Book 4, Chapter 12. The Morning-Meal in the Pharisee’s House – Meals and Feasts Among the Jews – Christ’s Last Peraean Warning to Pharisaism.

(Luk 11:37-54)

Bitter as was the enmity of the Pharisaic party against Jesus, it had not yet so far spread, nor become so avowed, as in every place to supersede the ordinary rules of courtesy. It is thus that we explain that invitation of a Pharisee to the morning-meal, which furnished the occasion for the second recorded Peraean Discourse of Christ. Alike in substance and tone, it is a continuation of His former address to the Pharisees. And it is probably here inserted in order to mark the further development of Christ’s anti-Pharisaic teaching. It is the last address to the Pharisees, recorded in the Gospel of Luke. A similar last appeal is recorded in a much later portion of Matthew’s Gospel, only that Luke reports that spoken in Peraea, Matthew that made in Jerusalem. This may also partly account for the similarity of language in the two Discourses. Not only were the circumstances parallel, but the language held at the end may naturally have recurred to the writer, when reporting the last controversial Discourse in Peraea. Thus it may well have been, that Christ said substantially the same things on both occasions, and yet that, in the report of them, some of the later modes of expression may have been transferred to the earlier occasion. And because the later both represents and presents the fullest anti-Pharisaic Discourse of the Saviour, it will be better to postpone our analysis till we reach that period of His Life.

Some distinctive points, however, must here be noted. The remarks already made will explain, how some time may have elapsed between this and the former Discourse, and that the expression, ‘And as He spake’ must not be pressed as a mark of time (referring to the immediately preceding Discourse), but rather be regarded as indicating the circumstances under which a Pharisee had bidden Him to the meal. Indeed, we can scarcely imagine that, immediately after such a charge by the Pharisees as that Jesus acted as the representative of Beelzebul, and such a reply on the part of Jesus, a Pharisee would have invited Him to a friendly meal, or that ‘Lawyers,’ or, to use a modern term, ‘Canonists,’ would have been present at it. How different their feelings were after they had heard His denunciations, appears from the bitterness with which they afterwards sought to provoke Him into saying what might serve as ground for a criminal charge. And there is absolutely no evidence that, as commentators suggest, the invitation of the Pharisee had been hypocritically given, for the purpose of getting up an accusation against Christ. More than this, it seems entirely inconsistent with the unexpressed astonishment of the Pharisee, when he saw Jesus sitting down to food without having first washed hands. Up to that moment, then, it would seem that he had only regarded Him as a celebrated Rabbi, though perhaps one who taught strange things.

But what makes it almost certain, that some time must have elapsed between this and the previous Discourse (or rather that, as we believe, the two events happened in different places), is, that the invitation of the Pharisee was to the morning-meal.’ We know that this took place early, immediately after the return from morning-prayers in the Synagogue. It is, therefore, scarcely conceivable, that all that is recorded in connection with the first Discourse should have occurred before this first meal. On the other hand, it may well have been, that what passed at the Pharisee’s table may have some connection with something that had occurred just before in the Synagogue, for we conjecture that it was the Sabbath-day. We infer this from the circumstance that the invitation was not to the principal meal, which on a Sabbath ‘the Lawyers’ (and, indeed, all householders) would, at least ordinarily, have in their own homes. We can picture to ourselves the scene. The week-day family-meal was simple enough, whether breakfast or dinner – the latter towards evening, although sometimes also in the middle of the day, but always before actual darkness, in order, as it was expressed, that the sight of the dishes by daylight might excite the appetite. The Babylonian Jews were content to make a meal without meat; not so the Palestinians. With the latter the favorite food was young meat: goats, lambs, calves. Beef was not so often used, and still more rarely fowls. Bread was regarded as the mainstay of life, without which no entertainment was considered as a meal. Indeed, in a sense it constituted the meal. For the blessing was spoken over the bread, and this was supposed to cover all the rest of the food that followed, such as the meat, fish or vegetables – in short, all that made up the dinner, but not the dessert. Similarly, the blessing spoken over the wine included all other kinds of drink. Otherwise it would have been necessary to pronounce a separate benediction over each different article eaten or drunk. He who neglected the prescribed benedictions was regarded as if he had eaten of things dedicated to God, since it was written: ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof.  Beautiful as this principle is, it degenerated into tedious questions of casuistry. Thus, if one kind of food was eaten as an addition to another, it was settled that the blessing should be spoken only over the principal kind. Again, there are elaborate disputations as to what should be regarded as fruit, and have the corresponding blessing, and how, for example, one blessing should be spoken over the leaves and blossom, and another over the berries of the caper. Indeed, that bush gave rise to a serious controversy between the Schools of Hillel and Shammai. Another series of elaborate discussions arose, as to what blessing should be used when a dish consisted of various ingredients, some the product of the earth, others, like honey, derived from the animal world. Such and similar disquisitions, giving rise to endless argument and controversy, busied the minds of the Pharisees and Scribes.

