Egypt, Israel, and the Ancient Mediterranean World: Studies in Honor of Donald B. Redford

By Gary N. Knoppers; Antoine Hirsch | Go to book overview

SOME THOUGHTS ON RITUAL BANQUETS AT THE
COURT OF AKHENATEN AND IN THE ANCIENT
NEAR EAST

Lyn Green

Donald Redford's fame as a doyen of Amarna studies made him the ideal supervisor for a student beginning a dissertation on the royal women of Amarna. His encouragement and enthusiasm sustained me throughout the rather harrowing process of writing a thesis. He also inspired me with his notions that cross-cultural comparisons and cross-disciplinary scholarship produced the best results. Knowing his interest in all the cultures of the ancient Near East, I hope he enjoys this offering.

In many ancient cultures, the acts of eating, sharing and offering food were imbued with complex symbolism. For example, in early and classical Greek culture, special terms designated those whose eating habits differed from the norm,1 or whose consumption of food had particular significance.2 Similarly, foods offered to human dinner guests and to the gods in temples often differed in quantity and content, as well as presentation. Similarly, ordinary domestic meals differ from “feasts” and other ritual or ceremonial meals. All these acts were formalized in some way by custom, etiquette, ceremony or ritual,3 but the implications of apparently similar actions could be

1 See, e.g., James Davidson “Opsophagia: Revolutionary Eating at Athens,” in
Food in Antiquity (ed. John Wilkins, D. Harvey and M. Dobson; Exeter: University of
Exeter Press, 1995) 204–13.

2 E.g., Louise Bruit Zaidman,“Ritual Eating in Archaic Greece: Parasites and
Paradroi,” in Food in Antiquity (ed. John Wilkins, David Harvey and Mike Dobson;
Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1995) 196–203.

3 I have noted a distinction made between the use of the terms “ritual” and
“ceremonial” in various anthropological sources. For example, Abner Cohen speaks
of the ease with which “the ritual behaviour merges indistinguishably with so-called
ceremonial behaviour,” The Two-Dimensional Man: An Essay on the Anthropology of Power
and Symbolism in Complex Society
(London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1974) 3. Gener-
ally, “ritual” is a term used of activities pertaining to religious beliefs, or of an event
which is “a central element of life crisis ceremonies such as initiations, weddings and
burials,” Michael Ditler and Brian Hayden, “Digesting the Feast: Good to Eat, Good
to Drink, Good to Think: An Introduction,” Feasts: Archaeological and Ethnographic Per

-203-

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