Bible and archaeology news
A unique menorah mosaic was recently uncovered on a synagogue floor at Horvat Kur in the Galilee. Dated to the Byzantine period (fourth–seventh centuries), the mosaic depicts an elaborate seven-branched menorah (lampstand) with oil lamps resting at the top of each arm of the candelabra. The lamp at the top of the middle branch has its wick—and accompanying flame—in the very middle of the lamp. Such lamps have not been attested in the archaeological record, but the lamps on the other arms of the menorah resemble known Byzantine types. These lamps face the center with their wicks and flames pointed toward the middle branch of the menorah.
Written across the top of the menorah mosaic are three names: “El‘azar, son of Yudan, son of Susa [or Qoso].” The directors of the Kinneret Regional Project, who exposed this mosaic—Drs. Jürgen Zangenberg, Raimo Hakola, Byron R. McCane and Stefan Münger—think that these might be the names of prominent members of the Jewish community at Horvat Kur during the Byzantine period, or, they posit, perhaps El‘azar and his ancestors helped fund the construction of the synagogue.
The menorah became a popular symbol in synagogues during the Byzantine period, but both the Bible and archaeology demonstrate that it held significance for the Jewish people long before that.
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Exodus 25:31–40 describes the golden seven-branched lampstand that was meant to illuminate the Tabernacle:
You shall make a lampstand of pure gold. The base and the shaft of the lampstand shall be made of hammered work; its cups, its calyxes, and its petals shall be of one piece with it; and there shall be six branches going out of its sides, three branches of the lampstand out of one side of it and three branches of the lampstand out of the other side of it; three cups shaped like almond blossoms, each with calyx and petals, on one branch, and three cups shaped like almond blossoms, each with calyx and petals, on the other branch—so for the six branches going out of the lampstand. On the lampstand itself there shall be four cups shaped like almond blossoms, each with its calyxes and petals. There shall be a calyx of one piece with it under the first pair of branches, a calyx of one piece with it under the next pair of branches, and a calyx of one piece with it under the last pair of branches—so for the six branches that go out of the lampstand. Their calyxes and their branches shall be of one piece with it, the whole of it one hammered piece of pure gold. You shall make the seven lamps for it; and the lamps shall be set up so as to give light on the space in front of it. Its snuffers and trays shall be of pure gold. It, and all these utensils, shall be made from a talent of pure gold. And see that you make them according to the pattern for them, which is being shown you on the mountain.
We know that the Second Jerusalem Temple had a menorah similar to the one detailed in this passage. It is depicted on the Arch of Titus in Rome, which shows the vessels and articles of the Second Temple being carried off to Rome following the temple’s destruction in 70 C.E.
Another representation of the menorah that stood in the Second Temple was discovered by the late Nahman Avigad. While excavating the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, Avigad found a menorah graffito incised in the plaster of a house wall just 300 yards from the Temple Mount. Measuring 8 inches tall, it dates to the first century B.C.E. Most scholars believe that it was inscribed by someone who had seen the menorah in the Second Temple.
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