a feast provided for the entertainment of a company of guests (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. John 12:2). These meals were in the days of Christ usually called "suppers," after the custom of the Romans, and were partaken of toward the close of the day. It was usual to send a second invitation (Matt. 22:3; Luke 14:17) to those who had been already invited. When the whole company was assembled, the master of the house shut the door with his own hands (Luke 13:25; Matt. 25:10).
The guests were first refreshed with water and fragrant oil (Luke 7:38; Mark 7:4). A less frequent custom was that of supplying each guest with a robe to be worn during the feast (Eccles. 9:8; Rev. 3:4, 5; Matt. 22:11). At private banquets the master of the house presided; but on public occasions a "governor of the feast" was chosen (John 2:8). The guests were placed in order according to seniority (Gen. 43:33), or according to the rank they held (Prov. 25:6,7; Matt. 23:6; Luke 14:7).
As spoons and knives and forks are a modern invention, and were altogether unknown in the East, the hands alone were necessarily used, and were dipped in the dish, which was common to two of the guests (John 13:26). In the days of our Lord the guests reclined at table; but the ancient Israelites sat around low tables, cross-legged, like the modern Orientals. Guests were specially honoured when extra portions were set before them (Gen. 43:34), and when their cup was filled with wine till it ran over (Ps. 23:5). The hands of the guests were usually cleaned by being rubbed on bread, the crumbs of which fell to the ground, and were the portion for dogs (Matt. 15:27; Luke 16:21).
At the time of the three annual festivals at Jerusalem family banquets were common. To these the "widow, and the fatherless, and the stranger" were welcome (Deut. 16:11). Sacrifices also included a banquet (Ex. 34:15; Judg. 16:23). Birthday banquets are mentioned (Gen. 40:20; Matt. 14:6). They were sometimes protracted, and attended with revelry and excess (Gen. 21:8; 29:22; 1 Sam. 25:2,36; 2 Sam. 13:23). Portions were sometimes sent from the table to poorer friends (Neh. 8:10; Esther 9:19, 22). (See MEALS.)
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 West.
(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 the left arm and eating with the aid of the right (compare Mt 26:20 m "reclining," and 1 Cor 11:20, "the Lord's supper").
(3) "Banquets" were considered normal parts of weddings as they are now throughout the East. Jesus and His disciples were bidden to one at Cana in Galilee, and accepted the invitation (Jn 2:2 ff), and wine-drinking was a part of the feast. The "banquet" Levi gave was in Christ's honor (Lk 5:29). There were numbers present and marked gradations in the places at table (Mt 23:6; Mk 12:39; Lk 14:7; 20:46). Guests were invited in advance, and then, as time-pieces were scarce, specially notified when the feast was ready, which helps to explain Christ's words (Mt 22:4), "All things are ready: come to the marriage" (compare Lk 14:17; Est 5:8; 6:14).
(4) Matthew tells us (23:6) that the Pharisees "love the chief place ("uppermost rooms" the King James Version) at feasts."
In Mt 22:3,4 "made a marriage feast," is rendered by some simply "a feast," because Greek gamos, "marriage," was used by Septuagint to translate the Hebrew for feast" in Est 1:5. But, as this is the only known example of such a use compare gamos, it is better to take it here in the literal sense of "marriage feast," as would seem to be required by the words "for his son" (Messiah). The Greek is plural (gamous) to indicate the several parts or stages of the feast (Button, 23; compare English "nuptials").
The "ruler of the feast" (architriklinos, Jn 2:8,9), was usually one of the guests, and his business was to see that wine was provided, superintend the drinking, etc. (compare Lk 22:27).
3. A Distinction Giving Rise to a Question:
(1) In Mt 22:4, "I have made ready my dinner," "dinner" in Greek is ariston (compare Lk 11:38). "Supper" (Greek deipnon) is found in Mt 23:6 and often in the New Testament. Both words are found in Lk 14:12. The question arises, What was the distinction? Thus much may be said in answer: The ariston (English Versions "dinner") was a meal usually taken about the middle of the forenoon, with variations of earlier or later; the deipnon (English Versions "supper"), the one taken at the close of the day, often after dark. In Ant, V, iv, 2 Josephus supposes Eglon's guards (Jdg 3:24) were negligent about noon, "both because of the heat and because their attention was turned to dinner" (ariston). So the "dinner" (ariston) was sometimes as late as noon. Yet Jn (21:12,15) shows, on the other hand, that the ariston was on some occasions taken shortly after dawn.
(2) Another question raised is this, Were the ancient Jews accustomed to have two or three meals a day? Vambery, quoted by Morison, gives a saying of the Turks that is in point: "There are only two meals a day, the smaller at 10 or 11 o'clock in the morning, the second and larger after sunset." There seems no evidence to sustain the view, maintained by Grimm and entertained by others, that the Jews of Christ's day were accustomed to take a separate and slight meal on rising, as the later Greeks and some of the later Romans did. There is certainly no clear evidence that the Jews of that day had more than two meals a day (see DB, article "Meals").
(3) The marriage feast of Mt 22:3 f was an ariston, somewhat like an English "wedding-breakfast"; but that in Lk 14:16 f was a deipnon, which was as usual delayed till after dark (14:17). Perhaps the ariston in this case was preliminary, while the marriage with its accompanying deipnon was after dark; such things are not unheard of today (compare Mt 26:20 and 1 Cor 11:20, "the Lord's deipnon").
George B. Eager