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Did Jesus’ Last Supper Take Place Above the Tomb of David?

Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover. […] As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. […] He will show you a large room upstairs, all furnished. Make preparations there.” (Luke 22:7–12)

jerusalem-cenacle

Masonry of the Cenacle’s eastern wall clearly demonstrates its “layered” history—from the Second Temple period through the Byzantine and Crusader periods to the Ottoman period. Visible on the right is the Dormition Abbey. Photo: Courtesy of David C. Clausen.

This two-story stone building atop Mount Zion (right) ranks among the most intriguing sites in Jerusalem. It is traditionally called the Cenacle (from the Latin coenaculum, “dining-room”) and you will find it just outside the present-day Old City walls to the south (see map). The building’s lower story has been associated since the Middle Ages with the Tomb of David, the purported burial place of the Biblical King David, while the upper story—often referred to in English as the “Upper Room”—is traditionally believed to be the place of Jesus’ Last Supper.1

Even though it suffered numerous natural and man-inflicted disasters and was claimed and successively held by the faithful of all three monotheistic religions, the Last Supper Cenacle remains standing as a testimony to a long-shared sacrality in the Eternal City. It has been a church, a mosque and a synagogue.

It was not until quite recently, however, that the location of Jesus’ Last Supper and the identity of this particular building were questioned and became an object of scholarly debate. David Christian Clausen, adjunct lecturer in Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, examines the evidence for various claims regarding the historical purpose of the Cenacle in his Archaeological Views column “Mount Zion’s Upper Room and Tomb of David” in the January/February 2017 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

jerusalem-cenacle-map

Jesus’ Last Supper and the Tomb of David are traditionally associated with the Cenacle on Mount Zion.

Regrettably, no archaeological excavation has ever been attempted at or around the alleged site of Jesus’ Last Supper and the Tomb of David on Mount Zion to assess the development, relationship or even age of the built structures. Only limited probing and non-invasive soundings were performed at different times in history—typically in association with new construction or renovation at the site.

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