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The Protocol of Hospitality in the Ancient Near East

  1. There is a sphere of hospitality that comprises a zone of obligation for both the individual and the village or town within which people have the responsibility to offer hospitality to strangers. The size of the zone is of course smaller for the individual than for the urban center.
  2. The stranger must be transformed from potential threat to ally by the offer of hospitality.
  3. The invitation of hospitality can be offered only by the male head of household or a male citizen of the town or village.
  4. The invitation may include a statement about the duration of hospitality, but this can then by extended, if agreeable to both parties, on the renewed invitation of the host.
  5. The stranger has the right of refusal, but this could be considered an affront to the honor of the host and could be cause for immediate hostilities or conflict.
  6. Once the invitation is accepted, the roles of the host and guest are set by the rules of custom.
    1. The guest must not ask for anything.
    2. The host provides the best available in the household--despite what may be modestly offered in the initial invitation of hospitality.
    3. The guest is expected to reciprocate with news, predictions of good fortune, or gracious responses based on what the guest has been given.
    4. The host must not ask personal questions of the guest.
  7. The guest remains under the protection of the host until he/she has left the zone of obligation of the host.

(from Victor H.Matthews, Judges and Ruth (New Cambridge Bible Commentary 2004 p.68-89)

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