Was the Shroud of Turin the Tablecloth of the Last Supper?

This is a repeat posting from 2011. Today being Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday, it seems like a good day to revisit the subject.  To my way of thinking, the subject gains gravitas mainly because it was proposed by John and Rebecca Jackson. 

Salvador Dalí, The Last Supper

Every 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’ shroud.com 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).

5 thoughts on “Was the Shroud of Turin the Tablecloth of the Last Supper?”

    1. I never heard of that adage before. Thanks Hugh ! When being asked what you do in your leisure time you can reply something like ” Well I try to make people become less stupid and there’s a lot to do.”

  1. I have a copy of the Jackson paper in English. I got it a few years ago from Rebecca and it was one of the last copies she had. It is included in the proceedings of the conference on the Shroud held in Richmond, Virginia, which I believe is now out of print. They do not claim the Shroud is the table cloth from the Last Supper. What they say is there is some evidence to suggest it may be the table cloth from the Last Supper.
    One of the things suggesting it may be the table cloth from the Last Supper is evidence of stains from a place setting that would have accommodated those present at the meal and all on the same side of the cloth, which would have been the custom.
    Also, the herringbone weave. It would have been a very expensive weave, one not typically used for a burial cloth which, by custom, would be a simple weave.
    Given the date and time, with the Passover celebrations going on, it is expected most shops would have been closed and when Pilate gave permission to recover the body, a burial shroud would have been needed very quickly. The table cloth would have been readily available and of the correct size. The Jewish scholar’s comments on custom notwithstanding, this situation and circumstances would have been anything but customary.
    These and other supporting reasons are all included in the paper.

  2. Every now and then, I have been taken to task for claiming that I have examined the Shroud more thoroughly than most of the STuRP team, even though they had five days to examine it ‘hands on’. The fact is, though, that Shroud 2.0, which is readily available to anybody with an iPad, covers the entire Shroud at a greater magnification than can easily be observed by eye, and can be studied at leisure. The “possible scientific proof” suggested by the Jacksons relies on the appearance of some spots called “intingulo” in Italian (translated as ‘gravy’ by Google Translate) which are “una simmetria di due gruppi, quasi ugualmente distanziati, su ciascun lato di una linea centrale di sgocciolamento al centro” and ” la concentrazione degli sgocciolamenti è più grande lungo il lato della tovaglia, corrispondente quindi con i movimenti naturali al mangiare.” Without a diagram one cannot be exactly sure which spots are referred to, but to the best of my interpretation, under close scrutiny, they are clearly made of wax, not gravy, although there is one spot, which I cannot identify, “fine di una matrice lineare centrale”, which the Jacksons claim cannot be wax. I expect further inspection will clarify the point.

    Apart from that, it is not obvious to me how the Jacksons thought the Shroud was folded to cover what shape of table, which, as detailed above, was more than likely square.

  3. Rabbi Samson Levi says: ” 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).”

    My reply: I don’t get it! Something’s not adding up.

    Jewish law states:

    “Jewish law considers blood to be part of the body, and therefore deserving of burial. If a person dies because of a wound or injury, and there is blood that soaked into the clothing, that clothing will be buried along with the person. In cases that involve wounds or injuries it is best not to disturb the body, or discard any bloody dressings. These will also be collected by the burial society.”


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