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Paper Chase: Was the Shroud of Turin Also the Tablecloth of the Last Supper?

imageEvery now and then we hear that the Shroud of Turin might have been a tablecloth used at the Last Supper before it was Jesus’ primary burial cloth.

I’m not convinced. I’m not convinced that a tablecloth was used by most or any Jews at the time of Christ. And if so, does it even matter?

A paper, Was the Shroud of Turin also the Tablecloth of the Last Supper? by John and Rebecca Jackson appears on the web, in Italian. (I’m looking for an English version). In the meantime, if you are not proficient in Italian, you can use Google Toolbar or Microsoft Bing to read a reasonable translation in English. Here are the first four paragraphs as translated by Google:

In this paper we present the hypothesis that the relic of the ‘ Last Supper , that the cloth was used for the table, still exists. For reasons which we will discuss, we will show that this tablecloth, a requirement for the Jewish Passover is the time of Christ, in fact, the Shroud of Turin. We believe that the Shroud of Turin is at the same time, the burial cloth of Jesus and the cloth for the Lord’s Supper served. If so, it would represent an important archaeological evidence of the first Eucharist.

We present our study only as a hypothesis that we wish could provoke further scientific research. This study represents a further deepening of what has been presented at the Conference on the Face of Faces, Christ, held in 1998. 1 We argued, then, is that the Shroud of Turin, exposed to Constantinople in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, was actually the burial cloth of Jesus is that the fire occurred in 1532 meant that the test did the carbon be more recent than it actually was. 2 also indicate several studies showing that the Shroud and its image has different features, cultural and ethnological Jewish origin that proved it to be placed in the first century 3 .

If the Shroud of Turin is the actual, historical burial cloth of Jesus Christ, then it would have to be present at the historical foundation of the Church when it is extended out of its cradle of Judaism. After the events of the Gospel of the Passion, Death and Resurrection, began immediately powerful currents of traditions, theologies and liturgies based on the Resurrection. If the Shroud was the property of the original Judeo-Christian communities, it is then possible, and perhaps inevitable that it (the Shroud) was involved in the dynamics of development and growth of the early Church.

Noting that writing and art were used to obtain information on the history of the Shroud, we suggest that the Liturgy of the Church is also another potential vehicle of historical information that can be examined.

Rabbi Samson H. Levey, Emeritus Professor of Rabbinics and Jewish Religious Thought at Hebrew Union College, Los Angeles, provides some answers to the question. This appears on Barrie Schwortz’ website.

I. To get a clear picture of Jewish life and practice during the first two centuries C.E. we must rely on the primary Tannaitic sources, namely the Mishnah, the Tosefta and the other Tannaitic passages dispersed throughout the Talmudim of Babylon (Bavli) and of the Land of Israel (Yerushalim).

During this period, a table was used for meals… We find no evidence that the Jewish people used different tables for the Sabbath and festivals, including Passover, than they ordinarily used; although they probably subjected it to a thorough cleaning, same as the rest of the house, to clear away the leaven immediately before Passover. (Mishnah, Pesahim, Ch.1 et passim)

What did the table look like? It had a square top (sometimes also a square bottom), usually made of wood, (Mishnah Kelim 16:1), pottery (Mishnah Kelim 2:3); overlaid with marble (ibid 22:1). It usually had three legs (ibid 22:2), and could accommodate three or four people. For larger groups, such as weddings, long boards were used (called dahavanot) (Tosefta Kelim, Baba Metzia, 5:3).

II. Table Cover: Food was ordinarily eaten off the bare table top (Bavli, Baba Batra 57b), and only the intellectual elite seem to have used a cloth to cover part of the small table for use as napkins to wipe their lips after eating (ibid). According to Maimonides, the Mishnah refers to a leather table covering (skortia), probably designed to protect the table from the elements (Mishnah Kelim 16:4). The only explicit reference to "a cover for tables" (Mishnah Makshirin 5:8) is explained as a sheet spread over the food (not the bare table) to protect it from flies and other insects. (M.Jastrow, Dictionary, vol.II, p.1396, col.1, bot. sub Kesiyah, Cf. P.Blackman, Mishnah VI, 682).

III. A sheet of any cloth, including a mixture of materials (shatnez) may be used as a shroud (Mishnah Kilayim 9:4). It is unlikely that one would be buried in an unclean sheet. The Tannaitic principle is expressed by Rabbi Meir (second century), that at the Resurrection the dead will arise wearing the same garments in which they were interred, and unclean raiment would be a disgrace (Bavli Sanhedrin 90b). Rabban Gamallel (first century) instituted the use of a plain linen shroud for everyone (Bavli Moed Katan 27b. Cf. Matthew 27:59).

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