Of the Pictures of Eastern Nations, and the Jews at their Feasts, especially our Saviour at the Passover.

CONCERNING the pictures of the Jews, and Eastern Nations at their Feasts, concerning the gesture of our Saviour at the Passover, who is usually described sitting upon a stoole or bench at a square table, in the middest of the twelve, many make great doubt; and (though they concede a table-gesture[1]) will hardly allow this usuall way of Session.

Wherein restraining no mans enquiry, it will appear that accubation, or lying down at meals was a gesture used by very many Nations. That the Persians used it, beside the testimony of humane Writers, is deducible from that passage in Esther.2 That when the Kindg returned unto the place of the banquet of wine, Haman was fallen upon the bed whereon Esther was. That the Parthians used it, is evident from Athenæus, who delivereth out of Possidonius, that their King lay down at meals, on an higher bed then others. That Cleopatra thus entertained Anthony, the same Author manifesteth when he saith, she prepared twelve Tricliniums. That it was in use among the Greeks, the word Triclinium implieth, and the same is also declarable from many places in the Symposiacks of Plutarch. That it was not out of fashion in the days of Aristotle, he declareth in his politicks; when among the Institutionary rules of youth, he adviseth they might not be permitted to heare Iambicks and Tragedies before they were admitted unto discumbency or lying along with others at their meals. That the Romans used this gesture at repast, beside many more, is evident from Lipsius, Mercurialis, Salmasius, and Ciaconius, who have expresly and distinctly treated hereof.

Now of their accumbing places, the one was called Stibadion and Sigma, carrying the figure of an half Moon, and of an uncertain capacity, whereupon it received the name of Hexaclinon, Octoclinon, according unto that of Martial,[3]

Accipe Lunata scriptum testudine Sigma:
Octo capit, veniat quisquis amicus erit.

Hereat in several ages the left and right horn were the principal places, and the most honorable person, if he were not master of the feast, possessed one of those rooms. The other was termed Triclinium, that is, Three beds about a table, as may be seen in the figures thereof, and particularly in the Rhamnusian Triclinium, set down by Mercurialis.4 The customary use hereof was probably deduced from the frequent use of bathing, after which they commonly retired to bed, and refected themselves with repast; and so that custom by degrees changed their cubiculary beds into discubitory, and introduced a fashion to go from the bathes unto these.

As for their gesture or position, the men lay down leaning on their left elbow, their back being advanced by some pillow or soft substance: the second lay so with his back towards the first, that his head attained about his bosom; and the rest in the same order: For women, they sat sometimes distinctly with their sex, sometime promiscuously with men, according to affection or favour, as is delivered by Juvenal[5]

Gremio jacuit nova nupta mariti.

And by Suetonius of Caligula, that at his feasts he placed his sisters, with whom he had been incontinent, successively in order below him.

Again, As their beds were three, so the guests did not usually exceed that number in every one; according to the ancient Laws, and proverbial observations to begin with the Graces, and make up their feasts with the Muses. And therefore it was remarkable in the Emperour Lucius Verus,[6] that he lay down with twelve: which was, saith Julius Capitolinus, præter exempla majorum, not according to the custom of his Predecessors, except it were at publick and nuptial suppers. The regular number was also exceeded in this last supper, whereat there were no lesse than thirteen, and in no place fewer then ten, for, as Josephus delivereth, it was not lawful to celebrate the Passover with fewer than that number.[7]

Lastly, For the disposing and ordering of the persons: The first and middle beds were for the guests, the third and lowest for the Master of the house and his family; he always lying in the first place of the last bed, that is, next the middle bed; but if the wife and children were absent, their rooms were supplied by the Umbræ, or hangers on, according to that of Juvenal[8]Locus est & pluribus Umbris. For the guests, the honourablest place in every bed was the first, excepting the middle or second bed; wherein the most honourable Guest of the feast was placed in the last place, because by that position he might be next the Master of the feast.9 For the Master lying in the first of the last bed, and the principal Guest in the last place of the second, they must needs be next each other; as this figure doth plainly declare, and whereby we may apprehend the feast of Perpenna made unto Sertorius, described by Salustius, whose words we shall thus read with Salmasius: Igitur discubuere, Sertorius inferior in medio lecto, supra Fabius; Antonius in summo; Infra Scriba Sertorii Versius, alter scriba Mæcenas in Imo, medius inter Tarquitium & Dominum Perpennam.

