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The Last Supper

Zubin Dsouza

 

Gather around while I tell you a story. It is one of the oldest stories known to man. It is a story that has raged and debated for over two millennia. It is a story that has two camps – those of the believers and those of the naysayers.

It is a story that has been analysed by experts, scoured upon by historians and repeated by fanatics. There has been no other story that has faced neither the reverence nor the backlash.

And it all centres around one man, just one man who is neither a hero nor a star.

A man caught in the story as it unfolds, a story that unfolds as it was preordained and prophesised, a story that went on to change the course of history.

Over two thousand years ago there was this man.

He trained as a carpenter alongside his father and at the age of thirty he went forth into the world to preach a message of love. He challenged the religious norms that were present at that time and for that he was ultimately sentenced to death.

Ironic as it sounds our present day society has pretty much become a reflection of what took place two thousand years ago.

The choruses of love are silenced by the din of religious righteousness.

But I seem to have digressed!

Before the man, who was Jesus Christ, was betrayed and sent to his death, he celebrated a meal with his twelve disciples.

It was one of these twelve that would ultimately betray him.

Now no one knows exactly what was eaten that night. There are clues in the bible that point to a few of the dishes.

The rest is based on archaeological and historical evidence, faith and conjecture.

The meal is known as ‘The Last Supper’ amongst Catholics and is referred to as ‘The Lord’s Supper’ amongst the Protestants and other Christian groups.

It is unlike the portrayal by the famed Renaissance painter Leonardo da Vinci and it is definitely nothing to do with the novel based on cryptic clues hidden within the painting.

It was the feast of the Passover and Jesus and his disciples were born into Jewish families and followed Jewish traditions.

A couple of disciples were sent ahead to make arrangements for the Passover meal.

The layout would have been nothing like in painting. What would have been provided would have been cushions and mattresses so that everyone could sprawl and eat in the manner made famous by the ruling Romans.

It was a hurried preparation and the disciples may not have had enough time to get all that was traditional or everything that they wanted.

Since it was a communal holiday, most shopkeepers would have already shut their stores or would have been in the process of closing.

What we are certain of is that there were loaves of unleavened bread and wine. They have been mentioned in every version of the Bible.

The wine itself is speculated to be the one made from the Armenian Dabouki grape. It is a spiced wine and is infused with dried fruits, pepper and honey. It could have also possibly had traces of myrrh and frankincense.

The bread could have been made from wheat or barley.

There are debates however as to the rest of the offerings at the table.

Many believe that Jesus belonged to a sect called Essene who were vegetarians. This would remove all animal products from our speculation.

Traditionally a lamb would have to be sacrificed at this time but this was usually done by the wealthy. Since Jesus and his disciples did not have much to their names, they did not manage to get a lamb to sacrifice.

This however allowed them to have milk and milk products since Jewish tradition forbade the consumption of meat and milk together in one meal.

Goat’s milk and labneh which is a thick yoghurt usually served with a drizzle of honey could have made their way to the table.

No other meat could be considered since they were normally offered as a sacrifice.

If there was fish, it could have been tilapia since it was available all year round and the disciples were after all skilful fishermen.

However, apart from the bread and wine, they had on their table a slow cooked bean stew called cholent.

Cholent was a dish that was eaten during festivities.

Karpas is a dish made of fresh vegetables soaked in a salt and vinegar mix and from all accounts could have been present at the table.

Olives of course were present and were macerated with hyssop which is an herb that tastes very much like mint.

Pistachios mixed with bitter herbs would also have been present.

Dessert was most definitely a date charoset which is a chunky paste made with chopped dates interspersed with nuts.

Bitter herbs and the date charoset are very typical Passover dishes.

The meal itself is pure simplicity.

Very much like the man and the message that he was trying to spread!

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