Hanukkah Discovery: Ancient Menorah and Cross Carvings

Bible and archaeology news


Cave explorers in the Judean Shephelah found ancient carvings of a seven-branched menorah and a cross during the Hanukkah holiday. Photo: Saar Ganor, Israel Antiquities Authority.

Over the weekend, during the Hanukkah holiday and the last days of 2016, Israel Caving Club members Mickey Barkal, Sefi Givoni and Ido Meroz were exploring caves in the Judean Shephelah when they noticed what appeared to be ancient carvings. They notified the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), who confirmed that the markings were indeed ancient in an IAA press release. Carved on the chalk wall of a water cistern were a seven-branched menorah with a three-legged base—representing the Temple menorah from the Second Temple period—as well as a cross, a Christian symbol. Near the menorah and cross were additional engravings that are still being identified.

“There are buildings and hiding refuges from the time of the Bar-Kokhba uprising (second century C.E.) at the site and buildings that date to the Byzantine period,” explained Saar Ganor, the District Archaeologist of Ashkelon for the IAA, in the press release. “It is rare to find a wall engraving of a menorah, and this exciting discovery, which was symbolically revealed during the Hanukkah holiday, substantiates the scientific research regarding the Jewish nature of the settlement during the Second Temple period.”

“The menorah was probably etched in the cistern after the water installation was hewn in the bedrock—maybe by inhabitants of the Jewish settlement that was situated there during the Second Temple period and the time of Bar-Kokhba—and the cross was etched later on during the Byzantine period, most likely in the fourth century C.E.,” said Ganor.

Ganor told Ilan Ben Zion of the Times of Israel that while the carvings couldn’t be dated with scientific testing, the IAA has determined the carvings’ antiquity based on their patina as well as the water cistern’s closeness to a late Roman–Byzantine period archaeological site.

The IAA plans to continue investigating the water cistern, but will not reveal its exact location at this time for the protection of both the site as well as amateur explorers.

Our free eBook Ten Top Biblical Archaeology Discoveries brings together the exciting worlds of archaeology and the Bible! Learn the fascinating insights gained from artifacts and ruins, like the Pool of Siloam in Jerusalem, where the Gospel of John says Jesus miraculously restored the sight of the blind man, and the Tel Dan inscription—the first historical evidence of King David outside the Bible.


Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Understanding the Jewish Menorah

The Magdala Stone: The Jerusalem Temple Embodied

1,600-Year-Old Bracelet Stamped with Menorah Motifs Uncovered in Dig

Early Christian Art Symbols Endure after Iconoclast Attack


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  • AF says

    Patinas notwithstanding, because there is a cross of course it will likely be assumed predictably that the carving is Byzantine.

    But one thing I find interesting though, is that the carvers of the cross, assuming it was carved later than the menorahs, didn’t seem to try to deface or scratch out the menorah, which you’d think they might do when you consider what Christian doctrine had shaped up to be theologically around Byzantine times, with concerns about heretical Judaizing etc.

    But if there were Christians in these caves during Byzantine times, what were they doing in there? They appear to have been pretty unoffended by Jewish imagery whoever they were. Maybe the cross carvers were really open minded relic seekers? Or maybe part of a group of Palestinian based Byzantine era Judiazing Christians? Or perhaps more plausibly they were simply Jewish Christians from a couple centuries earlier.?

    Since we know that the leadership of the early Christian community in Jerusalem underwent a change from Jewish to non-Jewish around the time of Bar Kochba, people from that community would seemingly be among the candidates to fit the profile of the types who be might hiding out in caves like this at during that particular time. So, who knows?

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