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Israeli Archaeologists Uncover Earliest Menorah Depiction

September 13, 2009

The Israel Antiquities Authority reported on Friday that Israeli archaeologists have uncovered one of the oldest depictions of a menorah.

The menorah, a seven-branched candelabra that has come to symbolize Judaism, was engraved in stone around two centuries ago and found in a synagogue recently discovered near the Sea of Galilee.

Other items uncovered at the site, including pottery, coins and tools, indicate the synagogue dates to the period of the second Jewish temple in Jerusalem, where the actual menorah was kept, said archaeologist Dina Avshalom-Gorni of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The artist might have seen the menorah during a pilgrimage, and then recreated it in the synagogue, Avshalom-Gorni suggested during an interview with the Associated Press.

A small number of menorah depictions have surfaced from the same period, she added.  But this one was distinctive because it was inside a synagogue and far from Jerusalem, demonstrating the link between Jews around Jerusalem and in the Galilee to the north.

The menorah was depicted atop a pedestal with a triangular base, and was carved on a stone placed in the synagogue’s central hall.

Roman legions destroyed the temple in Jerusalem in the year 70 A.D.  The Arch of Titus in Rome, which depicts troops carrying the menorah from Jerusalem to symbolize the defeat of the Jews, was erected to commemorate the Roman victory.  

The menorah has since become a Jewish symbol, and is included today on Israel’s official emblem.

Most other depictions of the menorah were made subsequent to the temple’s destruction.  If the current finding is indeed earlier it could be closer to the original, according to Aren Maeir, a professor of archaeology at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.

“If you have a depiction of the menorah from the time of the temple, chances are it is more accurate and portrays the actual object than portrayals from after the destruction of the temple, when it was not existent,” he told the Associated Press.

The ancient prayer house was found in the town of Migdal, typically seen as the birthplace of the New Testament’s Mary Magdalene, whose is believed by some to be named after the town.

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