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that, in our Saviour's time, the change was so universal in Judea, that the very common people always conformed to it. The multitudes which our Lord twice fed in the desert, are by all the Evangelists represented as lying, not sitting, upon the ground. It is strange that our translators have here, by misinterpreting one word, as invariably exhibited them practising a custom which they had abandoned, as they had formerly, by the unwarranted and unnecessary change of a name, given ground to think that there was an alteration in their customs, when there was
♡ 4. I know it is commonly pleaded in excuse for such deviations from the original, as that whereof I am now speaking, that the posture is a circumstance noway material to the right understanding of the passages wherein it is occasionally mentioned ; that besides, to us moderns, there appears in the expressions lying down to eat, and laying themselves at table, from their repugnancy to our customs, an awkwardness which, so far from contributing to fix our minds on the principal scope of the author, would divert our attention from it. In answer to the first of these objections, I admit that it is sometimes, not always, as will soon be shown, of no consequence to the import of a passage, whether a mere circumstance, which is but occasionally mentioned, and on which the instruction conveyed in the story does not depend, be rightly apprehended or not. The two miracles of the loaves and fishes are to all valuable purposes the
same, whether the people partook of their repast sitting or lying. The like may be said of the greater part of such narratives. For this reason I do not except against a general expression, as, placed themselves at table, where a literal version would be attended with the inconvenience of appearing unnatural : but I could never approve, for the sake of elegance or simplicity, a version which, in effect, misrepresents the original ; or, in other words, from which one may fairly deduce inferences that are not conformable to fact. Concerning the other exception, I cannot help observing, that it is only be. cause the expression lying at table is unusual, that it appears awkward. If the first translators of the Bible into English had thought fit, in this instance, to keep close to the original, the phrases would not now have sounded awkwardly. But it must be owned that no translators enjoy at present equal advantages with those who had, in a manner, the forming of our language, in regard to things sacred. Their versions, by being widely dispersed, would soon give a currency to the terms used in them, which there was then no contrary use to counterbalance. And this is the reason why many things which might have been better rendered then, cannot now so well be altered.
5. But to show that even such errors in translating, however trivial they may appear, are some. times highly injurious to the sense, and render a plain story not only incredible but absurd, I must
entreat the reader's attention to the following passage, as it runs in the common version 30 : One of the Pharisees desired Jesus that he would eat with him; and he went into the Pharisee's house, and sat down to meat. And behold a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, and stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. Now a reader of any judgment will need to reflect but a moment to discover, that what is here told is impossible. If Jesus and others were in our manner sitting together at table, the woman could not be behind them, when doing what is here recorded. She must in that case, on the contrary, have been under the table. The chairs, on which the guests were seated, would have effectually precluded access from behind. It is said also that she stood, while she bathed his feet with tears, wiped them with the hairs of her head, anointed and kissed them. Another manifest absurdity. On the supposition of their sitting, she must have been at least kneeling, if not lying on the floor. These inconsistencies instantly disappear, when the Evangelist is allowed to speak for himself, who, instead of saying that Jesus sat down, says expressly that he lay down, avexaian. And to prevent, if possible, a circumstance being
mistaken or overlooked, on which the practicability of the thing depended, he repeats it by a synonymous term in the
" When she knew that “ Jesus lay at table,” avaxeital. The knowledge of their manner at meals makes every thing in this story level to an ordinary capacity.
8 6. At their feasts, matters were commonly ordered thus: Three couches were set in the form of the Greek letter II, the table was placed in the middle, the lower end whereof was left open, to give access to the servants, for setting and removing the dishes, and serving the guests. The other three sides were inclosed by the couches, whence it got the name of triclinium. The middle couch, which lay along the upper end of the table, and was there . fore accounted the most honourable place, and that which the Pharisees are said particularly to have affected, was distinguished by the name apwtoxicial. The
person intrusted with the direction of the entertainment was called apxutpexhivos, 32. The guests lay with their feet backwards, obliquely, across the couches, which were covered, for their better accommodation, with such sort of cloth, or tapestry, as suited the quality of the entertainer. As it was ne
cessary, for the conveniency of eating, that the · couches should be somewhat higher than the table, the guests have probably been raised by them three feet, and upwards, from the floor. When these
31 Matth. xxii. 6.
32 John, ii. 8.
particulars are taken into consideration, every cir. cumstance of the story becomes perfectly consistent and intelligible. This also removes the difficulty there is in the account given, by John , of the paschal supper, where Jesus being set, as our translators render it, at table, one of his disciples is said, in one verse, to have been leaning on his bosom, and in another, to have been lying on his breast. Though these attitudes are incompatible with our mode of sitting at meals, they were naturally consequent upon theirs. As they lay forwards, in a direction somewhat oblique, feeding themselves with their right hand, and leaning on their left arm; they no sooner intermitted, and reclined a little, than the head of each came close to the breast of him who was next on the left. Now, a circumstance (however frivolous in itself) cannot be deemed of no consequence, which serves to throw light upon the sacred pages, and solve difficulties, otherwise inextricable. This case, though not properly requiring the use of any ancient or foreign name, I could not help considering minutely in this place, on account of its affinity with the other topics of which I had been treating
07. I SHALL add a few things, on the manner adopted by other translators in rendering what relates to this usage. With regard to the Latin versions, it may naturally be supposed, that the Vulgate would