the last supper by leonardo da vinci with magnifying glass over jesus christ
What do we actually know about the Last Supper?

This coming Sunday, hundreds of millions of families around the world will be joining together with their families for Easter dinner, but we’d like to talk about another dinner for a moment – one that allegedly happened around this time about 1,991 years ago.

Though the phrase "last supper" never appear in the Bible, those two words are shorthand for what is likely the most famous meal of all time: the final meal of Jesus Christ and his apostles in Jerusalem before his crucifixion on Good Friday.

At this legendary meal, Jesus not only predicted that Judas would betray him and that Peter would deny him three times, but it was also here that he "invented" the communion tradition still practiced by billions of Christians every week around the world, and where he delivered one of his final and most important commands, instructing his disciples to "love one another as I have loved you" after washing all of their feet.  

Nowadays, there’s (hopefully) less backstabbing taking place at the dinner table. But many Easter celebrants likely don’t know the whole story, or believe some of the myths and falsehoods swirling around this fateful dinner, wittingly or unwittingly spread by figures as varied as the author Dan Brown to the writers of the gospels themselves.

While there is considerable debate whether Jesus was the son of God or did perform miracles, most historians do agree that he and (at least some of) his disciples did exist and that he was crucified.

We may never know exactly what happened at this dinner... but we do know that there likely was a dinner, and we have some pretty good guesses what that would have looked like. Let's dive in. 

Claim 1: Mary Magdalene Was at the Last Supper

mary magdalene in the last supper
Mary Magdalene or the Apostle John? Do you see a "hint of bosom"?

Perhaps the most widely believed Last Supper myth is that Mary Magdalene was present. In Leonardo da Vinci’s painting, the figure to Christ’s right is widely agreed to be the Apostle John. But some have said it’s actually Mary, for the figure’s feminine appearance and close seat next to Jesus.

While we can’t exactly call him up and ask him, it’s almost certain that da Vinci didn’t paint Mary Magdalene into The Last Supper for several reasons. For one, da Vinci was well known for painting young men in a soft and feminine manner, so this is stylistically accurate.

And perhaps more importantly, it would have been heretical for da Vinci to put Mary in here. The late 15th century was, let’s just say, not a time of enlightenment. Da Vinci may have found himself parted from his head for such blaspheming.

This misconception likely stems from Dan Brown’s novel "The Da Vinci Code." In the novel, the character Sophie identifies the figure to Jesus’ right as female, noting the “flowing red hair” and “hint of a bosom.” Despite this book being fiction, popular culture ran with the idea.

However, there is no indication in the gospels that Mary Magdalene was at the Last Supper. It was almost certainly, as the TikTokers might say, a Boy Dinner.

Claim 2: The Last Supper Was a Seder

traditional passover seder
A traditional Passover Seder.

It’s often assumed that the last supper was a Seder, a ritual feast marking the beginning of Passover. Breaking bread, goblets of wine, lots of prayer… it sure sounds like traditional Passover.

The synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – all place the last supper after the start of Passover, and what event could get 13 unrelated men into a room together, other than a holiday meal?

However, the Gospel of John explicitly states that the crucifixion took place on “the day of Preparation of the Passover,” and biblical historians largely agree that John’s accounting of facts and dates is more accurate than the synoptics.

And if Jesus was crucified before Passover, as John says, then the Last Supper simply wasn’t Passover Seder.

One researcher, Colin Humphreys, has gone so far as to pinpoint an exact date when he believes this meal took place: Wednesday, April 1st, in the year 33 AD. 

Claim 3: Jesus Was White

A chalice depicting the Holy Grail
Is this what Jesus actually looked like?

Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper depicts Jesus and his apostles as white Europeans. It’s long been rumored that da Vinci used friends and members of his (Italian) community as models for the apostles (including using a prisoner as the model for Judas). 

As what is likely the most historically viewed depiction of Jesus in human history, this painting has had a large role in Jesus’ depiction in culture. In millions of churches and museums around the world you will see Jesus rendered as a light-skinned man with long, blonde hair. It's important to note that most scholars agree that those depictions are, in effect, lies.