Chart showing seating positions

At this feast there were but seven; the middle places of the highest and middle bed being vacant; and hereat was Sertorius the General and principal guest slain. And so may we make out what is delivered by Plutarch in his life, that lying on his back, and raising himself up, Perpenna cast himself upon his stomack; which he might very well do, being Master of the feast, and lying next unto him.10 And thus also from this Tricliniary disposure, we may illustrate that obscure expression of Seneca; That the Northwind was in the middle, the North-East on the higher side, and the North-West on the lower. For as appeareth in the circle of the winds, the North-East will answer the bed of Antonius, and the North-West that of Perpenna.

That the custom of feasting upon beds was in use among the Hebrews, many deduce from Ezekiel.11 Thou sattest upon a stately bed, and a table prepared before it. The custom of Discalceation or putting off their shoes at meals, is conceived to confirm the same; as by that means keeping their beds clean; and therefore they had a peculiar charge to eat the Passover with their shoes on; which Injunction were needless, if they used not to put them off.12 However it were in times of high antiquity, probable it is that in after ages they conformed unto the fashions of the Assyrians and Eastern Nations, and lastly of the Romans, being reduced by Pompey unto a Provincial subjection.

That this discumbency at meals was in use in the days of our Saviour, is conceived probable from several speeches of his expressed in that phrase, even unto common Auditors, as Luke 14. Cum invitatus fueris ad nuptias, non discumbas in primo loco,[13] and besides many more, Matthew 23. When reprehending the Scribes and Pharises, he saith, Amant protoclisias, id est, primos recubitus in cænis, & protocathedrias, sive, primas cathedras, in Synagogis: wherein the terms are very distinct, and by an Antithesis do plainly distinguish the posture of sitting, from this of lying on beds.[14] The consent of the Jews with the Romans in other ceremonies and rites of feasting, makes probable their conformity in this. The Romans washed, were anointed, and wore a cenatory garment: and that the same was practised by the Jews, is deduceable from that expostulation of our Saviour with Simon,15 that he washed not his feet, nor anointed his head with oyl: the common civilities at festival entertainments: and that expression of his16 concerning the cenatory or wedding garment; and as some conceive of the linnen garment of the young man or St. John; which might be the same he wore the night before at the last Supper.[17]

That they used this gesture at the Passover, is more than probable from the testimony of Jewish Writers, and particularly of Ben-maimon recorded by Scaliger De emendatione temporum. After the second cup according to the Institution.18 The Son asketh, what meaneth this service? Then he that maketh the declaration saith, How different is this night from all other nights! for all other nights we wash but once, but this night twice; all other we eat leavened or unleavened bread, but this only leavened; all other we eat flesh roasted, boyled, or baked, but this only roasted; all other nights we eat together lying or sitting, but this only lying along. And this posture they used as a token of rest and security which they enjoyed. far different from that, at the eating of the Passover in Ægypt.

That this gesture was used when our Saviour eat the Passover, is not conceived improbable from the words where by the Evangelists expresse the same, that is, ἀναπίπειν, ἀνακεῖθαι, κατακεῖσθαι, ἀνακλιθῆναι,[19] which terms do properly signifie, this Gesture in Aristotle, Athenæus, Euripides, Sophocles, and all humane Authors; and the like we meete with in the paraphrastical expression of Nonnus.

