The upper room (Mark 14)

Christian tradition, supported by Cyril of Jerusalem (ca. 310-386), identifies the site of Holy Zion Church in Jerusalem as the place where the upper room was located. This may well be correct, but the story is complicated and details are disputed by scholars.

First, it is unclear whether there were one or two “upper rooms”. Mark 14:15 and Luke 22:12 each speaks of an upper room where the Last Supper was held, but Acts 1:13 uses a different Greek word to refer to the upper room where the disciples met after the resurrection of Jesus. Even so, the two rooms may well have been one and the same.

The traditional location of the upper room at Holy Zion Church is called the Cenacle, or, in Latin, the Coenaculum. It is located outside the Old City near the Zion Gate and may be seen on the sixth century Madaba Map, an ancient map of the Holy Land. The Cenacle is also (erroneously) referred to as David’s Tomb.

Holy Zion Church was damaged in the 1948 war, and this allowed Israeli archaeologist Jacob Pinkerfield to investigate the site. He concluded that a Roman period synagogue had stood on the spot, arguing that the building had a niche that could have been a repository for Torah scrolls and that it was oriented toward the temple mount. Christian scholars responded that this was probably a Jewish-Christian church built after the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 to commemorate the site of the Last Supper (the present-day Holy Zion Church being a later structure built at the same site). They note that the building appears to have been constructed from reused stone from the fallen temple of Herod and that it is actually oriented toward the Holy Sepulchre (obviously implying that the builders were Christian). Since the numerous scholars have weighed in on both sides of the issue, some favouring the interpretation of the structure as a synagogue and others as a church. The debate is also complicated by questions involving comments by ancient writers.

No one is suggesting that the actual building where the Last Supper took place has been located, but only that remains of a church that commemorated its location have been unearthed. We should note that the debate here centres not upon the historicity of the Last Supper account but simply upon whether or not the traditional identification of its location is accurate. The traditional Cenacle still remains the strongest candidate for being that location.

The Madaba Map.

%d bloggers like this: