Here’s What the Apostles Ate at the Last Supper

Beans, charoset, and unleavened bread

The Last Supper
Illustration Works/Corbis

Christians celebrate the Thursday before Easter as Maundy Thursday, commemorating the Last Supper of Jesus and his apostles before Jesus’ crucifixion and death. But what was for dinner that fateful evening, anyway? A group of Italian archaeologists may have the answer.

Using historical data and other clues, archaeologists and food experts have pieced together a sense of what might have been on the table at the Last Supper, Rossella Lorenzi reports for Discover News. Generoso Urciuoli and Marta Berogno are archaeologists with a passion for food. They dug into existing evidence, including first-century stone vessels, biblical clues and hints from historical art to reconstruct the historic meal.

Since paintings like Leonardo’s famous mural are highly symbolic, they didn’t help the cause, reports Lorenzi. But archaeological evidence did. They concluded that Jewish diners like Jesus and his apostles would likely have used terra cotta pottery or stone vessels for their meal, sharing food while they reclined on carpets and cushions. And strict seating arrangements at the time would mean that Jesus’ most important guests were seated to his right and left.

Since the Gospels note that the meal included at least bread and wine, they hypothesize that the meal could have taken place at Passover. This is corroborated by the Gospel of Mark, which notes that the Last Supper took place during the “feast…of unleavened bread.” If so, they tell Lorenzi there would have been much more on the table:

According to Urciuoli and Berogno, other food on the table would have included cholent, a stewed dish of beans cooked very low and slow, olives with hyssop, a herb with a mint-like taste, bitter herbs with pistachios and a date charoset, a chunky fruit and nut paste.

"Bitter herbs and charoset are typical of Passover, cholent is eaten during festivities, while hyssop was also consumed on a daily basis," Urciuoli said.

But Italian archaeologists aren’t the only ones trying to reconstruct historic meals—or finding food inspiration in famous books. This week, students at universities around the world have been creating books made from food at Edible Book Festivals. One favorite concept? An edible reconstruction of the rooms in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

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