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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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INN.—Inns in the time of Christ were neither so infrequent nor so ill-equipped as many writers have represented.

Thus Stapfer (Palestine in the Time of Christ, 1866, p. 232), quoting from the Talmud a story of some Levites, who, travelling from Zoar, left at an inn one of their number who had fallen ill upon the road (Yeb. xvi. 7), adds the comment, ‘Such hostelries were rare, add were found only in very remote places.’ Other writers convey the impression that the only in as existing in Palestine were a few khans, as bare and comfortless as those now found in many parts of the East, and often described by modern travellers (see, e.g., Burckhardt, Travels in Syria, 1822, p. 36; Layard, Nin. and Bab. 1853, p. 498; Kinglake, Eothen, ch. xvii.; also Kitto’s Cyc., art. ‘Caravanserais’; and Vigouroux’s Dict., art. ‘Caravansérail’).

This seems to the present writer a mistaken inference, arising partly from exaggerated notions of Oriental hospitality, and partly from attributing to the 1st cent. a.d. social conditions which prevailed, it is true, in patriarchal times, and are found even now on the great trade and pilgrim routes across the desert, but did not obtain to anything like the same degree in the busy, populated, and prosperous country of the Herods. The customary hospitality of the East (see Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible, s.v., and art. ‘Gast’ in Hamburger’s RE) may, of course, be a reason why inns in the modern sense of the word should be less needed than in Western countries; but the statement that ‘the warm commendations of hospitality in the NT show that even in the Roman period the buildings set apart for strangers to lodge in were of a simple character in Palestine’ (Encyc. Bibl. art. ‘Inn’), requires considerable modification.

Some of these commendations obviously refer to the interchange of courtesies among members of the Christian community only (e.g. Romans 12:13 a, 1 Peter 4:9, 3 John 1:5), while others which definitely mention ‘strangers’ and ‘enemies’ are not necessarily any indication of the rarity and poverty of existing places of entertainment, but a sign of the new Christian spirit (Romans 12:20, Hebrews 13:2). Ramsay argues (Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible, Ext. Vol. p. 394a) that the motive of this urging of hospitality was the desire to preserve Christian converts from the corrupting influences among which they would be thrown at the public inns.

Numerous passages are cited from the Talmud to prove the extent to which hospitality prevailed among the Jews; but this traditional virtue was probably more praised than practised in the 1st century. The conditions peculiar to a nomad life came to be very materially modified when the countryside was covered with populous villages and towns. It is true that, at the Passover, if a Jew came up to Jerusalem from any part of the empire, he would find entertainment at a private house. It was the boast of the Rabbis that, notwithstanding the crowds, no man could say, ‘I have not found a bed in Jerusalem to lie in’ (Light-foot, Works, 1823, ix. p. 128); but what if the Jew came at some other time than at one of the great national feasts? What if a Samaritan came? Moreover, there was a large population of heathen; and even if Jewish habits of hospitality to Jews were equal in practice to the theory, no provision was made for the Gentile. Even to a Jew a Jew would shut his door. When Jesus is sending out His disciples to preach, He does not take it for granted that they will always find a ready welcome or free entertainment (Matthew 10:11-14, Mark 6:10-11, Luke 10:10-11).

Nor is it safe to argue from the comparative silence of contemporary records that inns were rare. It would not be guessed by a reader of the Gospels that in Jerusalem there were many synagogues.* [Note: See Talm. Bah. Kethub. 105a; Jerus. Megilla, 73d (although, of course, the 400 is a characteristic exaggeration).] It is quite possible that there were almost as many inns in Jerusalem. At any rate, it is misleading to make the general statement, as though it applied to all periods of Jewish history, that ‘inns in our sense of the term were, as they still are, unknown in the East’ (M‘Clintock and Strong, Cyc. s.v.). A truer view is given in the Jewish Encye. (art. ‘Caravanserai’): ‘By NT times the Holy Land had been sufficiently developed to afford opportunity for real inns.’

The influx of Greeks into Palestine, the constant presence of a large Roman element, civil and military, the mixed retinue attached to the Herodian court, the increase of trade, the importation of foreign workmen, the presence in several towns of companies of gladiators, actors, and the like,—would necessitate not only inns, but various kinds and grades of inns.

There were inns built on a large scale, comfortable and elegant, suited for high officials (see CIL [Note: IL Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum.] iii. 6123, where Mommsen explains praetoria as ‘diversoria nobiliora magistratibus iter facientibus reliquisque honestioribus destinata’). Epictetus draws a picture of a traveller lingering at a fine hotel because he finds everything agreeable there (Diss. ii. xxiii. 36). Josephus (Ant. xv. v. 1) relates that when Herod the Great was celebrating games at Caesarea, he entertained a number of ambassadors and other visitors at the public inns (καταγωγαῖς). On the other hand, there were inns of the lowest description. At the same port of Caesarea there would doubtless be a number of taverns for sailors (cf. Josephus BJ i. xxi. 7). The numerous Talmudic references to inns (which, of course, must be used with some degree of caution) indicate that they were a distinct feature of social life, e.g. ‘a public inn in which Israelites come and go’ (Aboda Zara, v. 3); ‘An Israelite and a heathen were once at an inn drinking wine’ (ib.); ‘R. Papa used to stand outside the store of the heathen and drink his beer’ (ii. 4). R. Ishmael bar Jose declared that his father used to pray in an inn (Ber. iv. 7); ‘Cattle must not be placed in the inns of heathen’ (Aboda Zara, ii. 1).

