Before attending to the differences, let us first consider the similarities of Greco-Roman, Jewish, and Christian hospitality, all of which have enough commonality to be considered “Mediterranean hospitality.” All three societies thought guests to be associated with gods – Greeks and Romans associated them with Zeus or pagan gods and worshipped them as divine, whereas Jews and Christians associated guests with Yahweh/Jesus or angels, thereby bowing to show reverence but, notably, not worshiping the guest. After either party approached the other, the host would take the guest by the hand and bring them into their dwellings – thereby initiating the official hospitality relationship. Some variety of bath or foot washing was given or made available. Food was provided – specifically an elaborate meal in the case of the Greeks and Romans. Guests would stay for a short visit, remaining overnight, often in a room specially set aside for guests. The guests’ animals would be cared for, and new clothes, entertainment, supplies for the upcoming journey, and, sometimes, costly gifts would be provided. The hospitality relationship also included protection of the guest from his enemies, the host’s enemies, and wild animals – typically concluding with the host escorting him to the edge of town upon departure. Finally, reciprocity of some kind was expected, whether that be sharing information from foreign lands, joining in worship of the host’s god, or promising future hospitality in return. In all of these ways, ancient Mediterranean cultures practiced remarkably similar hospitality to travelers. Yet significant differences remain. To tease them out, we’ll look at Greco-Roman hospitality and then Jewish hospitality up close, and finally compare and contrast Christian hospitality. As we go, we will explore what was unique about their provisions, what was unique about their motives, and what was unique about the identity of the host and guest.
The provisions of Greco-Roman hospitality were lavish. Greeks and Romans alike saw hospitality as a basic feature of civilized society and, according to Cicero and Ovid, a sacred duty in “obedience to divine will.” In addition to the basic provision of food, shelter, and protection, hospitality in Rome also included legal help, as a host would speak up for the interests up his foreign guest in court, as well as medical care and, if needed, burial. Greco-Roman practice often included the making of an elaborate meal and giving of expensive gifts – so lavish that at times the host would have to make significant sacrifices to afford it. Roman hospitality could also have a formal element that involved entering into a binding contract with a handshake or exchange of a token which was to be continued by one’s offspring unless formally denunciated. Among the reasons for entering into such a quasi-contractual hospitality relationship was the assurance of hospitality and protection when traveling in the guest’s territory and the provision a friendly business/political representative in that territory.
The motives behind Greco-Roman hospitality were fearful and self-seeking. There seem to have been multiple secondary motives that include altruism, morality, religious duty, honor, but there was with one primary motive: reciprocity. In Greco-Roman culture, from the Republican era onwards, the host was a “benefactor” and the guest was a “beneficiary” in a highly calculated, reciprocal relationship. Hospitality “set up a chain of obligations [that began with] the obligation a benefit placed on its recipient and the demand the recipient’s expression of gratitude in turn placed upon the benefactor.” The beneficiary’s two duties were to show public gratitude – itself a tool for securing more gifts – and to repay the gift, which was expected as though it had been a loan. In this way, the cycle acted as a social exchange of power: alongside the gift, a subordinate received an opportunity to gain power, for his return gift would put a more powerful person in his debt. These reciprocal obligations between members of the upper class “formed the most basic bond of society.”
The identity of the host and guest in Greco-Roman hospitality was narrow. Without exception, it seems, the host in these reciprocal exchanges would be an upper class male householder. The identity of the guest, though at first unknown (hosts would often not ask the guest’s identity until his needs were met), would always be a male with, at the very least, promising socioeconomic prospects. Because “reciprocity was at the heart of benevolence,” the gift of hospitality would only be given to those who could repay – not to those in need. The rich sought to offer hospitality to the rich: “In essence, Homeric hospitality is a ceremony [that perpetuates] the power of those already in power; gift giving occurs only among the warrior class. Anyone marginal—foot soldiers, women, civilians, the poor—have no place at the feast.”
Let’s turn our attention now to Jewish hospitality, the provisions of which were attuned to meeting basic needs. Much of what we know about Hebraic hospitality, which can be differentiated from Hellenistic Jewish hospitality, comes from Jewish scriptures. In contrast to surrounding Ancient Near Eastern cultures, Hebraic hospitality was uniquely colored by Old Testament stories of hospitable patriarchs and commands given in the books of the law that allowed the traveler to glean, included sojourners in Sabbath, gave tithes of grain to the alien, forbid Jewish judges to judge aliens with partiality, and forbid Jewish employers to exploit alien workers. As a people of the book, these scriptural injunctions, coupled with the Jewish metanarrative wherein their self-conception was forged as aliens themselves who were cared for by God as host – a Good Host who provided shelter in the Promised Land, food in the abundant flowing of milk and honey, and protection from their enemies outside the land – gave Jewish hospitality a unique tone. Distinctions from Greco-Roman hospitality included: guests stayed for a shorter duration rather than extended stays (sometimes only for a meal), hosts provided water for guests to bathe their own feet rather than the host or his servants giving them a full bath, and, perhaps most significantly, no expensive gifts were given to their guests nor was an elaborate meal required. In time, Hellenistic Judaism – itself “a monotheistic subculture within the larger Mediterranean world”– would come to mirror wider social customs by developing long-term, reciprocal hospitality relationships. Even still, Hellenistic Jewish hospitality retained a distinctly Jewish flair, focusing on an Abrahamic rather than a Homeric ideal.
