Previous Next

Table of Contents

Meals


Meals. Our information on the subject of meals is but scanty. The early Hebrews do not seem to have given special names to their several meals, for the terms rendered “dine” and “dinner” in the DAV (Gen. 43:16; Prov. 15:17) are in reality general expressions, which might more correctly be rendered “eat” and “portion of food.” In the New Testament “dinner” and “supper,” Luke 14:12; John 21:12, are more properly “breakfast” and “dinner.” There is some uncertainty as to the hours at which meals were taken; the Egyptians undoubtedly took their principal meal at noon, Gen. 43:16; laborers took a light meal at that time. Ruth 2:14; comp. ver. 17. The Jews rather followed the custom that prevails among the Bedouins, and made their principal meal after sunset, and a lighter meal at about 9 or 10 a.m. The old Hebrews were in the habit of sitting. Gen. 27:19; Judges 19:6; 1 Sam. 20:5, 24; 1 Kings 13:20. The table was in this case but slightly elevated above the ground, as is still the case in Egypt. As luxury increased, the practice of sitting was exchanged for that of reclining. In the time of our Saviour, reclining was the universal custom. As several guests reclined on the same couch, each overlapped his neighbor, as it were, and rested his head on or near the breast of the one who lay behind him; he was then said to “lean on the bosom” of his neighbor. John 13:23; 21:20. The ordinary arrangement of the couches was in three sides of a square, the fourth being left open for the servants to bring up the dishes. Some doubt attends the question whether the females took their meals along with the males. Before commencing the meal the guests washed their hands. This custom was founded on natural decorum: not only was the hand the substitute for our knife and fork, but the hands of all the guests were dipped into one and the same dish. Another preliminary step was the grace or blessing, of which we have but one instance in the Old Testament—1 Sam. 9;13—and more than one pronounced by our Lord himself in the New Testament—Matt. 15:36; Luke 9:16; John 6:11. The mode of taking the food differed in no material point from the modern usages of the East. Generally there was a single dish, into which east guest dipped his hand. Matt. 26;23. Occasionally separate portions were served out to each. Gen. 43:34; Ruth 2:14; 1 Sam. 1:4. A piece of bread was held between the thumb and two fingers of the right hand, and was dipped either into a bowl of melted grease (in which case it was termed “a sop,” John 13:26) or into the dish of meat, whence a piece was conveyed to the mouth between the layers of bread. At the conclusion of the meal, grace was again said in conformity with Deut. 8:10, and the hands were again washed. On state occasions more ceremony was used, and the meal was enlivened in various ways. A sumptuous repast was prepared; the guests were previously invited, Esther 5:8; Matt. 22:3, and on the day of the feast a second invitation was issued to those that were bidden. Esther 6:14; Prov. 9:3; Matt. 22:4. The visitors were received with a kiss, Luke 7:45; water was furnished for them to wash their feet with, Luke 7:44; the head, the beard, the feet, and sometimes the clothes, were perfumed with ointment, Ps. 23:5; John 12:3; on special occasions robes were provided, Matt. 22:11, and the head was decorated with wreaths. Isa. 28:1. The regulation of the feast was under the superintendence of a special officer, John 2:8 (DAV “governor of the feast”), whose business it was to taste the food and the liquors before they were placed on the table, and to settle about the toasts and amusements; he was generally one of the guests, Ecclus. 32:1, 2, and might therefore take part in the conversation. The places of the guests were settled according to their respective rank, Gen. 43:33; Mark 12:39; portions of food were placed before each, 1 Sam. 1:4, the most honored guests receiving either larger, Gen. 43:34, or more choice, 1 Sam. 9:24, portions than the rest. The meal was enlivened with music, singing, and dancing, 2 Sam. 19:35, or with riddles, Judges 14:12; and amid these entertainments the festival was prolonged for several days. Esther 1:3, 4.

Image

Reclining at Table.