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The Last Supper (Il Cenacolo or L'Ultima Cena )is a 15th century mural painting in Milan created by Leonardo da Vinci which portrays Jesus with the twelve apostles. Speculative questions abound.

  1. Was Jesus' Last Supper a Seder?
  2. Is Mary Magdalene in painting or John the Apostle?

(Scroll down for possible answers.)

The apostles are identified from a manuscript (The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci p. 232) with their names found in the 19th century.

From Left to Right, according to the apostles heads:

Jesus of Nazareth

The Twelve Apostles

1. Saint Bartholomew usually identified as Nathaniel (Nathanael) (mentioned in the first chapter of John's Gospel). He was introduced to Christ through St. Philip, another of the twelve apostles as per (John 1:43-51), where the name Nathaniel first appears. He is also mentioned as “Nathaniel of Cana in Galilee” in (John 21:2).

2. Saint James, son of Alphaeus appears under this name in all three of the Synoptic Gospels' lists of the apostles. He is often identified with James the Less (Greek Iacobos ho mikros, Mark 15:40) and commonly known by that name in church tradition.

James, the son of Alphaeus, is rarely mentioned in the New Testament. He is distinguished from James the Lord's brother (Gal.1:19), an important leader in the New Testament church, and James, son of Zebedee, another one of the Twelve Apostles.

3. Saint Andrew is considered the founder and the first bishop of the Church of Byzantium and is consequently the patron saint of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

He is called in the Orthodox tradition Prōtoklētos, or the First-called, is a Christian Apostle and the brother of Saint Peter. The name "Andrew" (Greek: manly, brave, from Andreia, "manhood, valour"), like other Greek names, appears to have been common among the Jews, Christians, and other Hellenized peoples of the region. No Hebrew or Aramaic name is recorded for him.

4. Judas Iscariot ‫יהודה איש־קריות‬‎, is best known for his kiss and betrayal of Jesus to the hands of the chief Sanhedrin priests. Judas is mentioned in the synoptic gospels, the Gospel of John and at the beginning of Acts of the Apostles.

  • Gospel of Judas

During the 1970s, a Coptic papyrus codex (book) was discovered near Beni Masah, Egypt which appeared to be a 3rd- or 4th-century-AD copy of a 2nd-century original, describing the story of Jesus's death from the viewpoint of Judas. At its conclusion, the text identifies itself as "the Gospel of Judas" (Euangelion Ioudas).

5. Saint Peter or Simon Peter is featured prominently in the New Testament Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles and who is venerated as a saint. The son of John or of Jonah, he was from the village of Bethsaida in the province of Galilee or Gaulanitis. His brother Andrew was also an apostle.

  • First Catholic Pope

Peter is venerated in multiple churches and is regarded as the first Pope by the Catholic Church. After working to establish the church of Antioch, presiding for seven years as the leader of the city's Christian community,he preached to scattered communities of believers, Jews, Hebrew Christians and the gentiles, in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia Minor and Bithynia.

Peter wrote two General epistles. The Gospel of Mark is also ascribed to him (as Mark was his disciple and interpreter). On the other hand, several books bearing his name—the Acts of Peter, Gospel of Peter, Preaching of Peter, Revelation of Peter, and Judgement of Peter—are rejected by the Catholic Church as Apocryphal.

6. John the Apostle (c. AD 6 – c. 100) was the son of Zebedee and Salome and brother of James, son of Zebedee, another of the Twelve Apostles.The Church Fathers consider him the same person as John the Evangelist, John of Patmos, and the Beloved Disciple.

The Church Fathers generally identify him as the author of five books in the New Testament: the Gospel of John, three Epistles of John, and the Book of Revelation.

  • The Gospel of John

The Gospel according to John differs considerably from the synoptic gospels, likely written decades earlier than John's Gospel. Some modern scholars have raised the possibility that John the Apostle, John the Evangelist, and John of Patmos were three separate individuals.

7. Thomas the Apostle was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus. He is best known for questioning Jesus' resurrection when first told of it, then proclaiming "My Lord and my God" on seeing Jesus in John 20:28. He was perhaps the only Apostle who went outside the Roman Empire to preach the Gospel. He is also believed to have crossed the largest area, which includes the Parthian Empire and India.

  • Thomas in the Gospel of John

Thomas speaks in the Gospel of John. In John 11:16, when Lazarus has just died, the apostles don't want to go back to Judea, where Jesus' fellow Jews had attempted to stone him to death. Thomas says bravely: "Let us also go, that we may die with him" (NIV).

8. James the Greater (died 44 AD) was a son of Zebedee and Salome, and brother of John the Apostle. He is called James the Greater to distinguish him from James, son of Alphaeus, who is also known as James the Lesser.