The motives behind Jewish hospitality held together necessity with obedience to God. In addition to being considered a sacred duty, Jewish hosts also had the additional motivation from the Levitical commands to love your neighbor as yourself and love the alien as yourself (Leviticus 19).
The identity of the host and guest in Jewish hospitality was narrow, primarily limited to one’s extended family and race. Like in Greco-Roman hospitality, the host would be the male head of the household, though his economic status does not seem to have been as crucial (at least before the time of Hellenistic Jewish hospitality). Unlike Greco-Roman hospitality, the guest in Hebraic hospitality seems to have been most frequently Jewish. While it was the case that other travelers could also find lodging, Jewish hospitality was focused on Jews. Jewish travelers looked first to stay with a distant relative in whatever region they were traveling. If no relative could be found, another Jew would suffice as host.
It now comes time to return to our organizing question and consider how early Christian hospitality was similar to, and distinct from, Greco-Roman and Jewish hospitality. While the provisions of Christian hospitality remained so similar we need not discuss them here, I will argue that Christian hospitality differentiated itself in profound ways when it came to its motive, the identity of its host, and the identity of its guest.
First, the motives behind Christian hospitality extend Jewish hospitality and transform Greco-Roman hospitality. As the church develops, various early church writers, such as Lactantius and Cyprian, and church fathers, including Augustine, Jerome, and John Chrysostom, speak to the proper motive and practice of hospitality. Augustine, for instance, contends that we are all wayfarers: “Acknowledge the duty of hospitality, thereby some have attained unto God. Thou takest in some stranger, whose companion in the way thou thyself also art; for strangers are we all.” A key motive for Christian hospitality was a desire to please God, a motive shared with its Jewish forerunner. But Christians expand this initially Hebraic impulse by seeing themselves as participating in God’s hospitality – not only in creation, but also in salvation through Christ and anticipation of his coming hospitality in the New Heavens and New Earth. Further, Christian hospitality builds on the Abrahamic model of Jewish hospitality but now looks to Jesus—not least in the Eucharist—as the main model for hospitality. Love for Jesus is the primary motivation, and, as John Chrysostom stressed, seeing him in the stranger and the poor. Chrysostom preached: “Observe, the hospitality here spoken of [in 1 Timothy 5:9] is not merely a friendly reception, but one given with zeal and alacrity, with readiness, and going about it as if one were receiving Christ Himself.” Christian hospitality also transformed Greco-Roman hospitality in its motivation, which was no longer mercenary. Quite the contrary, Christian hospitality was self-sacrificial – a free gift to “the least of these” without expectation of repayment or gain. In this way Christians subverted the very foundation of Greco-Roman hospitality, wherein guests and hosts selected worthy counterparts whose reciprocity could benefit them.
Second, the identity of the host in Christian hospitality extends the Jewish practice and transforms Greco-Roman practice. Whereas “Hellenistic benevolence was … paternalistic, and made little penetration into the lower classes,” gender and socioeconomic status were approached differently by Christians. As began in Judaism, the socioeconomic status of the host was a minimal consideration. But Jesus’ teaching takes that a step further: “Jesus forbids his disciples from evaluating hosts by their status. Christian guests must form deep and loyal bonds with people they encounter and not be looking constantly for better offers and more advantageous hosts.” And then, moving beyond Jewish and Greco-Roman practice alike, Christian hospitality featured an elevated place for women. According to Arterbury, “while women sometimes played prominent roles in Jewish hospitality, they appear to play an increasingly more prominent role in early Christian hospitality.”  Uniquely, the duties of Christian hospitality were “largely in the hands of the ‘widows’.” This was an important change from the context of pre-Christian antiquity, wherein “while the [male] host was busy with the entertainment of the guest or the slaughtering of animals, the meal was being prepared by the women of the household, who seem usually not to have participated in the feast itself.” Women are now not only invited to the feast, but, alongside bishops, women and widows “become prominent hosts” – more prominent than they were in Jewish custom and in a way that was completely counter-cultural to Greco-Roman custom.