Jesus was a Middle Eastern man, so it stands to reason that he probably had dark hair and dark eyes, and his skin was almost certainly darker than da Vinci’s artistic interpretation.

Numerous researchers have depicted Jesus in a manner they say is more historically accurate.

Claim 4: There Was a Table, and Silverware

Leonardo da Vinci’s painting is likely what most picture when they think of the Last Supper: 13 men gathered at a table, bizarrely all seated on the same side.

Nearly every artistic depiction of the Last Supper has shown Jesus and the apostles gathered this way. However, that’s not historically accurate.

According to historians, at the time, meals were typically eaten from stone plates placed on low tables on the floor, with each man seated on a small cushion or pillow on the ground. There probably wasn't silverware either – the people in the region at the time would have used their hands and/or bread in place of utensils. 

Before we get off the topic of tableware, we should probably address the Grail in the room. We'll put aside for a moment Dan Brown's imaginative idea that the "Holy Grail" was not a cup but was in fact a reference to Mary Magdalene, who was allegedly carrying Jesus' child.

Claim 5: The Holy Grail Was Present

What did the Holy Grail really look like?

Over the years, a number of cups have come forward claiming to be the cup... many of which you can see on display in Cathedrals across Europe.

Many of these chalices are now covered in gold and jewels, but archaeologists tend to agree that any cups in use at the time were probably made of stone or clay – functional objects like the rest of the dishware.

The Bible itself doesn't make much of a big deal about the cup and includes nothing about any efforts to preserve it... and it really wasn't until hundreds of years later that people began telling pilgrims to Jerusalem that the Grail had been preserved, eventually creating its iconic status.

Speaking of pilgrims to Jerusalem... Though it is a matter of considerable debate, many also believe that they've pinpointed the site where this meal would have taken place – and you can visit it! In Jerusalem, within the same building that houses King David's tomb, thousands of tourists a year visit the Cenacle – a large room that supposedly sits at the same spot where Jesus and his disciples would have sat and supped.

Claim 6: They Ate Bread and Wine

Well, sure. They probably did. But it's highly likely that there was other food served as well. In 2016, a team of Italian archaeologists dug through old writings and archaeological data to determine what exactly folks were eating in Jerusalem in the 0030s.

As you can probably guess, because Jesus and his followers were Jewish, they would likely not have been eating any foods banned by the Torah: so shrimp and/or ham were almost certainly not on the menu that evening. 

In addition to their unleavened bread and wine, Jesus & co. probably dined on garum (a dipping sauce made from fermented fish innards), olives, charoset (a sweet mix of crushed dates, pistachios, and herbs), and bean soup. 

If those scholars we mentioned earlier were incorrect and this actually was a Passover meal, the guys probably would have had some lamb as well.

That said, a controversial new claim is making its way through the halls of seminaries around the world, one which asserts that Jesus and his disciples were in fact vegetarians – and that the powers-that-be have been deliberately hiding that truth all this time.

Let's Eat!

Remember that as you sit down to Easter dinner this Sunday. Your guests may not be the son of God and his twelve best friends, but at least you’ve got a table and chairs!

Much of our knowledge of the Last Supper comes from contradictory accounts in the gospels, the gaps filled in by art and culture in the centuries since. We’ll never know every detail, but there are some things we know – and some things we know aren’t true, despite the common misconceptions.

So this Sunday, if someone tries to tell you that Mary Magdalene was at the last supper, or that it was a Seder, you can correct them with these – pardon the pun – real-life Easter eggs.

29 comments

  1. Lionheart's Avatar Lionheart

    And the reason there are so many myths about the last supper is because those that wrote about it were writing about the said event decades later, having not been alive during that time. We don’t even know for sure whether Jesus was real, let alone the last supper. Such is the fallacy of much that is written about in that book. 🤷🏼

    🦁❤️

    1. Daniel Gray's Avatar Daniel Gray

      And we have no proof that he wasnt real either Lion. And as for your claim that they were writing about it decades later...where is your proof that it happened as you say? You have Peter James and John and ALL were supposed to have been there with him so that would mean that if they were there then their views a firsthand accounts. Far better then the supposed authors of this who somehow claim to be experts.

