An echo back 150 years
Professor Horatio Hackett visited Israel about 150 years ago and his book is a fascinating glimpse into the world of that time with a view to better understanding the Bible. He noted the hospitality in his own time. He said the following about Middle Eastern hospitality. “A regard for the rights of hospitality still distinguishes the natives of the East. A stranger cast by any accident upon their kindness seldom has occasion to complain of cruelty or neglect. To receive freely such civilities as their simple mode of life may enable them to extend to him. Having lost our way, after leaving Samaria at a late hour in the afternoon, and being overtaken by night, without our tents, which had been sent forward in another direction, we were obliged to seek shelter in an Arab village among the mountains. I inquired of the guide, when the necessity of this course was stated, whether we could expect a favorable reception, especially as it was a part of the country where foreigners are seldom seen. Of that he assured us we need have no doubt; for every village, he said, has a house appropriated to the use of strangers; an understanding exists that some particular family shall always be ready to receive them under their roof. We were not disappointed. On reaching the place, the guide inquired of the first man that we met, for the Menzel (the name of the stranger’s house); the villager went forward at once and showed us the way thither. No hesitation or parleying ensued. The gate of the court was thrown open, we entered, were established in the best room, which the house afforded, and supplied with milk and bread, all that we asked for or needed. No compensation or present is expected in such cases.
More testimonies of Middle Eastern hospitality
Other travelers bear testimony to this trait of the oriental character. Dr. Shaw, who traveled so extensively in Northern Africa and Asia says: In most of the inland towns and villages is a house set apart for the reception of strangers, with a proper officer to attend to them; there they are lodged and entertained, for one night, at the expense of the community.” In the Hauran (modern day Jordan), east of the Jordan, says Mr. Elliot, ‘a Syrian never thinks it necessary to carry with him on a journey any money for food or lodging, as he is sure to be supplied without it. Our money was sometimes refused, and never asked for; nor can there be a doubt that we should have been received and welcomed in almost every house of the Hauran.”
Now Hackett connects this idea to a Scriptural passage from Luke’s Gospel in a very ingenious way. We who live overseas never having set foot in Israel can’t see these nuances that Hackett (and others) have seen in traveling in this country.
He continues: “There is an incident in the life of the Saviour which connects itself with this usage. In one of his journeys to Jerusalem, in passing through Samaria, he sent messengers, towards the close of the day, no doubt into a certain village to prepare a night’s lodging; the people, offended because he was going to Jerusalem, whereas they held Gerezim (a mountain in Nablus holy to the Samaritans to this day) to be the proper place of worship, refused to receive him. This treatment was not only an incivility, but a violation of the rights of hospitality. The Saviour and his friends, acquiring to the recognized laws of oriental civilization, had a claim to be entertained in some house in that village. It was this view of the outrage, unquestionably, which excited James and John. They asked if they should not command fire to come down from heaven and consume the inhospitable Samaritans. I must quote, also, the reply of him who spake as never man spake. ‘He turned and rebuked them, and said, you know not what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. See Luke 9:51-56.” (Illustrations of Scripture suggested by a tour through the Holy Land by Horatio Hackett – 1863 – pgs. 72-74)