Libations in the New Testament: About a Forgotten Ritual

Libations can be seen as forgotten rituals in the texts of the New Testament. In the last decades, New Testament scholarship has drawn only little attention to this topic. It is significant for instance that there is no entry “libation” in the relevant encyclopedias such as the Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum and the Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 4th edition. References to libation rituals in the Greek text of the New Testament are often concealed by the translations – not only in German and English translations but also in the Latin Vulgata. Moreover, depending on the completeness of my overview survey of the literature in Classics there are currently no comprehensive studies analyz-ing the complex and diverse practice of pouring out libations on the one hand and describing the ex-act relation to the ancient concept of “sacrifice” on the other hand. From this perspective, it seems to be appropriate to give an overview of the relevant passages in the NT that refer to a libation ritual. A short draft for systematizing libation rituals in the Greco-Roman world obtained on the basis of an-cient sources should serve as heuristic tool for the analysis of the New Testament data. The paper includes some methodological reflections on the relation of texts and the specific ritual of pouring out libations during meals as well as considerations on theological implications of libations in New Tes-tament texts. In this regard, the question has to be asked if the particular liquid (e. g. wine or water) is given a specific significance. In sum, the paper has three main goals: 1) to explain why references to libations in the New Testament texts were often ignored by scholarship as well as in the history of reception; 2) to outline perspectives for the interpretation of the references to libations in the New Testament and to determine the relation to early Christian meal practice; 3) to name questions for further research.