Third, just as Christianity extended Jewish hospitality and transformed Greco-Roman hospitality in the identity of the host, an equally radical pattern of extension and transformation can be seen in the identity of the guest. Christian hospitality extended Jewish hospitality by redefining who one’s primary kinspeople were and, in so doing, opened the hospitality exchange beyond those who shared one’s culture and social standing. Though Christian hospitality on first blush looks similar to Jewish hospitality in how Christian guests sought out Christian hosts, they differ notably in that Christian guests and hosts could be of different nationalities, languages, and social classes. Further, Christian hospitality transformed Greco-Roman hospitality in its service to the needy rather than the rich. It was primarily the poor, widows, and traveling missionaries who received hospitality. Distinctively Christian hospitality focused on those who would be unable to reciprocate – strangers who were in need. There is a radical equality to Christian hospitality, which “was not limited to one’s own class. In New Testament scripture, hospitality is an act of leveling—feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and tending the sick … in imitation of Christ (Matthew 25-34-46).” Here we see a “spiritual and radical equality lacking in Homeric hospitality: no soul is less than any other in the eyes of the Lord.”
In conclusion, early Christian hospitality was motivated out of love, not fear, its host could be female, not just male, and its guest did not have to be of a certain ethnicity or socioeconomic status. We have seen how early Christian hospitality extended Jewish hospitality by opening it up beyond the boundaries of kinship and race, elevating the role of women, and sourcing its motivation in love for Christ and participation with him. Early Christian hospitality also transformed Greco-Roman hospitality by focusing it toward the needy rather than the rich, elevating the role of women, and undercutting the motivation of personal gain through costly reciprocity. In an age of great social stratification, early Christian hospitality was a great equalizer. It was also a great altruism. The only self-seeking motive of Christian hospitality was to be blessed in seeing the face of Jesus in the guest. In this way hospitality was baptized of its self-elevating characteristics and transformed into a spiritual discipline for followers of Christ. Today, this consideration of our Christian forbearers may lead us to reflect on how we might eschew motives of reciprocity and refocus our attention on “the least of these.” Perhaps in so doing, hospitality could similarly undermine the inequality and narcissism of our own cultural moment and give witness to a gospel that turns the world on its head.
 Christine D. Pohl, Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 1999), 31. Andrew E. Arterbury, Entertaining Angels: Early Christian Hospitality in Its Mediterranean Setting, New Testament Monographs 8 (University of Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2005), 1–4.
 Arterbury, Entertaining Angels, 6.
 Pohl, Making Room, 17.
 W. C. Firebaugh, The Inns of Greece and Rome, And a History of Hospitality from the Dawn of Time to the Middle Ages (New York: B. Blom, 1972), 29.
 In arguing this thesis I owe a debt to Christine Pohl, whose similar case in Making Room first attuned me to these ideas: “Partly in continuity with Hebrew understandings of hospitality that associated it with God, covenant, and blessing, and partly in contrast to Hellenistic practices which associated it with benefit and reciprocity, Christian commitments pressed hospitality toward the weakest, those least likely to be able to reciprocate.” Pohl, Making Room, 17.
 Arterbury, Entertaining Angels, 183.
 Ibid., 184.
 Ibid., 183.
 Ibid., 184.
 Ibid., 185.
 Ibid. Greeks and Romans also had a custom whereby guests could remain for extended stays of days or weeks, which grew into a different kind of relationship called a “guest-friendship.” Ibid.
 Matthew Lee Anderson, Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to Our Faith (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 2011), 185.
 Ibid., 185–86. Pohl, Making Room, 28.
 Anderson, Earthen Vessels, 186.
 Amy G. Oden, ed., And You Welcomed Me: A Sourcebook on Hospitality in Early Christianity (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001), 18. See also Bolchazy, Ladislaus J. Hospitality in Early Rome: Livy's concept of Its Humanizing Force (Chicago: Ares Pub., 1977), 25.
 Bolchazy, Hospitality in Early Rome, 29.
 Arterbury, Entertaining Angels, 58.
 Bolchazy, Hospitality in Early Rome, 27.
 Ibid., 11.
 “In a Greco-Roman context, hosts were likely motivated by fear” – fear of the crossing the gods, who protected the wayfarer. Andrew E. Arterbury, “Entertaining Angels: Hospitality in Luke and Acts,” Christian Reflection, Published by The Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University, no. Hospitality (2007): 21.
 Bolchazy, Hospitality in Early Rome, 29–33.
 Stephen Charles Mott, “The Power of Giving and Receiving: Reciprocity in Hellenistic Benevolence,” in Current Issues in Biblical and Patristic Interpretation, ed. Merrill C. Tenney and Gerald F. Hawthorne (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), 68.
 Ibid., 60–61.
 Ibid., 63. Hellenistic Jewish philosopher Philo commanded repayment of gratitude to benefactors. Ibid., 61.
 Mott, “Giving and Receiving,” 72.
