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Here's What Historians Think It Would Have Been Like To Be At The Last Supper

Updated November 5, 2019 60.2k views14 items

We know what happened at the Last Supper based on the gospel accounts, but what was it like to be at the meal? What did Jesus and the apostles eat? Was Mary Magdalene there? Was it different than a typical meal? Scholars keep finding more evidence of Jesus' life, and archeological evidence seemingly supports many biblical stories. The Last Supper, one of the most important meals in the Bible, stands out as a turning point where Jesus revealed that one of his apostles would betray him.

The Last Supper also helps date the Crucifixion, but the gospels contradict each other on when the meal took place. Though many artists depict the Last Supper scene, scholars continue to uncover new information. Here are all the Last Supper facts about the meal, including a debate over whether or not it occurred at all. 

  • Photo: Anonymous / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The Last Supper Might Have Been A Seder

    The gospels agree that the Last Supper took place around Passover. According to Mark 14:12, the meal took place "on the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb."

    Professor of religion Jonathan Klawans suggests if the Last Supper involved eating the Passover lamb, then it would have been a Seder. However, Klawans also notes the Gospel of John implies the Last Supper happened before Passover, adding confusion to the timeline.

  • Photo: Valentin de Boulogne / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The Men Probably Ate Dessert

    Did the Last Supper include dessert? Archaeologists Generoso Urciuoli and Marta Berogno argue the meal almost certainly included a date charoset, a sweet paste blended from dates and nuts. This fruit paste dates back to Jesus' time and remains an integral part of many Seder meals. 

    In the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, Gil Marks claims, "The institution of charoset, as with much of the Seder not mandated by the Bible, derived from classical Greco-Roman practices two thousand years ago."

  • Photo: Leonardo da Vinci / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The Seating Arrangement Held Clues About Jesus' Closest Apostles

    Paintings depicting the Last Supper use seating arrangements to suggest which of the disciples were the closest to Jesus. Leonardo da Vinci's famous painting shows a surprising figure to the right of Jesus. The long hair and feminine appearance led some, like Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code, to claim the person was Mary Magdalene.

    But historian Ross King disagrees that the figure was Mary Magdalene, claiming: 

    St. John, the youngest Apostle and the "beloved disciple" (as he calls himself), was always shown beside Christ, which is exactly where Leonardo places him... He was also always depicted as young, beardless, and often androgynous.

    Of course, paintings are not photographs; there's no way of knowing where the apostles sat during the meal. Still, any seating arrangement would hold clues about whom Jesus trusted; the societal norms of the time meant he would have placed his most important guests directly to his right and left.

  • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Mary Magdalene Was There, Washing Feet

    In spite of conspiracy theories claiming Mary Magdalene appears in Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper, Jesus' most notable female follower likely didn't sit and eat with the other apostles. However, she was probably there in some capacity.

    While Mary Magdalene's name doesn't appear in the gospel accounts, several sources claimed she wiped the men's feet. It's also possible other women were present, though the gospels don't name them.