      1. Rev. Mike Eggleston's Avatar Rev. Mike Eggleston

        I doubt you have any proof The Flying Spaghetti Monster is real either. Do you, therefore, accept that is a good reaon to believe the FSM is real?

        There are no contemporaneous records of the biblical Jesus. Most of the stories claimed to be about him are very similar to the teacghing of older religions. Even the story of his supposed crucifixion makes no sense. Crucified criminals were not placed in tombs.

        1. Daniel Gray's Avatar Daniel Gray

          Never said it was or wasnt. If thats what you wish to believe then feel free to do so. All I am saying is just dont try and deride and degrade other peoples beliefs. No more or less. When they die if there is nothing afterword or their beliefs are correct, then so be it. But to intentionally be a troll and attack others beliefs does not say a whole lot about the person doing it now does it?

      2. Dr. Zerpersande, NSC's Avatar Dr. Zerpersande, NSC

        Once again,Greh, the burden of proof is on the person making the claim. What was essentially said was that ‘we have no proof that Jesus existed’. Not even making the claim that he did not exist, just that there is a lack of evidence for his existence.

        You want to say he DID exist. Prove it.

        1. Beverly Lani Kai's Avatar Beverly Lani Kai

          Josephus, who became a historian, was a Jew who defected to the army of Emperor Titus before Rome destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD. He wrote History of the Jews for a Roman audience, explaining these strange rebels to the very liberal Roman intellectuals. Josephus specifically mentions Jesus and refers to him as The Messiah. This is no hidden secret. It is in the schoolbooks so go do your homework. Josephus does not get much play in our pop culture as does Spartacus and other glam Roman figures. It’s cause he is regarded as The Scum Traitor, not to be glorified. I forget the other Roman writer who mentioned Jesus. Ask a librarian.

  1. James Mounts's Avatar James Mounts

    Pontius Pilate, in a letter to Tiberias Caesar :: “One day in passing the place of Siloe, I observed in the midst of a concourse of people a young man leaning against a tree, calmly addressing the multitude. I was told it was Jesus. His golden-colored hair and beard were a contrast between him and his hearers with their black beards.”

    1. David Arthur Lewis's Avatar David Arthur Lewis

      The authenticity is in serious doubt. This is most likely a modern fraud. https://christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/55335/authenticity-of-the-pontius-pilates-letter-to-tiberius-caesar

  1. Kathryn Diane Taft's Avatar Kathryn Diane Taft

    Gentlemen! Do you not see what is so obvious? The deceit, lies told by every clergyman in every religion (except Buddha) make me sick! Um, I've never met anyone from the middle east named James, John, lol Matthew..duh. The enemy? *******. If Lucifer is evil then THERE IS NO GOD! God IS, IS, IS love! He is perfect therefore the existence of a "Devil" negates the existence of God!

    1. David Arthur Lewis's Avatar David Arthur Lewis

      James is derived from the Hebrew name Yakov (Jacob). John is derived from the Hebrew names Yohannon and Yohanatan (Johann/Jonathan). Matthew is derived from the Hebrew name Matiyahu (Mateu). They have been translated into many languages. ALL of these names are currently in use in both Israel and Brooklyn. The fact that you have not personally met anyone with those names...?

  1. Theresa C. Marquess's Avatar Theresa C. Marquess

    Believe if you believe. Paint him whatever color your heart desires. Decide for yourself, whether he was a vegetarian, eating only plants, nuts, or berries, or if he ate matzo, fish, and lamb, and drank water or wine.

    In my 80 years I was taught by my Grandmother that the individual seated next to Jesus was Mary Magdalene. It isn't new news.

    Jesus was a carpenter, so I would like to believe that the cup at the last supper was honed from wood by his own hand...but that is solely my opinion.

  1. Kathryn Diane Taft's Avatar Kathryn Diane Taft

    MLK is real, Ghandi real, Mandela real. One man that changed the entire world view and paid with his life, persecuted is rare but not unheard of and some call their accomplishments "miraculous". JC didn't have NBC news reporting did he? God is so much better than any of you make him out to be and frankly it's driving me crazy that a metalhead stoner like me has to tell you this! Stop it!

