[B-Greek] trapeza

Randall Buth randallbuth at gmail.com
Mon Oct 1 05:58:16 EDT 2007

Interspersed below
On 10/1/07, John Lupia <jlupia2 at yahoo.com> wrote:
> --- Randall Buth <randallbuth at gmail.com> wrote:
> > John egrapse
> > >The earliest Christian altars (TRAPEZA) were of
> > wood, and identical in form
> > with the ordinary house
> > > tables. The tables represented in the Eucharistic
> > frescoes of the
> > catacombs enable us to obtain an idea
> > > of their appearance. The most ancient, as well as
> > the most remarkable, of
> > these frescoes, that of the
> > > Fractio Panis found in the Capella Greca, which
> > dates from the first
> > decades of the second century,
> > > shows seven persons seated on a semi-circular
> > divan before a table of the
> > same form. The verse from
> > > Acts 6 could mean that deacons served at altars to
> > help assist the priests
> > during liturgy. Lexicons
> > > should give all meanings and cite sources and
> > their dates to inform us of
> > both the synchronic and
> > > diachronic meanings and for the diachronic give
> > dates.>
> >
> > I would recommend staying away from TRAPEZA as
> > 'altar'. In antiquity tables
> > were for commonly for food, like the couch with
> > seven people around the
> > table that you mention, while altars were for
> > burning offerings.
> Altars were used for burnt offerings by ancient Near
> and Middle Easterners from pre-biblical times into the
> Jewish tradition of the first century. Christians did
> not follow the Jewish tradition of burnt offerings on
> altars. Do you know of any evidence to show early
> Christians using an altar for burnt offerings?

A small correction is necessary: Jews did not offer burnt offerings on
altarS, either. Notice the plural. They had an altar in the temple in
Jerusalem, and in a grey status, they had an altar in the Oniad temple in
Egypt, contemporary with the Jerusalem temple.

A large
> > 'wooden altar' would be a single-use disposable
> > item, burning up on use.
> > Anyway, it would be difficult to think of a
> > "Christian altar" in Acts, where
> > all the tens of thousands of believers [thus, the
> > Greek] were still using a
> > real altar in Acts 21:18-27, even a couple of
> > decades later from Acts 6.
> The text you cite relates to dietary regulations
> admonishing the converts to abstain from eating
> sacrificed animals, etc. Can you provide evidence to
> show the early church used altars of burnt sacrifices?

(First, the plural 'altars' needs correction as above.)
If you read that passage more carefully you will find that the church
leaders are recommending the use of the altar in the Jerusalem temple, and
as something considered ordinary and acceptable. I "underlined" the MYRIADES
... PANTES ... (ALL the TENS of thousands) because it is regularly downsized
in English translations and often explained as a faction within the larger
group. [[Note the incorrect numbers of the NET Bible at Ac 21:20: <<Grk "how
many thousands there are among the Jews."  "How many thousands of Jews." See
Acts 2–5 for the accounts of their conversion, esp. 2:41 and 4:4. Estimates
of the total number of Jews living in Jerusalem at the time range from
20,000 to 50,000.>>]] Whether or not 'all the tens-of-thousands' were only a
faction, or whether MYRIADES is a metaphor, the text presents it as the
whole group of 'believers'. Background info: 'paying for the vows' meant
'paying for the [burnt-offering] sacrifices connected with nazirite vows.'
This could only be fulfilled in the temple because that was the only place
for legitimate burnt offerings or a legitimate altar. And that is what they
used to do, according to Acts 21.  There were quite a few stipulations that
required sacrifice in the temple, cf. Luke 2:22-24 for one example, and Acts
21 implies that these obligations were being followed by the Jerusalem
church around 60 CE. (I know that this may sound strange in the light of
later Christian practice, but it is the text, and Luke's report. the list is
for discussing the text and its language, not for justifying or integrating
into larger interpretive frameworks.)

> > the lexica are OK as they stand.
> > A TRAPEZA is not a QYSIASTHRION, nor would
> > lexicographers care to mix them.
> I agree that an altar (TRAPEZA) is not always the same
> thing as an altar (QYSIASTHRION).

Good, TRAPEZA and QYSIASTHRION are different, though you haven't established
that TRAPEZA communicates the meaning 'altar' in the first century.

> For the former see 1
> Cor 10:21 trapeza kyriou; for the latter see Heb
> 13:10, where the author draws a parallel to the LXX
> use of the word for Noah's altar. So, a QYSIASTHRION
> can be a burnt offering altar, as it clearly is in
> ancient and pre-biblical times and a non-burnt
> offering altar as in the first century church.

The 1 Cor reference is a table, and the Heb 13 reference is not necessarily
on this planet and does not claim to be a table. (Hebrews uses a lot of
'heavenly imagery' and spiritual metaphor.)

> Eastern Fathers sometimes use the word QYSIASTHRION
> for a church altar, but preferred TRAPEZA. See Lampe.

As Fr. Silver illustrates, even in later Greek church practice the
QYSTIASTHRION was separated from the TRAPEZA, though one must remember that
in any casse the nomenclature is a typological extension.

> > In the other direction, tables were also made of
> > stone. We have them in the
> > archaeological record in the Land. This was of
> > special benefit to a family
> > because a stone utensil does not become unclean in
> > Jewish halaxa.
> Interesting.

The point of the discussion is to keep chronology in line, as you had
requested, not to discuss the merits of a typological comparison. To compare
a table to an altar or temple or anything else is fine on its own. And I
appreciate learning of various traditions as outlined in Fr. Silver's
description. But anachronisms must be avoided when reading an old text.
Please note, the fact that a later reading can be read into an earlier
passage is characteristic of anachronistic readings. One must start from the
other direction, from the contemporary background, how would one read
something? Does the previous background sustain the reading and usage, or
has a 'quantum change' occurred? The first century is pretty clear on this.
As for liturgical usage in Greek, I am not a church historian, though from
both your comments about the continued consistency of usage of TRAPEZA in
Greek and from the separate use of QYSIASTHRION in the Greek ecclesiastical
tradition, it would appear that a considerable period of time passed during
which a TRAPEZA was still a 'table'.

Back to Acts 6, you may be interested in the Theodotou synagogue
inscription, where the patron is third generation and whose father has a
Roman name, suggesting that he have been a freed slave and that the
synagogue was perhaps a type of the 'freed-men' synagogue mentioned in Acts
6. One of the functions of the synagogue was
a place of hospitality (prseumably including food on tables) and as a

Finally, the context of Acts 6 is a 'distribution of food to widows' and the
leaders not wanting to be involved with 'waiting on tables', presumably
related to these food questions. the normal use of table makes immediate
sense and Relevance Theory, a kind of Occam's razor, would stop the search
for additional meanings of the pshat (plain sense) at this point.

Randall Buth

Randall Buth, PhD
χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη πληθυνθείη
שלום לכם וברכות
ybitan at mscc.huji.ac.il
randallbuth at gmail.com

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