As Christians around the world celebrate Holy Week in preparation for Easter, new research has taken a second look at what Jesus and his disciples might have eaten at the Last Supper, finding that it might not be exactly what you would expect.
Generoso Urciuoli, an archaeologist at the Petrie center in Italy and author of the Archeoricette blog on ancient food, told Discovery News on Thursday that the menu likely consisted of a bean stew, lamb, olives, bitter herbs, a fish sauce, unleavened bread, dates and aromatized wine.
Urciuoli and co-author Marta Berogno, an archaeologist and Egyptologist at a museum in Turin, based their findings on Bible verses, Jewish writing, Roman works and archaeological data. They will published their findings next month in the book Gerusalemme: l’Ultima Cena.
The eating habits of first-century Jerusalem
“The Bible discusses what happened during that dinner, but it doesn’t detail what Jesus and his 12 dining companions ate,” Urciuoli told the website. He and Berogno set out to determine what foods would have been consumed based on the eating habits first century Jerusalem.
To start with, they considered the longstanding believe that Jesus was Jewish, meaning that he and his disciples would have observed the culinary customs of the Torah – refraining from eating certain foods that were banned scripture. Likewise, they probably would have eaten out of stone plates, bowls and jars, as they believed that they did not transmit impurity.
They also reconstructed two other meals mentioned in the New Testament (the wedding at Cana, where Jesus was said to have turned water into wine, and the banquet where Herod had John the Baptist beheaded) in order to narrow down what would have been served at the Last Supper.
The wedding at Cana allowed them to understand Jewish dietary laws, while Herod’s banquet helped them analyze the culinary influence of the Romans in Jerusalem at that time. The authors found that wine, bread, and a fish sauce known as tzir was likely present at all three meals.
Investigating how and when the Last Supper was eaten
Furthermore, the researchers found that the food was probably not eaten around a rectangular table like a formal gathering, as depicted in DiVinci’s The Last Supper and other paintings. In actuality, it was likely that Jesus and the apostles ate reclining on floor cushions, since that was the custom of most Romans living in Jerusalem at the time, Discovery News said.
Despite the fact that it is a world-famous masterpiece, DaVinci’s painting was not historically accurate, Urciuoli explained. “Leonardo’s mural derives from centuries of iconographic codes,” he said. “Embodying the sacrament of the eucharist, the Last Supper has a very strong symbolic meaning and this does not help the historical reconstruction.”
The positions of the guests at the table would also have followed precise regulations, the authors said, with the most important guests seated to the left and the right of the main guest. They went on to hypothesize, based on their research, that The Last Supper might have actually occurred during the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles in the fall and not around the “first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb,” as claimed by the Gospel of Mark.