“Ben Sira’s comments attest to the gap between the way he wanted guests to behave at banquets and reality”

Ben Sira, too, recognized that banquets were likely places for conflicts to be born, and that these might be hard to resolve, 31:30: “Drunkenness increases the anger of the fool to his injury.” In an oriental context, however, the social dynamics were different: an oriental banquet was not a party given for aristocratic equals. Rather, it was the gesture of the grand seigneur, a means of social control by which rank in the hierarchy was established and maintained. A man’s place among the distinguished folk of the city was determined by the sorts of parties he hosted (Sir. 31:23-24), while being invited was a sign of favor, an opportunity to be acculturated in the ways of the great men. In these circumstances, the guests must know how to behave when faced with the rich food they were served, to which they may not have been accustomed (Prov. 23:1-3; Sir. 31:12-14). Guests should also be prudent in speech, not overstepping the limits of proper behavior in the presence of their social superiors (“among the great do not act as their equal,” Sir. 32:9), by not saying things best left unsaid (“do not sin through proud speech,” Sir. 32:12). The bonds to be drawn at such occasions were not intended to unite the guests to each other, so much as they were meant to stress the preeminence of the host and the loyalty of the company to him. For the host to be criticized or otherwise betrayed by his invitees was thus particularly ignominious, as it was a contradiction of the very purpose for which the party had been given. Such disloyalty was a disastrous breach of expectation, and a cause of dishonor for both the host and guest. This shame is reflected in the remarks of the seer, commenting on the fate of Ptolemy VI in Dan. 11:26: “Even those who eat his rich food shall be his undoing.” A conflict born in such circumstances was therefore likely to have especially calamitous consequences. In addition, as in the Greek examples above, Ben Sira’s comments attest to the gap between the way he wanted guests to behave at banquets and reality. Many real feuds must have originated at such parties, making them a plausible setting for fictional accounts of vendettas.

Albert I. Baumgarten, “Rabbinic Literature as a Source for the History of Jewish Sectarianism in the Second Temple”, Dead Sea Discoveries, Vol. 2, No. 1 (April 1995), 43-44.