Let us suppose the guests assembled. To such a morning-meal they would not be summoned by slaves, nor be received in such solemn state as at feasts. First, each would observe, as a religious rite, ‘the washing of hands.’ Next, the head of the house would cut a piece from the whole loaf – on the Sabbath there were two loaves – and speak the blessing. But this, only if the company reclined at table, as at dinner. If they sat, as probably always at the early meal, each would speak the benediction for himself. The same rule applied in regard to the wine. Jewish casuistry had it, that one blessing sufficed for the wine intended as part of the meal. If other wine were brought in during the meal, then each one would have to say the blessing anew over it; if after the meal (as was done on Sabbaths and feast-days, to prolong the feast by drinking), one of the company spoke the benediction for all.

At the entertainment of this Pharisee, as indeed generally, our Lord omitted the prescribed ‘washing of hands’ before the meal. But as this rite was in itself indifferent, He must have had some definite object, which will be explained in the sequel. The externalism of all these practices will best appear from the following account which the Talmud gives of ‘a feast.’ As the guests enter, they sit down on chairs, and water is brought to them, with which they wash one hand. After this the cup is taken, when each speaks the blessing over the wine partaken of before dinner. Presently they all lie down at table. Water is again brought them, with which they now wash both hands, preparatory to the meal, when the blessing is spoken over the bread, and then over the cup, by the chief person at the feast, or else by one selected by way of distinction. The company responded by Amen, always supposing the benediction to have been spoken by an Israelite, not a heathen, slave, nor law-breaker. Nor was it lawful to say it with an unlettered man, although it might be said with a Cuthaean (heretic, or else Samaritan), who was learned. After dinner the crumbs, if any, are carefully gathered – hands are again washed, and he who first had done so leads in the prayer of thanksgiving. The formula in which he is to call on the rest to join him, by repeating the prayers after him, is prescribed, and differs according to the number of those present. The blessing and the thanksgiving are allowed to be said not only in Hebrew, but in any other language.

In regard to the position of the guests, we know that the uppermost seats were occupied by the Rabbis. The Talmud formulates it in this manner: That the worthiest lies down first, on his left side, with his feet stretching back. If there are two ‘cushions’ (divans), the next worthiest reclines above him, at his left hand; if there are three cushions, the third worthiest lies below him who had lain down first (at his right), so that the chief person is in the middle (between the worthiest guest at his left and the less worthy one at his right hand). The water before eating is first handed to the worthiest, and so in regard to the washing after meat. But if a very large number are present, you begin after dinner with the least worthy, till you come to the last five, when the worthiest in the company washes his hands, and the other four after him. The guests being thus arranged, the head of the house, or the chief person at table, speaks the blessing, and then cuts the bread. By some it was not deemed etiquette to begin eating till after he who had said the prayer had done so, but this does not seem to have been the rule among the Palestinian Jews. Then, generally, the bread was dipped into salt, or something salted, etiquette demanding that where there were two they should wait one for the other, but not where there were three or more.