 Firebaugh, Inns of Greece and Rome, 29.
 Mott, “Giving and Receiving,” 60. Ibid., 62.
 Janis Haswell, Richard Haswell, and Glenn Blalock, “Hospitality in College Composition Courses,” College Composition and Communication 60, no. 4 (2009): 712–13. We see some evidence for this pattern of the rich giving to the rich underlying how Lactantius and Chrysostom saw a need to push back against approach hospitality for personal advantage Oden, And You Welcomed Me, 18.
 Pohl, Making Room, 24–29.
 Ibid., 40.
 Ibid., 27–28.
 Arterbury, Entertaining Angels, 58. A more basic meal would suffice. Ibid., 184. Further, in the middle Jewish / Early Christian period the host themselves might personally prepare the food. Anderson, Earthen Vessels, 91.
 Arterbury, Entertaining Angels, 56–57.
 Ibid., 58.
 Pohl, Making Room, 28.
 Firebaugh, Inns of Greece and Rome, 30.
 Arterbury, Entertaining Angels, 91.
 Quote from The Works of St. Augustine, Sermon LXI, sourced in Philip Schaff, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, vol. VI (New York: The Christian Literature Company, 1888), 446.
 Arterbury, “Hospitality in Luke and Acts,” 21.
 Pohl, Making Room, 33.
 Ibid., 29–30.
 As quoted in Rowan A. Greer, Broken Lights and Mended Lives: Theology and Common Life In the Early Church (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1986), 129–30.
 Arterbury, Entertaining Angels, 183. Christine Pohl makes this case in Pohl, Making Room, 16. While Arterbury thinks Pohl generally overstates the differences between Christian and Mediterranean hospitality, he acknowledges this as a good observation. His statement is similar but more mild: “One can at least say that Jewish and Christian expressions of hospitality do not appear to have carried with them the same degree of expectation in regard to reciprocity as Greco-Roman hospitality did.” Arterbury, Entertaining Angels, 132.
 Mott, “Giving and Receiving,” 72.
 Arterbury, “Hospitality in Luke and Acts,” 23.
 More work needs to be done in this area, as I have scoured the available sources and can only find a small amount of discussion on this point.
 Arterbury, Entertaining Angels, 97. See Luke 10:38-42, Acts 16:14-15, 1 Tim 5:10, 1 Tim 3:2, Tit 1:8.
 Ernest Findlay Scott, The Pastoral Epistles (Harper & Brothers, 1936), 61. John Bell Mathews contends, however, that it’s impossible to know whether that was the case “in the face of the available evidence.” John Bell Mathews, Hospitality and the New Testament Church: An Historical and Exegetical Study (Princeton Theological Seminary, 1964), 273n1.
 Mathews, Hospitality and the New Testament Church, 46.
 Arterbury, Entertaining Angels, 97.
 Ibid., 183. See Acts 16:13; 21:4,7,8; 28:1.
 Ibid., 96.
 Haswell, Haswell, and Blalock, “Hospitality in College Composition Courses,” 713.
 Pohl, Making Room, 19.
 Ibid., 20.
Anderson, Matthew Lee. Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to Our Faith. Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 2011.
Arterbury, Andrew E. Entertaining Angels: Early Christian Hospitality in Its Mediterranean Setting. New Testament Monographs 8. University of Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2005.
———. “Entertaining Angels: Hospitality in Luke and Acts.” Christian Reflection, Published by The Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University, no. Hospitality (2007): 20–26.
Bolchazy, Ladislaus J. Hospitality in Early Rome: Livy’s Concept of Its Humanizing Force. Chicago: Ares Publishers, 1977.
Firebaugh, W. C. The Inns of Greece and Rome, And a History of Hospitality from the Dawn of Time to the Middle Ages. New York: B. Blom, 1972.
Greer, Rowan A. Broken Lights and Mended Lives: Theology and Common Life In the Early Church. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1986.
Haswell, Janis, Richard Haswell, and Glenn Blalock. “Hospitality in College Composition Courses.” College Composition and Communication 60, no. 4 (2009): 707–27.
Mathews, John Bell. Hospitality and the New Testament Church: An Historical and Exegetical Study. Princeton Theological Seminary, 1964.
Mott, Stephen Charles. “The Power of Giving and Receiving: Reciprocity in Hellenistic Benevolence.” In Current Issues in Biblical and Patristic Interpretation, edited by Merrill C. Tenney and Gerald F. Hawthorne, 60–72. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975.
Oden, Amy G., ed. And You Welcomed Me: A Sourcebook on Hospitality in Early Christianity. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001.
Pohl, Christine D. Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition. Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans, 1999.
Schaff, Philip. A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church. Vol. VI. New York: The Christian Literature Company, 1888.
Scott, Ernest Findlay. The Pastoral Epistles. Harper & Brothers, 1936.