The controversy over the ‘Last Supper’ site

Today is both Good Friday and Passover, so what could be more appropriate than looking at one of those idiotic controversies that religions fight over, this time over a building in Jerusalem?

If there’s one building in Jerusalem that represents the city’s tangle of religions, this is it. The ground floor is a Jewish holy site said to house the tomb of the biblical King David. The second floor is the Cenacle, a Christian holy site, the room believed to be the site of Jesus’ Last Supper. On the roof, there’s an old minaret from when this place was marked a Muslim holy site. One building, three religions, decades of property disputes. And the fight isn’t over.

Because it is disputed, each religion is prevented from using it for explicitly religious functions and so it is just a tourist site.

Israel limits organized Christian prayers here to just a few times a year. There are no crosses on the wall; no chapel. Groups of pilgrims from around the world shuffle in, take snapshots and shuffle out. Sometimes stray cats wander around.

“The place is so essential, so much an integral part of the Christian narrative,” says the Rev. David Neuhaus, a Catholic vicar in Jerusalem. “Needless to say, it’s a dream that we could pray there in regular fashion like other holy places.”

“The minute they’ll make it as a church, Jews, halachically, according to Jewish law, are forbidden to go in there,” he says. “It’s a disgrace for Israel, you know, it’s like milk spilled that you can never return it back.”

So there you have it, in the 21st century people still argue and fight over their myths and symbols, holy books and holy sites. Three religions are tangling over a building that has supposedly been built on a site that has connections to two people (David and Jesus) whose very existence is in serious doubt.


  1. slc1 says

    That’s nothing. consider the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in which several Christian sects share in an uneasy truce. Every so often, the Government of Israel has to step in to settle disputes. Rather interesting, Jews being the intermediaries between different Christian sects.

  2. sailor1031 says

    A bit of a stretch to believe that a raggle-taggle bunch of illiterate fishermen and labourers and an itinerant preacher would have been allowed to rent the tomb of King David for a supper party, isn’t it?

  3. Couldn't think of a decent nickname says

    Just how awesome would it be if an earthquake or lightning destroyed this (and only this) building? Can you imagine the gazillions of interpretation attempts? Thousands of clerics of all three religions trying to decipher the message of an almighty god who unfortunately failed his Communication 101 class.

  4. mnb0 says

    Frankly I think Israeli government does quite a good job preventing all the religious fights in Jerusalem in those churches. It doesn’t take much to imagine what would happen if religious authorities took over.

  5. Tim says

    I learned a new word today: halachically.

    For other readers for whom this might be a new term, I found “halacha” defined:

    Halacha, Halaka, Halakha (Hebrew) [hɑlɑˈxɑː (Yiddish) hɑˈloxə]
    1. (Non-Christian Religions / Judaism)
    a. Jewish religious law
    b. a ruling on some specific matter
    2. (Non-Christian Religious Writings / Other Non-Christian Religious Writings)
    a. that part of the Talmud which is concerned with legal matters as distinct from homiletics
    b. Jewish legal literature in general Compare Aggadah [1]
    [from Hebrew hǎlākhāh way]


    Having found that definition, a question arises: Are Jewish people forbidden by their own law to enter into a Christian Church?

  6. Mano Singham says

    I too was struck by your last question but I don’t know the answer. Maybe someone who is more familiar with orthodox Judaism can supply it.

  7. stonyground says

    One of the defining aspects of religion is regarding certain things as being hugely important. Certain things that really don’t matter in the slightest.

    Those familiar with Life of Brian will remember a recurring theme of the locals behaving like idiots and Roman soldiers leaning on spears shaking their heads at the stupidity. I recall a news broadcast of a seige at the Church of the Nativity. Once the siege had been resolved, there was a violent punch up as all the different factions of Christians fought to enter the building. The funny part was when the camera panned to some soldiers in modern combat uniforms, automatic weapons pointing at the ground, shaking their heads at the stupidity.

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