This is not the place to furnish what may be termed a list of menus at Jewish tables. In earlier times the meal was, no doubt, very simple. It became otherwise when intercourse with Rome, Greece, and the East made the people familiar with foreign luxury, while commerce supplied its requirements. Indeed, it would scarcely be possible to enumerate the various articles which seem to have been imported from different, and even distant, countries.

To begin with: The wine was mixed with water, and, indeed, some thought that the benediction should not be pronounced till the water had been added to the wine. According to one statement, two parts, according to another, three parts, of water were to be added to the wine. Various vintages are mentioned: among them a red wine of Saron, and a black wine. Spiced wine was made with honey and pepper. Another mixture, chiefly used for invalids, consisted of old wine, water, and balsam; yet another was ‘wine of myrrh;’ we also read of a wine in which capers had been soaked. To these we should add wine spiced, either with pepper, or with absinthe; and what is described as vinegar, a cooling drink made either of grapes that had not ripened, or of the lees. Besides these, palm-wine was also in use. Of foreign drinks, we read of wine from Ammon, and from the province Asia, the latter a kind of ‘must’ boiled down. Wine in ice came from the Lebanon; a certain kind of vinegar from Idumaea; beer from Media and Babylon; a barley-wine (zyṯos) from Egypt. Finally, we ought to mention Palestinian apple-cider, and the juice of other fruits. If we adopt the rendering of some, even liqueurs were known and used.

Long as this catalogue is, that of the various articles of food, whether native or imported, would occupy a much larger space. Suffice it that, as regarded the various kinds of grain, meat, fish, and fruits, either in their natural state or preserved, it embraced almost everything known to the ancient world. At feasts there was an introductory course, consisting of appetising salted meat, or of some light dish. This was followed by the dinner itself, which finished with dessert (Ap̱iqomon or terugima) consisting of pickled olives, radishes and lettuce, and fruits, among which even preserved ginger from India is mentioned. The most diverse and even strange statements are made as to the healthiness, or the reverse, of certain articles of diet, especially vegetables. Fish was a favorite dish, and never wanting at a Sabbath-meal. It was a saying, that both salt and water should be used at every meal, if health was to be preserved. Condiments, such as mustard or pepper, were to be sparingly used. Very different were the meals of the poor. Locusts – fried in flour or honey, or preserved – required, according to the Talmud, no blessing, since the animal was really among the curses of the land. Eggs were a common article of food, and sold in the shops. Then there was a milk-dish into which people dipped their bread. Others, who were better off, had a soup made of vegetables, especially onions, and meat, while the very poor would satisfy the cravings of hunger with bread and cheese, or bread and fruit, or some vegetables, such as cucumbers, lentils, beans, peas, or onions.

