Manners & Customs
: Eating Customs
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]
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]
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]
TIME OF MEALS
Meals are not always served at the same time in the Orient today, and the nature of the meals varies in different sections.
The same was also true in Biblical times. In the main it may be said that the Hebrews had only two meals a day, breakfast, and dinner. The time for breakfast varied all the way from early morning to noon.
JESUS served breakfast to a group of hungry fishermen early in the morning (John 21:12). In commenting on the negligence of the guards of King Eglon (Judges 3:24), the Jewish historian Josephus says: "It was then summer time, and the middle of the day, when the guards were not strictly on their watch, both because of the heat, and because they were gone to dinner."
Attention is called to the fact that the word Josephus uses for "dinner" is the word meaning "breakfast" as used in the New Testament.
It would appear from this that the Jewish historian was indicating that sometimes breakfast was served as late as noon in his day. No doubt it was more often served in the middle of the morning.
In the Parable of the Wedding of the King's Son, the message went forth to the invited guests, "I have prepared my dinner [the word for 'breakfast']" (Matthew 22:4). The marriage feast here
would be similar then to the English "'wedding breakfast."
Both meals of the Jews are mentioned by JESUS in an exhortation he gave his host, "When thou makest a dinner or a supper" (Luke 14:12). The evening meal would in most cases be the main meal, but not always, depending on the nature and place of the men's work. The custom in some modern cities of having breakfast anywhere from nine to twelve o'clock, and dinner in the evening, would correspond quite closely with the two meals of the Jews of Bible times. [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]