Lastly, If it be not fully conceded, that this gesture was used at the Passover, yet that it was observed at the last supper, seems almost incontrovertible: for at this feast or cenatory convention, learned men make more than one supper, or at least many parts thereof. The first was that Legal one of the Passover, or eating of the Paschal Lamb with bitter herbs, and ceremonies described by Moses. Of this it is said,20 that when the even was come he sat down with the twelve. This is supposed when it is said,21 that the Supper being ended, our Saviour arose, took a towel and washed the disciples feet. The second was common and Domestical, consisting of ordinary and undefined provisions; of this it may be said, that our Saviour took his garment, and sat down again, after he had washed the Disciples feet, and performed the preparative civilities of suppers; at this 'tis conceived the sop was given unto Judas, the Original word implying some broath or decoction, not used at the Passover.22 The third or latter part was Eucharistical, which began at the breaking and blessing of the bread, according to that of Matthew, And as they were eating, Jesus took bread and blessed it.

Now although at the Passover or first supper, many have doubted this Reclining posture, and some have affirmed that our Saviour stood; yet that he lay down at the other, the same men have acknowledged, as Chrysostom, Theophylact, Austin, and many more. And if the tradition will hold, the position is unquestionable; for the very Triclinium is to be seen at Rome, brought thither by Vespasian, and graphically set forth by Casalius.23

Thus may it properly be made out; what is delivered, John 13.[24] Erat recumbens unus ex Discipulis ejus in sinu Jesu quem diligebat; Now there was leaning on Jesus bosom one of his Disciples whom Jesus loved; which gesture will not so well agree unto the position of sitting, but is natural, and cannot be avoided in the Laws of accubation. And the very same expression is to be found in Pliny, concerning the Emperour Nerva and Veiento whom he favoured;[25] Coenabat Nerva cum paucis, Veiento recumbebat propius atque etiam in sinu; and from this custom arose the word ἐπιστήθιος, that is, a near and bosom friend. And therefore Casaubon26 justly rejecteth Theophylact;[27] who not considering the ancient manner of decumbency, imputed this gesture of the beloved Disciple unto Rusticity, or an act of incivility. And thus also have some conceived, it may be more plainly made out what is delivered of Mary Magdalen,28 That she stood at Christs feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head. Which actions, if our Saviour sat, she could not perform standing, and had rather stood behind his back, than at his feet. And therefore it is not allowable, what is observable in many pieces, and even of Raphael Urbin, wherein Mary Magdalen is pictured before our Saviour, washing his feet on her knees; which will not consist with the strict description and letter of the Text.

Now whereas this position may seem to be discountenanced by our Translation, which usually renders it sitting, it cannot have that illation, for the French and Italian Translations expressing neither position of session or recubation, do only say that he placed himself at the table; and when ours expresseth the same by sitting, it is in relation unto our custom, time, and apprehension. The like upon occasion is not unusual: so when it is said, Luke 4. πτύξας τὸ βιβλίον, and the Vulgar renders it, Cum plicasset librum, ours translateth it, he shut or closed the book; which is an expression proper unto the paginal books of our times, but not so agreeable unto volumes or rolling books in use among the Jews, not only in elder times, but even unto this day. So when it is said, the Samaritan delivered unto the host two pence for the provision of the Levite; and when our Saviour agreed with the Labourers for a penny a day, in strict translation it should be seven pence half penny; and is not to be conceived our common penny, the sixtieth part of an ounce. For the word in the Originall is δηνάριον, in Latine, Denarius, and with the Romans did value the eight part of an ounce, which after five shillings the ounce amounteth unto seven pence half penny of our money.

Lastly, Whereas it might be conceived that they eat the Passover standing rather then sitting, or lying down, according to the Institution, Exod. 12. Thus shall you eat, with your loins girded, your shooes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; the Jews themselves reply, this was not required of succeeding generations, and was not observed, but in the Passover of Ægypt. And so also many other injunctions were afterward omitted, as the taking up of the Paschal Lamb, from the tenth day, the eating of it in their houses dispersed; the striking of the blood on the door posts, and the eating thereof in hast. Solemnities and Ceremonies primatively enjoyned, afterward omitted; as was also this of station, for the occasion ceasing, and being in security, they applied themselves unto gestures in use among them.