At meals the rules of etiquette were strictly observed, especially as regarded the sages. Indeed, two tractates are added to the Talmud, of which the one describes the general etiquette, the other that of ‘sages,’ and the title of which may be translated by ‘The Way of the World’ (Derekh Erets), being a sort of code of good manners. According to some, it was not good breeding to speak while eating. The learned and most honored occupied not only the chief places, but were sometimes distinguished by a double portion. According to Jewish etiquette, a guest should conform in everything to his host, even though it were unpleasant. Although hospitality was the greatest and most prized social virtue, which, to use a Rabbinic expression, might make every home a sanctuary and every table an altar, an unbidden guest, or a guest who brought another guest, was proverbially an unwelcome apparition. Sometimes, by way of self-righteousness, the poor were brought in, and the best part of the meal ostentatiously given to them. At ordinary entertainments, people were to help themselves. It was not considered good manners to drink as soon as you were asked, but you ought to hold the cup for a little in your hand. But it would be the height of rudeness, either to wipe the plates, to scrape together the bread, as though you had not had enough to eat, or to drop it, to the inconvenience of your neighbour. If a piece were taken out of a dish, it must of course not be put back; still less must you offer from your cup or plate to your neighbour. From the almost religious value attaching to bread, we scarcely wonder that these rules were laid down: not to steady a cup or plate upon bread, nor to throw away bread, and that after dinner the bread was to be carefully swept together. Otherwise, it was thought, demons would sit upon it. The ‘Way of the World’ for Sages, lays down these as the marks of a Rabbi: that he does not eat standing; that he does not lick his fingers; that he sits down only beside his equals – in fact, many regarded it as wrong to eat with the unlearned; that he begins cutting the bread where it is best baked, nor ever breaks off a bit with his hand; and that, when drinking, he turns away his face from the company. Another saying was that the sage was known by four things: at his cups, in money matters, when angry, and in his jokes. After dinner, the formalities concerning handwashing and prayer, already described, were gone through, and then frequently aromatic spices burnt, over which a special benediction was pronounced. We have only to add, that on Sabbaths it was deemed a religious duty to have three meals, and to procure the best that money could obtain, even though one were to save and fast for it all the week. Lastly, it was regarded as a special obligation and honor to entertain sages.

We have no difficulty now in understanding what passed at the table of the Pharisee. When the water for purification was presented to Him, Jesus would either refuse it; or if, as seems more likely at a morning-meal, each guest repaired by himself for the prescribed purification, He would omit to do so, and sit down to meat without this formality. No one, who knows the stress which Pharisaism laid on this rite would argue that Jesus might have conformed to the practice. Indeed, the controversy was long and bitter between the Schools of Shammai and Hillel, on such a point as whether the hands were to be washed before the cup was filled with wine, or after that, and where the towel was to be deposited. With such things the most serious ritual inferences were connected on both sides. A religion which spent its energy on such trivialities must have lowered the moral tone. All the more that Jesus insisted so earnestly, as the substance of His Teaching, on that corruption of our nature which Judaism ignored, and on that spiritual purification which was needful for the reception of His doctrine, would He publicly and openly set aside ordinances of man which diverted thoughts of purity into questions of the most childish character. On the other hand, we can also understand what bitter thoughts must have filled the mind of the Pharisee, whose guest Jesus was, when he observed His neglect of the cherished rite. It was an insult to himself, a defiance of Jewish Law, a revolt against the most cherished traditions of the Synagogue. Remembering that a Pharisee ought not to sit down to a meal with such, he might feel that he should not have asked Jesus to his table. All this, as well as the terrible contrast between the punctiliousness of Pharisaism in outward purifications, and the inward defilement which it never sought to remove, must have lain open before Him Who read the inmost secrets of the heart, and kindled His holy wrath. Probably taking occasion (as previously suggested) from something that had passed before, He spoke with the point and emphasis which a last appeal to Pharisaism demanded.

What our Lord said on this occasion will be considered in detail in another place. Suffice it hear to mark, that He first exposed the mere externalism of the Pharisaic law of purification, to the utter ignoring of the higher need of inward purity, which lay at the foundation of all. If the primary origin of the ordinance was to prevent the eating of sacred offerings in defilement, were these outward offerings not a symbol of the inward sacrifice, and was there not an inward defilement as well as the outward? To consecrate what we had to God in His poor, instead of selfishly enjoying it, would not, indeed, be a purification of them (for such was not needed), but it would, in the truest sense, be to eat God’s offerings in cleanness. We mark here a progress and a development, as compared with the former occasion when Jesus had publicly spoken on the same subject. Formerly, He had treated the ordinance of the Elders as a matter not binding; now, He showed how this externalism militated against thoughts of the internal and spiritual. Formerly, He had shown how traditionalism came into conflict with the written Law of God: now, how it superseded the first principles which underlay that Law. Formerly, He had laid down the principle that defilement came not from without inwards, but from within outwards; now, He unfolded this highest principle that higher consecration imparted purity.