  1. Kathryn Diane Taft's Avatar Kathryn Diane Taft

    Please, grasp the truth of these few key points: FREE WILL PERFECT IS LOVE, NOT HAS OR GIVES: IS LOVE! We are perfect. Yes we are! Stop. Think about it. Hell? Nope, not possible or GOD DOESN'T EXIST. There's no gray area, no such thing as a vengeful God, no way He screwed up so we have to be better or.....!! Lucifer was right and was given the privilege of tending to the souls that need extra care and loves God unconditionally!! Like He loves us! Think about it, it's undeniable. That is if you truly believe in Him....do you? Or do you believe he's a wishy-washy narcissist like you seem to by the way you put him down constantly? Free will. Perfect. Yes?

    1. ServantOfJudgement's Avatar ServantOfJudgement

      Kathryn,

      The name Lucifer is nowhere in the bible.

      I recommend you search for and watch videos of cartel members filleting the face and skin from living victims. Sometimes they intravenously feed them adrenaline so they don't pass out from the process. They always remove their hands first so it's easier. These are satanists were talking about. They're worshipping their old pagan gods. They say they're satanists.

      If you believe there's a God you'd better take your blinders off.

  1. Ari Joseph Bertine's Avatar Ari Joseph Bertine

    Just a little food history note, as I have seen a lot of mention today about mixing water with the wine, and food history is fun.

    In the era of Jesus, wines weren't what they are today. They were brewed thick and sweet, with containers open to evaporation from air flow and the nicer types (for citizens, not slaves) made richer by concentrating and pasteurizing a portion of the sweeter must and adding it back in. They would have been at least 15% ABV or higher, and pretty much undrinkable straight except by people who needed the extra sugars and didn't mind the extra alcohol, like the elderly. Other people drank it mixed with water in equal measure. While to our modern thinking this is "watered-down wine," to them it was more "safe, flavored water"! The alcohol killed bacteria in the drinking water, and made it safe for people to stay hydrated all day.

    Soldiers, on the other hand, drank posca, which was a vinegar diluted with water and then sweetened. We have a modern drink that is a favorite of farmers, and it's called switchel. It's exceptionally refreshing and hydrating, good for long dusty marches or a hot day's toil in the field. This would be the vinegar offered to Jesus on the cross by soldiers, on a sponge; the earlier version offered to him by allies had a painkiller in it, which he recognized by taste and refused.

    I find the way food history ties in with culture and religion to be utterly fascinating. So much can be told about a people in context of their recorded food habits.

  1. David Arthur Lewis's Avatar David Arthur Lewis

    There are two reasons that European Christians (and their colonies) eat ham at Easter. One is the limited food supply. In Medieval Europe smoked and salted ham was usually the only meat left after the long winter. But the chickens have started laying again, so there would be eggs as well as the last of the cabbage and potatoes.

    The other reason is to prove to the Holy Catholic Inquisition that you are not Jewish. Jews eat lamb at Passover. Christians eat ham (or maybe rabbit or some other small game). The local butcher knows who buys lamb. Christians hold Pogroms as a Rite of Spring during the weeks after Easter.

  1. Nicholas J Page's Avatar Nicholas J Page

    Why after thousands of years has this been mentioned does it actually make a difference as to wether they are or drank this offering or they consumed something entirely different.I admit to believing what I was told 50 years ago now this so as I ask why has this taken so long to come about.Did my school and teachers lie to me?

  1. Paul Johnson's Avatar Paul Johnson

    It's not wether He's white or what its more fodder to feed on and gives room for the enemy to have a say with people.

    1. Dr. Zerpersande, NSC's Avatar Dr. Zerpersande, NSC

      As Rousseau said ‘I would find your argument easier to refute if you used words which made more sense.’

