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Greco-Roman Banquets: Applications to Biblical Analysis

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  1. Introduction
  2. Greco-Roman Banquets
  3. Social Purposes and Layout of Banquets
  4. Banquets in the Ministry of Jesus
  5. Banquets in the Writings of Paul
  6. Conclusion
  7. Bibliography

The author of this meager submission once attended a birthday banquet at the local McDonald's establishment in the far southwestern corner of Oklahoma. The highlight of this social outing, which must have included many compelling and edifying moments, consisted of a game in which contestants were forced to stand and drop straws from their mouths in order to land them in awaiting cups on the ground. This event rounded off a long series of rituals which left every attendee with the feeling that he/she had been part of a successful attempt at remembering another child's day of birth.
As socially significant as this party had been, it in no way compares to the complex social implications and expectations which accompanied banquets in the Greco-Roman world. These often extravagant affairs were endeavors which sought to appease more than a six year old anticipating wrapped-up toys, ice-cream and friends. Instead, in a world where personal honor and stratification were of highest significance, banquets functioned as tools for the betterment or detriment of everyone involved. An examination of these diverse but common dinners will undoubtedly lead to a deeper understanding of New Testament teachings, specifically those concerning table fellowship and feasts, by providing important historical background.

[...] Even a very large house would normally have only one or two dining rooms (triclina), which would not accommodate everyone, so the poorer latecomers are forced to eat separately from the wealthier members and to scrounge for leftovers.[9] The prominent Corinthians are having trouble letting go of their old Greco-Roman ideas of social net-worth, and Paul is forced to step in and reprimand them and show the purpose, importance, and correct way of breaking bread with every member of the body, not noticing economics or hierarchy. [...]

[...] Leuven: Peeters Smith, Dennis E. From Symposium to Eucharist. Minneapolis: Fortress Press Thiessen, Gerd. The Social Setting of Pauline Christianity. Philadelphia: Fortress Press Smith Dennis, E. and Hal E. Taussig. Many Tables: The Eucharist in the New Testament and Liturgy Today. Philadelphia: SCM Press Tidball, Derek. The Social Context of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Academie Books Willis, Wendell Lee. ?Idol Meat in Corinth?. in SBL Dissertation Series ed. Talbert, Charles. Chico: Scholars Press Smith, Symposium Katherine M. D. Dunbabin, Graeco More [...]

[...] If Smith's proposal is true, then one's understanding of Greco-Roman banquets proves to be even more intriguing and important while reading specific biblical texts. Social Purposes and Layout of Banquets As to the purpose and layout of these banquets, an examination, though generalized and condensed, will hopefully prove enlightening for one's interpretation of a number of New Testament passages. Banquets in the world in which the first disciples of Christ found themselves might be broadly understood as physical manifestations of commonly understood societal structuring. [...]

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