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Bible Dictionaries

Fausset's Bible Dictionary


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The ariston , often translated "dinner," is rather breakfast or luncheon (Matthew 22:4); Luke 14:12 "a dinner (breakfast or luncheon) or a supper" (deipnon , a late dinner). The principal Egyptian meal was at noon (Genesis 43:16); but the Jews' chief meal at even (Genesis 19:1-3, Lot; Ruth 3:7, Boaz). Israel ate bread or manna in the morning, flesh in the evening (Exodus 16:12); the Passover supper in the evening confirms this. The ancient Hebrew sat at meals (Genesis 27:19; Judges 19:6), but not necessarily on a chair, which was reserved as a special dignity (2 Kings 4:10). Reclining on couches was latterly the posture at meals (Amos 6:4); Amos 3:12 says, "dwell in the corner of a bed," i.e. the inner corner where the two sides of the divan meet, the place of dignity (Pusey), "and in Damascus (in) a couch"; not as Gesenius "on a damask couch," for Damascus was then famed for the raw material "white wool" (Ezekiel 27:18), not yet for damask.

Derived from the Syrians, Babylonians, and Persians (Esther 1:6; Esther 7:8). For "tables," Mark 7:4, translated "couches"; and for "sitting at meat" in New Testament translated everywhere "reclining." As three were generally on one couch, one lay or "leaned" on another's bosom, as John did on Jesus' chest. Such a close position was chosen by friends, and gave the opportunity of confidential whispering, as when John asked who should betray Jesus (John 13:23-25). Ordinarily, three couches (the highest, the middle, and the lowest) formed three sides of a square, the fourth being open for the servants to bring the dishes. On each couch there was the highest, the middle and the lowest guest. "The uppermost room" desired by the Pharisees was the highest seat on the highest couch (Matthew 23:6). Females were not as now in the East secluded from the males at meals, as the cases of Ruth among the reapers (Ruth 2:14), Elkanah with his wives (1 Samuel 1:4), Job's sons and daughters (Job 1:4) show.

The women served the men (Luke 10:40; John 12:2). The blessing of the food by thanks to the Giver preceded the meal; the only Old Testament instance is 1 Samuel 9:13. Our Lord always did so (Matthew 15:36; John 6:11); so Paul (Acts 27:35), confirming precept (1 Timothy 4:3-4) by practice. Deuteronomy 8:10 implies the duty of grace at the close of a meal. A bread sop held between the thumb and two fingers was dipped into the melted grease in a bowl, or into a dish of meat, and a piece taken out. To hand a friend a delicate morsel was esteemed a kindly act. So Jesus to Judas, treating him as a friend, which aggravates his treachery (John 13:18; John 13:26; Psalms 41:9). Geier, in Poli Synopsis, translated Proverbs 19:24 "a slothful man hides his hand in the "dish" (tsaliachat ) and will not so much as bring it to his mouth again"; KJV means the cavity in the bosom like a dish. Great feasts were held at the end of each third year (Deuteronomy 14:28) when the Levite, stranger, fatherless, and widow were invited (compare Luke 14:12-13; Nehemiah 8:10-12).

After a previous invitation, on the day of the feast a second was issued to intimate all was ready (Esther 5:8; Esther 6:14; Matthew 22:3-4). The guests were received with a kiss; water for the feet, ointment for the person, and robes were supplied (Luke 7:38-45). The washing of hands before meals was indispensable for cleanliness, as the ringers were their knives and forks, and all the guests dipped into the same dish (Matthew 26:23). The Pharisees overlaid this with a minute and burdensome ritual (Mark 7:1-13). Wreaths were worn on the head: Isaiah 28:1, where the beauty of Samaria is the "fading flower on the head of the fat valleys." Its position on the brow of a hill made the comparison appropriate. Hebraism for "woe to the proud crown of the drunkards of Ephraim" (Horsley).

Its people were generally drunken revelers literally, and metaphorically like such were rushing on their own ruin (Isaiah 28:7-8; Isaiah 5:11-22; Amos 4:1; Amos 6:1-6). The nation would perish as the drunkard's soon fading wreath. A "governor of the feast" (architriklinos , the Greek sumposiarchees , the Latin magister convivii ) superintended, tasting the food and liquors, and settling the order and rules of the entertainment (John 2:8). The places were assigned according to the respective rank (Genesis 43:33; 1 Samuel 9:22; Luke 14:8; Mark 12:39). Drinking revels were called mishteh (the komos of the Greeks, Latin comissatio ), 1 Samuel 25:36. Condemned by the prophets (Isaiah 5:11; Amos 6:6) and apostles (Romans 13:13; Galatians 5:21; Ephesians 5:18; 1 Peter 4:3).

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Bibliography Information
Fausset, Andrew R. Entry for 'Meals'. Fausset's Bible Dictionary. 1949.

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