Now in what order of recumbency Christ and the Disciples were disposed, is not so easily determined. Casalius from the Lateran Triclinium will tell us, that there being thirteen, five lay down in the first bed, five in the last, and three in the middle bed; and that our Saviour possessed the upper place thereof. That John lay in the same bed seems plain, because he leaned on our Saviours bosom. That Peter made the third in that bed, conjecture is made, because he beckened unto John, as being next him, to ask of Christ, who it was that should betray him. That Judas was not far off seems probable, not only because he dipped in the same dish, but because he was so near, that our Saviour could hand the sop unto him.


* [My or others' notes are in square brackets]; Browne's marginalia is unmarked; {passages or notes from unpublished material by Browne is in curly braces}.

1 [I.e., posture. See this brief note for more on representations of the Last Supper.]

2 Esther 7[.8: Then the king returned out of the palace garden into the place of the banquet of wine; and Haman was fallen upon the bed whereon Esther was. Then said the king, Will he force the queen also before me in the house? As the word went out of king's mouth, they covered Haman's face.]

3 [Martial XIV.lxxxvii ("Stibidia").]

4 Merc. De Arte Gymnastica.

5 [Juvenal Sat. II, 120.]

6 [The banquet was notorious; see Historia Augusta.]

7 [Josephus, The Jewish War, VI.9.iii: the number may not be fewer than ten, and is often as many as twenty, in his day. This was used to perform a census: the number of passover tables gave a rough count of people, minus the impure, ill, and foreigners.]

8 ["Juvenal": thus all editions; actually Horace, Epistulae I.v.28.]

9 Iul. Scalig. familiarium exercitationum Problema 1.

10 [Plutarch in the Life of Sertorius, 26.4.]

11 Ezek. 23.[41: "And satest upon a stately bed, and a table prepared before it, whereupon thou hast set mine incense and mine oil." This is one of a long list of sins of Aholah and Aholibah, Samaria and Jerusalem, that includes whoredom, infanticide, and a host of other things. God definitely seems to disapprove of it, but probably it's more the misuse of the incense and oil than the sitting upon a stately bed.]

12 [Exodus 12.11 And thus shall ye eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste: it is the Lord's passover. (Which would seem to indicate as well that they ate it standing up.)]

13 [Luke 14.8: "When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest room; lest a more honourable man than thou be bidden of him"; the word translated "room" is προτοκλισια, "the first reclining place".]

14 [Matthew 23.6, where the English has once again "uppermost rooms" for προτοκλισια and "chief seats" for προτοκαθεδρια.]

15 Luke 7[44 And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head.
45 Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet.
46 My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment.
47 Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.]

16 Matt. 22. [Another of Jesus' parables illustrating what seems to many of us nearly incomprehensible injustice; but that's not Browne's point. 11ff: And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen.]

17 [Matthew 14: 51 And there followed him a certain young man, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him:
52 And he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked.]

18 Exod. 12.[26, 8, 11, greatly expanded]

19 [Luke 22:14; John 13:12; Matt. 26:20; Mark 14:7]

20 Matth. 26.

21 John 13.

22 [John 13:26-30. The Greek is ψωμίον, a morsel. It is not immediately clear to me why Browne thinks this is implies a broth? Perhaps something like "dunking morsel", which would imply something to be dunked into.]

23 De veterum ritibus. [Giovanni Battista Casali, 1644, De profanis et sacris veteribus ritibus, or De antiquis Romanorum ritibus]

24 [23-26]

25 [The younger Pliny,Epist. IV.22.4 (to Sempronius Rufus).]

26 Not. in Evan. [Here, as often, 1646-1672 have "Causabon", 1686 the correct "Casaubon".]

27 [Wren: Theophilact Bishop of Bulgary, lived 930th yeare of Christe, in which time, the Empire being translated into Germany, and the Maner of Lying at Meales Translated into the maner of Sitting, which was most used among the Northern Nations, gave the Bp. occasion to taxe the Jewish and Romane Forme, of Lying, as uncouth, and uncivil: Every nation preferring their owne Customes, and condemning all other, as Barbarous.]

28 Luke 7.

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