Monday, April 11, 2022

Foods at the Last Supper


As Christians worldwide enter Holy Week, our thoughts turn to those last days of Jesus’s life. Have you ever wondered what was served at the Last Supper? Recently I taught a Sunday School class on the topic. We all know bread and wine made an appearance, which Christ transformed into the Holy Eucharist. But there was more food served at the meal.

Scholars debate about whether or not the Last Supper was a Passover Seder. While verses found in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke talk about the meal taking place on the first day of Unleavened Bread, the Book of John seems to depict the meal and Jesus’s crucifixion occurring before the start of Passover. 

The book The Origins of the Seder: The Passover Rite and Early Rabbinic Judaism, written by Baruch Bokser, says scholars disagree on the answer. It notes, “The current state of scholarship tends to argue against the identification of the Last Supper as a Seder.”

An article in The Jerusalem Post published on 4/13/2014 notes, "The truth may be that though the last supper took place shortly before Passover, it was not a seder at all but a talk-feast, a meeting of the fellowship – the havurah – which Jesus constituted with his disciples. The participants would have said the regular blessings over bread and wine, as well as the grace after meals, like devout Jews at any meal: important elements, to be sure, but on their own they do not add up to a Seder."

So, just what did Jesus and the disciples eat at the meal? In 2015, archaeologists Generoso Urciuoli and Marta Berogno released a study that concluded the Last Supper would have consisted of:

  • Cholent, a stew of beans, potatoes, and beef, is started on Friday afternoon and allowed to cook overnight to be eaten at noon on the Sabbath. Jews still eat versions of this today. (Check out this recipe from the New York Times.)
  • Bitter herbs, which symbolize the bitterness and harshness of the slavery that the Hebrews endured in Egypt.
  • Charoset, also known as haroseth, a chunky fruit and nut paste. 
  • Unleavened bread and wine, of course.

One thing missing was lamb. In 2007, Pope Benedict XV stated lamb was not served at the Last Supper since the meal took place before the ritual sacrifice of the paschal lambs. Jesus took the place of the lambs. This announcement lends credence to the idea the dinner wasn’t a Passover seder. 

There were two things about the Last Supper menu I found intriguing. One was the charoset. I saw many recipes online made with apples, but since only crabapples were common in the first-century Mediterranean area, I adapted a recipe made with dried fruit. Most also used Mederia or dry sherry, but I went with lemon juice. The result is a mixture similar to a chunky jam. It was a hit in my household! The charoset also tastes great on buttered toast and in peanut butter sandwiches.

I was also curious about unleavened bread. I know it is common for Jews to celebrate Passover with matzah (also spelled matzo and matza), an unleavened flatbread you can find in most grocery stores. However, I wanted to try making it myself.

The unleavened bread doesn’t have much flavor, which makes sense when you consider it was used in Jesus’s time as a utensil to scoop food out of bowls. It would be the perfect accompaniment to cholent, and it tasted great slathered with charoset. 

As we approach the Easter celebration, I hope this information brings more meaning and insight to your Holy Week devotions.  

Unleavened Bread

Serves 8

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon honey

1 cup water

Add all of the ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer. With the dough hook attachment, mix until the dough comes together and is kneaded until smooth, 4-6 minutes total. (Or knead together by hand until dough forms a smooth ball.) Wrap the dough ball in plastic wrap and allow it to rest for 30 minutes.

Divide the dough into 8 pieces. On a floured surface, roll each piece flat into an oblong shape that is 1/8 to 1/4-inches thick. When all the pieces are rolled out, cover with a clean kitchen towel so they don’t dry out.

Heat a non-stick skillet or griddle over medium-high heat. Place a flattened piece of dough into the hot skillet. Allow to cook until it starts to brown and puff up. Flip and brown the other side. Place on a rack to cool. 


Serves 8

4 ounces raisins

4 ounces dried apricots, cut in half

4 ounces dried figs, cut in half

2 tablespoons honey

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 teaspoons lemon juice (or Madeira or dry sherry)

Pinch of salt

3/4 cup chopped walnuts (almonds or pistachios also work)

Place the dried fruit into a medium bowl and cover it entirely with water. Allow the fruit to soak for at least 4 hours or overnight. Drain off the water and then place the fruit into a food processor. Add the remaining ingredients except for the walnuts. Pulse until the fruit is coarsely chopped. Add the nuts and pulse a few more times to combine. 

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. 

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