The intimacy of Jesus and “the disciple whom Jesus loved” is tenderly depicted in this 3-foot-tall sculpture, carved from a single piece of oak sometime around 1300 in the Duchy of Swabia, in what is now southern Germany. Jesus’ arm encircles the younger man, who rests calmly on his master’s breast and touches his hand. The peacefulness of the scene belies the tension of the moment it depicts. In the Gospel of John, the beloved disciple reclines beside Jesus at the Last Supper. When Jesus says, “One of you is going to betray me,” Simon Peter motions to the beloved disciple and says, “Ask him which one he means.” Leaning back against Jesus, the beloved disciple asks, “Lord, who is it?” (John 13:20–25). The anonymous sculptor has caught the instant just before—or is it just after?—the disciple’s question. It is the last moment of calm and hope in the biblical story before the coming storm.
Tradition identifies the unnamed disciple as John the Evangelist, the only gospel writer to mention “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23, 21:7, 21:20). The church father Origen wrote that John was able to write the truest gospel because he had once rested on Jesus’ bosom.
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