CUPBEARER, a high ranking royal official primarily in charge of serving wine to the king. Since he was close to the person of the king, who feared intrigue and the possibility of poisoned food, the cupbearer was required to be a man of irreproachable loyalty capable of winning the king's complete confidence.
Genesis 40:1 mentions Pharaoh's cupbearer (Heb. mashkeh, mashqeh), who, in the next verse, is called the chief cup-bearer (Heb. sar ha-mashqim). Indicative of the importance of the position is the fact that it was the cupbearer whom Joseph asked to intercede with Pharaoh in order to bring about his release from prison (Gen. 40:14). In I Kings 10:5 and II Chronicles 9:4, it is possible that the word mashkav (mashqaw) refers to Solomon's cupbearers who were among the king's many possessions which amazed the Queen of Sheba so much that "there was no more spirit in her." The word may, however, refer to Solomon's "drinking service," i.e., decanters and cups. Nehemiah's words, "For I was cupbearer to the king" (Neh. 1:11b), attests to a cupbearer at court as late as the Persian period.
An Aramaic inscription of the ninth century B.C.E. consisting of the word lšqy' ("belonging to the cupbearer"), has been found on a large stone jar at Ein Gev. It is assumed that lšqy' is the honorific title of a dignitary or royal official at the court of Ben-Hadad II or Hazael. The word was probably an imitation of such Assyrian titles as šāqû, or rab-šāqê, which denote an important official at the royal court. The title rab-šāqê appears in the Bible as
, Sennacherib's chief cup-bearer (II Kings 18:17ff.; Isa. 36:2ff.). That such a title could be honorary and also connected with practical duties is apparent from the context of II Kings 18:17–19 and Isaiah 36:2 where the Assyrian rab-šāqê challenges Hezekiah king of Israel. Assyrian palace reliefs indicate the importance of the cupbearer in relation to the king's other servants. Representations in pictorial art and literary sources show that cupbearers also existed at the courts of the various kings of Canaan.