There can be little doubt that there were numerous taverns where food as well as drink could be obtained (cf. Franz Delitzsch, Jewish Artizan Life in the Time of Christ, p. 47). Not only heathen were innkeepers, but Jews; not only men, but women. ‘A Jewish woman dealing in wine once left her keys in charge of a heathen, and the question came up whether her wine she has in the tavern is allowed’ (Aboda Zara, v. 3).

Jülicher (Gleichnisreden, ii. p. 590; cf. Bertholet, Dic Stellung der Israeliten und der Juden zu den Fremden, p. 24) rightly maintains that the inn of Luke 10:34, to which the good Samaritan took his patient, was a hostelry (‘nicht blos Caravanserai sondern Gasthaus’). The word used in this passage (πανδοχεῖον) is significant. It was taken over into Rabbinic Hebrew, and is the usual word (פנרקא) for ‘inn’ in the Talmud. The Greek name shows that inns were largely a product of the Hellenistic period (see Schürer, P [Note: JP History of the Jewish People.] ii. i. 33). Other Rabbinic terms, אשפיוא and אכסניא, are equivalents of hospitium and ξενία; and as these replace the OT terms מָלוֹן and נִּרוּת, they seem to indicate that something is intended quite different from the khan of the lonely road or the ‘lodging-place of wayfaring men in the wilderness’ (Jeremiah 9:2).

It is difficult to fix the exact significance of κατάλυμα, the other word used in the Gospels for ‘inn.’ Etymologically, it means ‘the place where burdens were loosed for the night.’ In Luke 2:7 it is generally taken to mean an inn of the khan type. Polybius uses it in the plural form (ii. xxxvi. 1). Diodorus (xiv. 93) relates that the Romans, in gratitude for the services of one Timasitheus, granted him δημόσιον κατάλυμα.* [Note: In inscriptions in the Hauran we find δημόσιον πανδοχεῖον (Le Bas and Waddington, vol. iii. n. 2462).] The κατάλυμα of Mark 14:14 and Luke 22:11, where the Last Supper was eaten, is generally supposed to have been a private house (Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible, art. ‘Inn’); and the use of the verb καταλύω, as in Luke 19:7, is quite in keeping with this. Nothing very definite, however, can be deduced from these names as to the precise character of the place of lodging.

Did Jesus Himself ever enter or stay at inns? It is usually assumed that His disciples always provided hospitality for Him. Yet the only recorded cases in which He accepted it are those of Peter’s house at Capernaum and the house at Bethany. The words, ‘the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head’ (Matthew 8:20, Luke 9:58), suggest that hospitality was not always forthcoming. We know that it was not in Samaria (Luke 9:52) and among the Gerasenes (8:37). During a considerable part of the year it would be no hardship to spend the night in the open air, and apparently Jesus often preferred this, that He might have opportunity for quiet prayer, and more privacy than would be possible in a house or an inn. (Cf. J. L. Porter, Giant Cities of Bashan, 1866, pp. 157–159; also, for the habits of St. Francis and his followers, P. Sabatier, Vic, 1894, p. 88 f.). There is, however, no reason against His having resorted upon occasion to places of public entertainment. These were sometimes kept by Jews; but, if kept by a Gentile, this would not necessarily deter Him from going in. Strict Jews objected to entering the house of a Gentile, lest they should incur defilement (John 18:28, cf. Hausrath, Hist. NT Times, ii. 85); but Jesus, while recognizing that His mission was to Jews primarily, never allowed His action to be limited by ceremonial considerations. For instance, He did not hesitate, in spite of protest, to visit the house of Zacchaeus, and the freedom of His intercourse with all kinds of people brought on Him the charge of being a ‘wine-bibber,’ and of consorting with the lowest classes (Matthew 11:19, Luke 7:34). His desire to seek ‘the lost’ suggests that He would not avoid the places where these were most likely to be found.

In this connexion it is interesting to note that the Talmud has the following passage: ‘In the time of the Messiah the people will be impudent, and be given to drinking; public-houses will flourish, and the vine will be dear’ (Sota, quoted in M‘Clintock and Strong’s Cyc., art. ‘Inn’).

The reputation of inns seems to have been generally bad; they were very often houses of ill-fame, and hostesses were looked upon with suspicion. Yet some of the larger inns would bear a better character and be centres of influence, and there is no reason why Jesus should not have visited them. In most countries and periods the itinerant preacher has found the public inn to be a soil where the word might readily take root. (Cf. Fox, Journal, 1901, vol. i. pp. 118, 261, 258; Wesley, Journal, under March 1738; Borrow, Bible in Spain, passim).

Literature.—Ramsay, art. ‘Roads and Travel (in NT)’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible, Ext. Vol., under Inns and Entertainment.

J. Ross Murray.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Inn'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​i/inn.html. 1906-1918.
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