James is described as one of the first disciples to join Jesus. The Synoptic Gospels state that James and John were with their father by the seashore when Jesus called them to follow him. [Matt.%C2%A04:21-22] [Mk.%C2%A01:19-20]

James was one of only three apostles whom Jesus selected to bear witness to his Transfiguration. He is the only apostle whose martyrdom is recorded in the New Testament. He is, thus, traditionally believed to be the first of the 12 apostles martyred for his faith. [Acts%C2%A012:1-2]

9. Philip the Apostle Philip is described as a disciple from the city of Bethsaida, and connects him to Andrew and Peter, who were from the same town.[1:43–44] It further connects him to Nathanael (sometimes identified with Bartholomew) whom Philip first introduces to Jesus.[Jn%C2%A01:45–47] Of the four Gospels, Philip figures most prominently in the Gospel of John.

  • Gospel of Philip?

One of the Gnostic texts found in the Nag Hammadi library in 1945 has been given the modern title "Gospel of Philip", though this text makes no claim to have been written by Philip. It gets the name simply because Philip is the only apostle ever mentioned in the text (73:8).

Later Christian traditions describe Philip as the apostle who preached in Greece, Syria, and Phrygia.

10. Matthew the Evangelist מתי/מתתיהו, Mattay or Mattithyahu; Matthaios) was an Apostles of Jesus and one of the four Evangelists.

Among the early followers and apostles of Jesus, Matthew is mentioned in Mt 9:9 and Mt 10:3 as a former tax collector from Capernaum who was called into the circle of the Twelve by Jesus. He is often equated with the figure of Levi, son of Alpheus, also a tax collector, who is mentioned in Mk 2:14 and Lk 5:27. He may have collected taxes from the Hebrew people for Herod Antipas. According to the New Testament he was one of the witnesses of the Resurrection and the Ascension.

  • Gospel of Mathew

Although the first of the Synoptic Gospels is technically anonymous, traditionally the Gospel of Matthew was held to be written by the apostle. Some early church fathers recorded that Matthew originally wrote in "Hebrew", but still regarded the Greek text as canonical.

11. Jude the Apostle is generally identified with Thaddeus, and is also variously called Jude of James, Jude Thaddaeus, Judas Thaddaeus or Lebbaeus. He is sometimes identified with Jude, "brother of Jesus", but is clearly distinguished from Judas Iscariot, another disciple, the betrayer of Jesus.

"Jude of James" is only mentioned twice in the New Testament: in the lists of apostles in Luke 6:16 and Acts 1:13. The Gospel of John also once mentions a disciple called "Judas not Iscariot" (John 14:22). This is often accepted to be the same person as the apostle Jude, though some scholars see the identification as uncertain.

In some Latin manuscripts of Matthew 10:3, he is called Judas the Zealot. Opinion is divided on whether Jude the apostle is the same as Jude, brother of Jesus, who is mentioned in Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13:55-57, and is the traditional author of the Epistle of Jude.

12. Simon the Zealot Simon Zelotes in Luke 6:15 and Acts 1:13; and Simon Kananaios or Simon Cananeus שמעון was one of the most obscure among the apostles of Jesus. Little is recorded of him aside from his name. A few pseudepigraphical writings were connected to him, and Jerome does not include him in De viris illustribus.

The name of Simon occurs in all of the synoptic gospels and Acts that give a list of apostles, without further details: To distinguish him from Simon Peter, he is called Kananaios, or Kananites (Matthew 10:4; Mark 3:18), and in the list of apostles in Luke 6:15, repeated in Acts 1:13, Zelotes, the "Zealot".

In the Gospels, Simon the Zealot is never identified with Simon the "brother" of Jesus mentioned in Gospel of Mark 6:3 :

Another tradition holds that this is the Simeon of Jerusalem who became the second bishop of Jerusalem, although he was born in Galilee.

1. Was Jesus' Last Supper a Seder?

Three out of four of the canonical Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) agree that the Last Supper was held only after the Jewish holiday of Passover had begun. Moreover, one of the best known and painstakingly detailed studies of the Last Supper—Joachim Jeremias’s book The Eucharistic Words of Jesus—lists no fewer than 14 distinct parallels between the Last Supper tradition and the Passover Seder.Biblical Archeology Review

2. Mary Magdalene or John the Apostle?

Some fiction writers identify the person to Jesus' right (left of Jesus from the viewer's perspective), not as John the Apostle, as is supposed by iconographical tradition and confirmed by art historians, but with a woman, often purported to be Mary Magdalene. This speculation was the topic of the book The Templar Revelation (1997) by Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince, and plays a central role in Dan Brown's fiction novel The Da Vinci Code (2003). - Wikipedia - Speculations

The editors of this new volume are both distinguished New Testament scholars who wanted Christian readers to learn more about the Judaic origins of Christianity and the context surrounding the life of Jesus, plus introduce Jewish readers to what is unquestionably one of the canonical texts in Western Civilization.