The same principle, indeed, would apply to other things, such as to the Rabbinic law of tithing. At the same time it may have been, as already suggested, that something which had previously taken place, or was the subject of conversation at table, had given occasion for the further remarks of Christ. Thus, the Pharisee may have wished to convey his rebuke of Christ by referring to the subject of tithing. And such covert mode of rebuking was very common among the Jews. It was regarded as utterly defiling to eat of that which had not been tithed. Indeed, the three distinctions of a Pharisee were: not to make use nor to partake of anything that had not been tithed; to observe the laws of purification; and, as a consequence of these two, to abstain from familiar intercourse with all non-Pharisees. This separation formed the ground of their claim to distinction. It will be noticed that it is exactly to these three things our Lord adverts: so that these sayings of His are not, as might seem, unconnected, but in the strictest internal relationship. Our Lord shows how Pharisaism, as regarded the outer, was connected with the opposite tendency as regarded the inner man: outward purification with ignorance of the need of that inward purity, which consisted in God-consecration, and with the neglect of it; strictness of outward tithing with ignorance and neglect of the principle which underlay it, viz., the acknowledgment of God’s right over mind and heart (judgment and the love of God); while, lastly, the Pharisaic pretence of separation, and consequent claim to distinction, issued only in pride and self-assertion. Thus, tried by its own tests, Pharisaism terribly failed. It was hypocrisy, although that word was not mentioned till afterwards;  and that both negatively and positively: the concealment of what it was, and the pretension to what it was not. And the Pharisaism which pretended to the highest purity, was, really, the greatest impurity – the defilement of graves, only covered up, not to be seen of men!

It was at this point that one of ‘the Scribes’ at table broke in. Remembering in what contempt some of the learned held the ignorant bigotry of the Pharisees, we can understand that he might have listened with secret enjoyment to denunciations of their ‘folly.’ As the common saying had it, ‘the silly pietist,’ ‘a woman Pharisee,’ and the (self-inflicted) ‘blows of Pharisaism,’ were among the plagues of life. And we cannot help feeling, that there is sometimes a touch of quiet humour in the accounts which the Rabbis give of the encounters between the Pharisees and their opponents. But, as the Scribe rightly remarked, by attacking, not merely their practice, but their principles, the whole system of traditionalism, which they represented, was condemned. And so the Lord assuredly meant it. The ‘Scribes’ were the exponents of the traditional law those who bound and loosed in Israel. They did bind on heavy burdens, but they never loosed one; all those grievous burdens of traditionalism they laid on the poor people, but not the slightest effort did they make to remove any of them. Tradition, yes! the very profession of it bore witness against them. Tradition, the ordinances that had come down – they would not reform nor put aside anything, but claim and proclaim all that had come down from the fathers as a sacred inheritance to which they clung. So be it! let them be judged by their own words. The fathers had murdered the prophets, and they built their sepulchres; that, also, was a tradition – that of guilt which would be avenged. Tradition, learning, exclusiveness – alas! it was only taking away from the poor the key of knowledge; and while they themselves entered not by ‘the door’ into the Kingdom, they hindered those who would have gone in. And truly so did they prove that theirs was the inheritance, the ‘tradition,’ of guilt in hindering and banishing the Divine teaching of old, and murdering its Divine messengers.

There was a terrible truth and solemnity in what Jesus spake, and in the Woe which He denounced on them. The history of the next few months would bear witness how truly they had taken upon them this tradition of guilt; and all the after-history of Israel shows how fully this ‘Woe’ has come upon them. But, after such denunciations, the entertainment in the Pharisee’s house must have been broken up. The Christ was too terribly in earnest – too mournfully so over those whom they hindered from entering the Kingdom, to bear with the awful guilt of their trivialities. With what feelings they parted from Him, appears from the sequel.

‘And when He was come out from thence, the Scribes and the Pharisees began to press upon Him vehemently, and to provoke Him to speak of many things; laying wait for Him, to catch something out of His Mouth.’