On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?” — Mark 14:12
Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting of the Last Supper is one of the most recognized paintings in the world. Painted as a mural on the wall of a church in Milan, Italy in the late fifteenth century, this work of art is renowned the world over for capturing one of the most significant events in the New Testament story of Jesus and His earthly ministry.
The setting for the painting is the evening of the Passover Meal that Jesus shared with His disciples, just before his arrest, trial and crucifixion. At this Passover Seder, Jesus told His followers that He was going to be the Passover Lamb for the whole world and that His life would be poured out as a ransom for the sins of many. He also told them that He would be betrayed by one of His own disciples.
This seminal event in Christianity is still celebrated every time Christians take the Communion Meal. Unfortunately, this wonderful painting of the event is inaccurate in almost every single historical detail! Huh? How is it misleading and inaccurate? Let’s look at the details and see.
- The thirteen men in the picture are definitely light skinned, fair haired Europeans dressed in fifteenth century Renaissance clothing. The Jewish Rabbi from the Galilee has been recast into a fifteenth century Renaissance man to fit the image of the prevailing culture!
- The building in which the meal is being held resembles an Italian Palace with tall walls and multiple corridors. Jesus took the Passover Meal in a small upper room in Jerusalem.
- The Passover Meal is always taken in the evening after sundown to replicate the Exodus Story. In Da Vinci’s painting, blue sky and clouds are visible through the windows, making it a midday meal.
- The meal for the Passover was always the same; roasted lamb and matza (unleavened bread). In the mural, fish and loaves of leavened bread are on the table! Also, there are crystal glasses of wine on the table. Glass was not used by the Jewish common people and the goblets would have been made of wood or clay.
- All the participants of the meal are sitting upright in chairs at a long table with Jesus in the center position. This reflects the fifteenth century custom of having the host or most honored guest in the center position. However, the Jewish custom of Jesus’ time period was to recline on the floor on your left elbow, with pillows for support and dine around a three sided low table called a triclinium. The guest of honor was always placed in the second position from the right end (see picture). A long table and chairs was not part of the seating arrangement during this time period.
The observance of the Passover Meal celebrating God’s great deliverance of His children from the hands of the cruel Pharaoh is the landmark event in Jewish history. Fourteen hundred years after the Passover events took place, Jesus and His Jewish disciples were still celebrating this miraculous event by eating the Passover Meal together (And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. – Luke 22:15). It is regrettable that the Jewish Rabbi Jesus and his disciples have been changed and westernized to the point that we only able to picture them in our present day Gentile culture. Christianity has undeniably Jewish Roots. Jesus, His disciples, and almost all the early believers were Jewish. Today, we don’t even think of Jesus as a Jew – much less consider our faith in light of its rich Jewish heritage. The same mistakes that are in DaVinci’s painting are also mistakes that are being made in modern Christianity. We have westernized and “Gentilized” the Christian faith to the point that we have completely lost sight of its Jewish beginnings. Modern day Christians would do well to learn and know their Jewish roots and heritage and try to understand the Bible based on the culture of the time period in which it was written. The better we know the world of the Bible, the better we will understand the words of the Bible.