What was actually on the menu at The Last Supper?
Easter has become synonymous with treats like chocolates and hot cross buns, as well as lamb and pickled fish, amongst other delicacies. But have you ever wondered what was actually eaten at the Last Supper? Here’s a hint, it looks a lot different from what Italian Renaissance artist, Leonardo da Vinci, depicted in his namesake mural. Find out about the origins of Easter and what was featured on the menu at Jesus’ last supper…
The menu was influenced by Roman cuisine and eating habits around the time, so tzir, a rendition of Roman fish garum, was eaten. Researchers believe that cholent (low and slow-cooked beans) and lamb were also on the menu.
The Origins of Easter
After Christmas, Easter is one of the most popular Christian holidays around the globe, with each country having unique Easter traditions. Ressurection Sunday or Easter, is a Christian holiday celebrated by many denominations. The holiday itself is observed on the first Sunday after the first full moon when the sun crosses the celestial equator, otherwise known as the ‘sun equinox’ (March 21st). Easter is thus celebrated between March 22nd and April 25th. This year, Easter will be observed on the 9th of April.
Besides Christians, many Abrahamic faiths observe this as a religious time. Muslim communities have Ramadan after the first sighting of the new crescent moon; Ramadan is observed for 30 days, during which Muslims fast up until the day of Eid ul Fitr (feast of fast-breaking). Jewish faiths also celebrate Passover or Pesach around this period between Nisan/Nissan 15-22, the first month on the Hebrew calendar and the first month of spring according to the Torah. South Africa has prominent Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities; this time of year is thus a significant spiritual period for many local families.
For Christians, Easter commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Similar to Passover, Easter origins date back to the Israelites’ liberation from slavery in ancient Egypt.
It’s believed that Jesus and his disciples were preparing for Passover celebrations when he was apprehended by Roman authorities and crucified. According to the Christian faith, Jesus rose from the dead three days following his crucifixion – the exact day on which this occurred is widely debated by scholars, but most sources cite that the crucifixion occurred just before the Sabbath, circa April 3, AD 33.
What was eaten at the Last Supper?
Most people are familiar with Leonardo da Vinci’s iconic mural titled ‘Last Supper’, depicting the moment that Jesus predicted that one of his Twelve Disciples would betray him – spoiler, it was Judas Iscariot. But what many don’t know is that the Last Supper is an iconograph work – a painting inspired by other visual illustrations. Based on the New Testament, we know that Jesus and his disciples ate unleavened bread, similar to flatbread. Unfortified wine was also consumed, a practice that is still carried out today as ‘holy communion’ in churches.
While da Vinci’s artwork remains influential and a cultural cornerstone, the artist took creative liberties, meaning the Last Supper is not an accurate depiction but rather an interpretation.
Theologists and archaeologists have extensively studied the matter, and up until recently have only managed to construct an idea of what might have been consumed at ‘The Last Supper’. Through empirical historical data and extrapolating clues from third-century AD catacomb paintings, researchers were able to regenerate food and eating habits used approximately 2000 years ago in Palestine. And surprise surprise, it looks very different from the table dinner depicted in da Vinci’s murder mystery feast.
For starters, the food wasn’t served on a rectangular, long table; it’s believed that people often used lowered tables and sat on floor cushions and carpets. Evidence also suggests that ceramic crockery wasn’t used, as vessels made of stone were found in Jerusalem and Galilee during the first century AD. Archaeologist, Generoso Urciuoli suggests: “Another possibility is the use of fine red terra sigillata pottery, an international trend at that time.” As for the seating arrangement, the Gospel of John mentions that Judas Iscariot was seated close to Jesus, likely located on Jesus’ left-hand side.
New Testament findings also dictate that wine and bread were eaten during Passover. The menu was influenced by Roman cuisine and eating habits around the time, so tzir, a rendition of Roman fish garum, was eaten. Researchers believe that cholent (low and slow-cooked beans) and lamb were on the menu. Olives with hyssop – a bitter herb with mint and floral notes – were also enjoyed. Other foods include pistachios and date charoset – a chunky fruit and nut paste.
What People Eat Today at Eastertime
While Easter table spreads look different for many families, eating lamb on Easter has been a long-held tradition, spanning back to the Passover tradition of slaughtering and roasting a lamb or goat, which was often accompanied by unleavened bread.
Today, Easter has become synonymous with hot cross buns and eating Easter eggs, which supposedly represent Jesus’ birth and death, as eggs are associated with the life cycle, but this tradition is believed to have pagan origins. Anglo-Saxon religions apparently started the tradition of eating Easter eggs as an ode to Eostre, the West Germani goddess of spring, who also symbolises fertility. Eostre is also linked to naming the holiday ‘Easter’.
For those observing, Happy Easter! Want to learn more? Explore the different Easter Traditions From Around the World.
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