As knives and forks were not used in the East, in Scripture times, in eating, it was necessary that the hand, which was thrust into the common dish, should be scrupulously clean; and again, as sandals were ineffectual against the dust and heat of the climate, washing the feet on entering a house was an act both of respect to the company and of refreshment to the traveller. The former of these usages was transformed by the Pharisees of the New Testament age into a matter of ritual observance, (Mark 7:3) and special rules were laid down as to the time and manner of its performance. Washing the feet did not rise to the dignity of a ritual observance except in connection with the services of the sanctuary, and you can find more about that here on st-takla.org on other commentaries and dictionary entries. (Exodus 30:19,21) It held a high place, however, among the rites of hospitality. Immediately that a guest presented himself at the tent door it was usual to offer the necessary materials for washing the feet. (Genesis 18:4; 19:2; 24:32; 43:24; Judges 19:21) It was a yet more complimentary act, betokening equally humility and affection, if the host himself performed the office for his guest. (1 Samuel 25:41; Luke 7:38,44; John 13:5-14; 1 Timothy 5:10) Such a token of hospitality is still occasionally exhibited in the East.
Main reference: Smith's Bible Dictionary (1860s)
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