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The miracle of the Wedding at Cana is described in John 2.

There are specific references to a 'governor'/'ruler' of the feast in John 2:7-10.

What role did a 'governor' at a wedding perform at this time?

What historical records exist in terms of source references for this?

The Bible Gateway website has several commentaries, but only one (Matthew Henry's) notes:

Some think that this governor of the feast was only the chief guest, that sat at the upper end of the table; but, if so, surely our Lord Jesus should have had that place, for he was, upon all accounts, the principal guest; but it seems another had the uppermost room, probably one that loved it (Matt. 23:6), and chose it, Luke 14:7. And Christ, according to his own rule, sat down in the lowest room; but, though he was not treated as the Master of the feast, he kindly approved himself a friend to the feast, and, if not its founder, yet its best benefactor. Others think that this governor was the inspector and monitor of the feast: the same with Plutarch’s symposiarcha, whose office it was to see that each had enough, and none did exceed, and that there were no indecencies or disorders. Note, Feasts have need of governors, because too many, when they are at feasts, have not the government of themselves. Some think that this governor was the chaplain, some priest or Levite that craved a blessing and gave thanks, and Christ would have the cup brought to him, that he might bless it, and bless God for it; for the extraordinary tokens of Christ’s presence and power were not to supersede, or jostle out, the ordinary rules and methods of piety and devotion.

As I understand it, a symposiarch was a 'toastmaster' or 'master of ceremonies' in the Greek classical tradition - but this was a Jewish wedding.

None of the dictionaries or commentaries I've found have been able to cite sources (apart from the reference to Plutarch) - can anyone point me to more rigorous commentaries or explanations, please?

  • The New American Bible refers to this person as the "headwaiter". – Matt Gutting Aug 24 '14 at 21:00
  • The JKV is the only translation which translates the word using 'Govenor'. Would you like to transform this question into asking why the KJV translators chose that word? – curiousdannii Aug 24 '14 at 21:52
  • Not really - the Greek original is arkhitriklinos - biblehub.com/greek/755.htm - the choice of English word is irrelevant to the question of how this position fitted into the social culture of the time. – Leon Conrad Aug 25 '14 at 15:56
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    Then I'd recommend editing the question and using one of the other words because 'governor' is a distraction from what you're really asking about. – curiousdannii Aug 26 '14 at 5:35
  • this was a Jewish wedding - Recall that Christ was a Galilean, read Matthew 4:15, and then consult this encyclopedic article. (See also Acts 6:1). – Lucian Nov 4 '19 at 8:30
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The Apocrypha will help on this issue. Sirach, which is believed to have had a Hebrew original (e.g. DSS) and which is quoted several times in Hebrew in the Talmud, has a chapter concerning being the master of a feast:

Sirach 32:1-9 (NRSV)

If they make you master of the feast, do not exalt yourself; be among them as one of their number. Take care of them first and then sit down; 2 when you have fulfilled all your duties, take your place, so that you may be merry along with them and receive a wreath for your excellent leadership.

3 Speak, you who are older, for it is your right, but with accurate knowledge, and do not interrupt the music. 4 Where there is entertainment, do not pour out talk; do not display your cleverness at the wrong time.

... 9 Among the great do not act as their equal; and when another is speaking, do not babble.

Greek of the first verse of Sirach 32 (from ellopos):

῾Ηγούμενόν σε κατέστησαν; μὴ ἐπαίρου· γίνου ἐν αὐτοῖς ὡς εἷς ἐξ αὐτῶν, φρόντισον αὐτῶν καὶ οὕτω κάθισον.

The word just refers to a governor and is not specific to ruling feasts. NRSV obviously added the words "of the feast" from a consideration of the context. This is confirmed by looking at the KJV, which has "If thou be made the master of a feast, lift not thyself up..." (italics theirs)

Versus the Greek of John 2:9 (using the Greek Orthodox Patriarchal Text):

ὡς δὲ ἐγεύσατο ὁ ἀρχιτρίκλινος τὸ ὕδωρ οἶνον γεγενημένον—καὶ οὐκ ᾔδει πόθεν ἐστίν· οἱ δὲ διάκονοι ᾔδεισαν οἱ ἠντληκότες τὸ ὕδωρ—φωνεῖ τὸν νυμφίον ὁ ἀρχιτρίκλινος

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  • Very useful - thank you. I'm still curious as to whether this was a role given to a well-known figure as in a the roles of 'toastmaster' or 'town crier' in "Western" society or to a family member or friend as a token of esteem/honour (as in 'best man' in "Western" weddings). – Leon Conrad Aug 25 '14 at 16:01
  • Is the same Greek word used in Sirach? If so, what Hebrew word does it translate? From there, we might find some commentary about customs at Hebrew weddings. – Bit Chaser Aug 26 '14 at 5:59
  • @disciple, Not the same word. Updated answer with some of the Greek text. The Hebrew text is not online and I don't have a copy. – david brainerd Aug 26 '14 at 7:07
  • Actually the Hebrew text is online and the Hebrew word is ראש (resh) and just means 'head' but is translated (rightly) in the different senses in which it is used, for example, 'ruler' 'chief.' – Sola Gratia Mar 5 '18 at 13:40
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To answer a question about why John reports that there was an arcitriklinw--the actual Greek word used--at the Wedding in Cana, the best answer is that John thought it necessary to eliminate future questions about the quality of the wine resulting form Our Lord's miracle.

While John's narrative was about a Jewish wedding, the language in which John wrote the narrative, and that the readers for whom he wrote it understood, was Greek, so it is natural for John the Gospeler to adopt a Greek name for a functionary of the wedding, even if the Parable is about a Hebrew wedding.

As to what the complete role and function of the person identified by the Greek word used by John, there is little agreement among translators from the Greek what this actually meant. According to this website, The KJV, and Noah Webster's translation render the word as "governor", but other translators use the terms "ruler of the feast", "master of the feast", "feast master", "chief steward", "President", and "director of the apartment". Beyond rendering a judgement of the quality of the wine resulting from Jesus' actions, it is not clear what else the arcitriklinw might have been responsible for, and it is really not relevant to John's narrative.

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  • Thanks, but this doesn't answer the question as to what exactly the 'governor''s duties were in the social culture of the time and any extant sources relating to this. – Leon Conrad Aug 25 '14 at 15:59
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From the McClintock and Strong Biblical Cyclopedia, entry Architriclinus (bold emphasis is mine):

Architriclinus (Α᾿ρχιτρίκλινος, master of the triclinium or dinner-bed, SEE ACCUBATION), rendered in Joh 2:8-9, "governor of the feast" (q.v.), equivalent to the Roman Magister Convivii. The Greeks also denoted the same social office by the title of Symposiarch (συμποσίαρχος). He was not the giver of the feast, but one of the guests specially chosen to direct the entertainment, and promote harmony and good fellowship among the company. (See Potter's Gr. Ant. 2, 386.) In the apocryphal Ecclesiasticus (35:1, 2) the duties of this officer among the Jews are indicated. He is there, however, called ἡγούμενος: "If thou be made the master [of a feast], lift not thyself up, but be among them as one of the rest; take diligent care for them, and so sit down; and when thou hast done all thy office, take thy place, that thou mayest be merry with them, and receive a crown for thy well ordering of the feast." (See Walch, De Architriclinio, Jen. 1753; Brendel, De loco Joh. Eisenb. 1785.) SEE BANQUET.

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