In preparation for Holy Week, and for Passover, I created this video about the possible setting of the Last Supper at a Roman styled triclinium. Below is the text for the video:
Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of the Last Supper has riveted the minds of the world for centuries. Yet this depiction of the Last Supper, like many others, is quite inaccurate when it comes to the actual setting of the Last Supper. Because of these depictions, we often picture Christ seated at the center of a long table, with his disciples on each side of him. However, according to ancient Roman and Jewish culture, and several verses found in the gospels, we find a much different setting. With this more accurate setting, we are able to learn of a powerful message of Jesus’ true love.
It was Thursday, just before the setting of the sun. Jesus and the apostles had gathered in a large upper room on Mount Zion in the upper city of Jerusalem. The home would have been a wealthy home, as it had an upper chamber, and all of the preparations for the Passover feast would have already been made. The most prominent feature of the room would have been a low table in the shape of a “U” called a triclinium. A triclinium was a Roman styled table, of various sizes and styles, that had been adopted by the Jews of the first century. The table had large couches, or cushions, placed on each of the three sides, allowing the middle to be open for entertainment and servers.
|From Food at the Time of the Bible by Miriam Vamosh|
The host of the feast would not sit in the middle, as is often depicted in artwork of the Last Supper, but instead second to the left, with the guest of honor on his left, and a trusted friend to his right. The seating then continued around the triclinium, the most important guests seated on the left, then going around the table, with the least important sitting on the far right. The servant, if seated at the table, would occupy the last position, closest to the door, so they could go and obtain more food as the evening progressed.
If this seating arrangement was followed by Jesus, and from the scriptures it seems to be the case, Jesus then was seated not in the center, but second from the left. John 13:23 indicates that John the beloved was seated to Jesus’ right, as John had to lean on the bosom of Christ to ask of the identity of the betrayer. Matthew 26:23 indicates that Judas was seated to the left of Christ, in the seat of honor, as both Jesus and Judas were able to eat from the same bowl. John 13:24 indicates that Peter was across from John, on the right side, as he had to signal to John to ask Jesus who would betray him.
|The Betrayal by Marilyn Todd-Daniels|
To further teach Peter, and the others, of the importance of servant-leadership, Jesus then washed the feet of the twelve disciples, including the feet of Judas. Peter, who Jesus had placed in the seat of the servant, was most likely responsible for washing the feet of the guests, yet Jesus, the host, and the greatest of them all, now acted as servant and washed their feet. This would explain the protest of Peter in John 13 when Peter says: “Lord, dost thou wash my feet? ... Thou shalt never wash my feet.” (John 13:6, 8). Then Jesus teaches Simon Peter: “If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet... The servant is not greater than the lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him.” (John 13:14, 16).
This seating arrangement would also mean that Jesus placed Judas, who would betray him, in the seat of honor. It seems that to the very end Jesus loved Judas, and desired to teach him of his love by placing him in this most important seat. It was as if Jesus was trying to give Judas one less reason to betray him. Jesus, at some point, gives Judas a “sop,” a piece of bread dipped in broth, yet another sign of honor. However, Judas had already made up his mind. “And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly.” (John 13:27).