The Lost Commandments: The Sacred Rites of Hospitality

Hospitality refers to the relationship between a host and a guest. It is a sacred duty that demonstrates how the host and guest should treat each other; people in both roles have certain reciprocal responsibilities. The setting is also important. In most cases, hospitality takes place in the host’s dwelling; the host offers his home as a haven. However, hospitality is much more than an evening dinner date at home with friends. As will be shown, hospitality has expansive applications. For example, because there were no hotels or passports in the ancient world, at least not as we know them today, merchants or travelers in distant lands needed a host who would not only give them a place to stay, but would also take legal responsibility for them. Hosts would vouch for their guests’ character while introducing them to local officials or to other merchants in the marketplace. Hosts became essentially the agents of these strangers. Hospitality, therefore, became a powerful bond of trust and even a contractual agreement. Out of this relationship grew a cultural formality that rose to the status of ritual—not in the sense of an official religious ordinance (this article does not intend the words rite and covenant to mean a formal covenant)—but hospitality bespoke a sacred ethos that both the guest and host, if they were honorable, were careful to follow.

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