  1. Bishop William Dusenberry, DD's Avatar Bishop William Dusenberry, DD

    Transubstantiation, according to informed sources, means that whenever a Roman Catholic receives, and eats a host, from a duly ordained Catholic priest— such a host has been miraculously, and actually metamorphosed into an actual part of the body of an actual Jesus. Ergo, because Jesus was a vegetarian, his body parts are also miraculously vegetables, ergo it’s OK for Catholics, who are vegetarians, to eat part of the body of Jesus, while they’re partaking in Holy Communion, even if it’s not at what’s called, the Last Supper.

    1. Patricia Ann Gross's Avatar Patricia Ann Gross

      Bishop William, Cows and sheep are also vegetarians so your logic about "body of Christ" being a vegetable doesn't work. Personally I believe in a more protestant understanding of the Eucharist where the "body and blood" are symbolic utilizing bread and wine (or juice), so oreos and milk can also work (and it is something I have done with youth groups.)

      1. Daniel Gray's Avatar Daniel Gray

        so is his claim about being a Bishop

  1. Stanley Taubman's Avatar Stanley Taubman

    We ought to be careful not to create new myths in the name of myth busting. Was the Last Supper a Passover seder? Matthew, Mark, and Luke apparently say it was. John supposedly said it took place on “the day of Preparation of the Passover.” But John didn't speak English, so he didn't say it was in "preparation" for anything. And whatever John said, he probably said in Hebrew or Aramaic, then it was first written in the original Greek of the New Testament, then it was translated into English and many other languages in our world's Tower of Babel.

    And even if the essential meaning of whatever John said was conceptually exactly the same as what we mean when we use the word "preparation," it would be possible that John saw the first night's seder as preparation for the full eight days of the Passover in the same way that the prelude of a Baroque symphony is a preparation in anticipation of the forthcoming parts of the full symphony...yet the prelude is a part of the symphony.

    History and theology are fascinating to think about, but let's admit that we don't really know the finer points of what specific people said and did 2000 years ago and that, fortunately whatever they said or did doesn't need to determine the depth and value of our spirituality right here and now.

    1. Kimberly Ramos's Avatar Kimberly Ramos

      AMEN!

  1. Farajallah Michael Yazbek's Avatar Farajallah Michael Yazbek

    The Easter Ham is to commemorate Peter's dream to kill and eat when God set before him unclean (pork) animals and then rebuked him by saying, "Do not call what I set before you unclean!" And the Seder meal would have been a fasting with no meat or dairy. The bread was unleavened (pita) and the dip was probably baba ganoush, or egglplant puree, if it's accurate. As for Jesus' complexion, he would have been well-tanned because his time was spent outdoors most of the day. Even the most caucasian among us turn darker because the melatonin in our bodies protects us from the sun's rays to some extent. As for the people being on the same side of the table, the perspective is from the END of the table opposite Jesus, which would obliterate the corners of the table. And Mary Magdalene was, indeed, at that meal, since it was in the upper room where she would have helped SERVE the meal to the guests. So it's plausible that she would have been in that painting. As for the cup, it was a goblet, but no description of what materials. Jesus was not a wealthy . man, so it probably would have been either wooden or stone or clay. And he mixed the water with the wine because that was the tradition of the day to lessen the effects of the alcohol. The meal itself would have probably, been lentils and rice, eggplant and other local vegetables and no meat, as it was a meal of purification. And Jesus said he would not eat again until he had ascended to his father after the resurrection. So let's use common sense, tradition and perspective to view Da Vinci's painting of the Establishment of the Eucharist. And Jesus said it was the last time he would eat or drink wine with them until he rose to see his father. That's where the "Last Supper" comes from. It should have been called "The Lord's Supper."

  1. John Casillo's Avatar John Casillo

    i wonder if God laughs at all religion....maybe we should too

  1. Colleen McAllister's Avatar Colleen McAllister

    This post seems like nothing more than a critique of DaVinci's painting. No intelligent person believes that painting to be a realistic presentation of Jesus last meal with his group. What a waste of time.

    1. Amber Fry's Avatar Amber Fry

      It was also commentary on historical accuracy of it. That is never a waste of time. The more we know of our past, the better we understand how we came to do as we do today.

  1. JaZe's Avatar JaZe

    The clergy have always been notorious gluttons so religious pronoucements that support it are right up their alley. And, of course, the meat industry is gigantic 💰

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