, Vol. 96, No. 2 (Spring 2006) 263–267
From Symposium to Eucharist: The Banquet in the EarlyChristian World.
Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003. Pp. xi
From Symposium to Eucharist: The Banquet in the Early Christian World
bringstogether an impressive array of source material on meal traditions in an-tiquity, focusing on the formal banquet as a social institution in theGreco-Roman world. The book, which began as the author’s 1980 Har-vard University dissertation, represents the culmination of more thantwenty years of research. With chapters on Greco-Roman banquets, phil-osophical banquets, sacriﬁcial banquets, club banquets, Jewish banquets,Pauline banquet traditions, and banquet scenes in Gospel narratives,Smith’s text would be extremely useful for an introductory-level courseon custom and culture in the ancient world. The original artistic render-ings of banquet scenes featured in chapter one, based primarily on vasepaintings and ancient literary sources, are especially useful pedagogicaltools.The central argument of the book is straightforward. Placing the Eu-charist in its sociocultural context, which he deﬁnes as predominantlyGreco-Roman in inﬂuence, Smith asserts that early Christians dined attable simply because it was Greco-Roman custom to do so. He positionshis argument against earlier scholarship on the Eucharist which, hecharges, focused too much on the variety of discrete meal forms thatmight have inﬂuenced the Eucharist or traced its origins to a particulartype of communal meal (e.g., Jewish Passover seder, Greek symposium).Smith argues instead for a simpliﬁed model in which all variations of meals in antiquity are subsumed under the general category of the Greco-Roman banquet. His goal is to ‘‘provide a common model that can beutilized for the study of all data on formal meals from the Greco-Romanworld’’ (p. 2) and to prove that ‘‘the banquet was a single social institutionthat pervaded the culture as a whole’’ (p. 12). This argument is clearlyarticulated in the opening chapter, with the help of detailed diagrams andﬁgures.In support of his thesis, Smith devotes his remaining chapters to adiscussion of various types of ancient meals, highlighting what he sees astheir common structure. The most comprehensive chapters are those onthe Greco-Roman banquet and the Club banquet. These discussions re-ﬂect an impressive expertise with an astounding range of ancient sources.According to Smith’s typology, the ‘‘banquet as social form’’ consists of