple, something needs to be said about those special occasions when a more elaborate and expensive meal is served. The Scriptures abound in accounts of these formal occasions, such as weddings, birthdays, or other times when special guests are invited and a sumptuous meal is served.
[Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
Feasts in Naves Topical Bible
Ancient customs at
Men alone present at
Ge 40:20; 43:32,34; 1Sa 9:22; Es 1:8,9; Mr 6:21; Lu
-Men and women attend
Ex 32:6; with 32:2,3; Da 5:1-3
-Riddles propounded at
-Marriage feasts provided by the bridegroom
-Guests arranged according to age
1Sa 9:22; Lu 14:8-10
-Reclined on couches
Am 6:4,7; Lu 7:38; Joh 13:25
-Served in one dish
-Were presided over by a master of ceremonies
-Wine served at
Es 5:6; 7:7
Isa 5:12; Am 6:4,5; Lu 15:25
Mt 14:6; Lu 15:25
-Given by kings
1Sa 20:5; 25:36; 2Sa 9:10; 1Ki 2:7; 4:22; 18:19; Es
1Sa 25:36; Es 1:10; Da 5:1-4
-Covenants ratified by
Ge 40:20; Mr 6:21
1Ki 1:25; 1Ch 12:38-40
Es 8:17; 9:17-19
Mt 22:1-14; Lu 14:16-24; Re 19:9,17
-(Instituted by Moses)
Designated as SOLEMN FEASTS
Nu 15:3; 2Ch 8:13; La 2:6; Eze 46:9
Nu 29:39; Ezr 3:5
First and last days were SABBATIC
Le 23:39,40; Nu 28:18-25; 29:12,35; Ne 8:1-18
Kept with rejoicing
Le 23:40; De 16:11-14; 2Ch 30:21-26; Ezr 6:22; Ne
8:9-12,17; Ps 42:4; 122:4; Isa 30:29; Zec 8:19
Divine protection given during
The three principal were: PASSOVER, PENTECOST,
All males were required to attend
Ex 23:17; 34:23; De 16:16; Ps 42:4; 122:4; Eze
2:44; Joh 4:45; 7
Aliens (non-Jews) were permitted to attend
Joh 12:20; Ac 2:1-11
Attended by women
1Sa 1:3,9; Lu 2:41
Mt 26:17-20; Lu 2:41,42; 22:15; Joh 2:13,23; 5:1;
Ac 18:21; 19:21; 20:6,16; 24:11,17
Giving the Sop
Again, CHRIST's giving of the "sop" to Judas was in accordance with certain Eastern custom still observed in modern times. John reports what was done and said:
"He then lying on Jesus' breast said unto him, Lord, who is it? Jesus answered, He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot" (John 13:25, 26).
What is meant by the "sop"? It is the most tasty morsel of food being served at the feast. It may be served in the "bread spoon," but is more often picked up by the host with his thumb and finger, and handed directly to one of the guests. But why is a sop given to one of the guests? A native and resident of Bible lands says that certain villagers there have this custom of giving the sop today, and he describes the purpose of the act thus:
It is with them a mark of special respect for the master of the feast to hand to a guest portions of what is before him, or to insist on putting morsels or sops into his mouth with his own hand. I have had this done to me several times, when the intention was certainly to honor and manifest good will.
The meaning of what CHRIST did then was most certainly to extend love and friendship to the very one who was going to betray Him. The act has been described as if the LORD were saying to the traitor: Judas, my disciple, I have infinite pity for you. You have proved false, you have forsaken me in your heart; but I will not treat you as an enemy, for I have come not to destroy, but to fulfill. Here is my sop of friendship, and "that thou doest, do quickly." [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
WHY EXCLUSION FROM A FEAST WAS CONSIDERED TO BE SO TERRIBLE
Ancient banquets were usually held at night in rooms which were brilliantly lighted, and anybody who was excluded from the feast was said to be cast out of the lighted room into the "outer darkness" of the night.
In the teachings of JESUS, such exclusion is likened unto the day of judgment. "The children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness" (Matthew 8:12). "Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness" (Matthew 22:13). "And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 25:30). This expression "outer darkness" takes on new meaning, when it is realized what a dread the Oriental has for the darkness of the night. In the East a lamp is usually kept burning all night. To sleep in the dark as the Westerner usually does would be a terrible experience to the Oriental. Because of this fear of the darkness, the Saviour could have chosen no more appropriate words than "outer darkness" to represent the future punishment of the unrighteous. [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
Places of Honor
PLACES OF HONOR AT THE TABLE
When the Pharisees were invited to a banquet, they were very covetous of having the highest places of distinction at the table. JESUS condemned them for this proud spirit. He said concerning them: They " . . . love the uttermost rooms at feasts" (Matthew 23:6). When JESUS was guest at a meal in a Pharisee's house, He gave the guests a parable, when He noticed how they sought the chief places at the table. (Luke 14:8-10):
"When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest room; lest a more honourable man than thou be bidden of him; And he that bade thee and him come and say unto thee, Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest room. But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee."
In many native homes one room has a higher floor, and in this room the guests of honor are assigned places, and those of less honor on the lower floor or level.6 A place of special honor would be on the right of the host, and the next highest place on his left. James and John asked for such positions in CHRIST's kingdom (Mark 10:37). But JESUS advised guests to take the last place. Where was this place located? It was on the lower level and nearest the door.7 The guest who would take this humble place might be invited by the master of the house to take a place on a higher plane and farther from the door.
[Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
"COMPELLING" GUESTS TO ATTEND
The following words of CHRIST's parable need to be understood from an Oriental point of view: "And the Lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled" (Luke 14:23).
The usual brief invitation in America, and the ready acceptance of it would be considered in the East entirely undignified. In the East the one invited must not at first accept, but is expected rather to reject the invitation. He must be urged to accept. Although all the time he expects to accept, he must allow the one inviting him the privilege of "compelling him" to accept.
It was thus that Lydia must have extended, and Paul and his companions must have finally accepted hospitality. "If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us" (Acts 16:15). When one of the Pharisees invited JESUS to a meal, the Saviour did not at first accept the invitation, although He did go finally: "And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him" (Luke 7:36).
All of this was in keeping with Oriental customs. [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
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