Ancient Jewish Reading Practices and the Greco-Roman Meal Tradition

Studies in the last decades emphasized the existence of a common meal tradition shared by many ancient Greco-Roman cultures and societies. On the basis of ancient Jewish and especially Hellenistic-Jewish sources, my paper will examine ancient Jewish reading practices in the context of meals. Since it is increasingly acknowledged that regular and institutionalized Torah reading practices existed in the ancient synagogue only from the fifth century C.E. onwards with a wide distribution, studies on ancient Christian ritual and worship argue increasingly that Christian liturgical reading practices originated from the background of a broader ancient Greco-Roman culture rather than from ancient Judaism. However, my paper will argue that the development of ancient Jewish practices of liturgical reading has to be explained too against the background of the Greco-Roman culture. While the tradition of common and regular Torah readings as lectio continua in synagogues cannot be taken for granted in ancient Judaism, I will show that non-institutionalized and non-liturgical reading practices during meals should be regarded as a determining influencing factor for the later development of synagogues’ reading practices. Hence, my paper will trace and evaluate examples of how Torah was read and discussed during meals as witnessed by sources as Philo of Alexandria, Titus Flavius Josephus, the Third Book of Maccabees, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and archeological evidence. More broadly, my presentation may furthermore deliver proof of shared reading practices in both ancient Jewish and early Christian communities. With its emphasis on Jewish-Hellenistic sources, my paper may be a useful complement to seminar papers on other traditions like the pagan Greco-Roman world, ancient Christian communities, and later Rabbinic ideology.