A Collection of over 50 Photographs and Paintings of Ancient Menorahs
The menorah is one of the oldest symbols in Judaism and has remained an enduring symbol of the Jewish people through the centuries. The first known menorah is believed to have been made for the Tabernacle and is mentioned in the Bible:
Exodus 25:31-37: "You shall make a lampstand of pure gold. The lampstand shall be made of hammered work: its base, its stem, its cups, its calyxes, and its flowers 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"
There are different interpretations of the origin of the menorah. Many believe that it symbolizes the burning bush that Moses saw on Mount Sinai. Others believe that it represents the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden. Another interpretation says that the seven branches represent the seven days of Creation.
The menorah was a central feature of the Temple that burned pure olive oil prepared especially for this purpose by the High Priest. The kohanim (Jewish Priests) lit the menorah every evening and cleaned it out every morning. The central light was never allowed to burn out, and was called "Ner Tameed" or "Eternal Light." An Eternal Flame, can be found in most synagogues today to commemorate the original menorah.
Following the victory of the Syrians by the Maccabees, the Jews returned to their destroyed Temple to cleanse and rebuild it. Among the rubble, they found one closed jug of olive oil, which still had the seal of the High Priest. It only contained enough oil to last for one day, but through a miracle of God, the oil lasted eight days. For thousands of years since then, the miracle of Hanukkah is celebrated with a special eight-branched menorah to commemorate this occasion. The ninth candle holder is called the Shamash, or the "helper candle," which is used to light the other candles.
Representations of the menorah have been found carved in stone dating back to the 1st century. Below are incredible pictures of ancient menorahs that we think you will enjoy.
An engraving of the Temple menorah on stone found in a 2,000-year-old drainage channel near the City of David
Menorahs Flanking Temple – mosaic floor (6th CE). Beth Shean Synagogue
Menorahs Flanking Temple - mosaic floor (6th CE). Beth Shean Synagogue
Photo by Hoyasmeg
Coin depicting a menorah issued by the last Hasmonean king, Mattathias Antigonus, c. 40BCE
Two coins from the 2nd Temple era, they were coined in honor of King Antignos who was the last king of the Chashmoni'm
THE ARCH OF TITUS
Below are images from The Arch of Titus, located on the Via Sacra in Rome to honor the conquest of the Jews. It was built in 82 AD by the Roman Emperor Domitian, after the death of his older brother, Titus, to commerorate Titus' victories, including the Siege of Jerusalem, which destroyed the Second Temple. The destruction of both the first and second temple is still mourned annually as the Jewish fast Tisha B'Av. The Arch of Titus shows a stone carving of the menorah and other temple items carried by Jewish slaves in a parade in downtown Rome following the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The menorah carved in the arch is the model for the menorah used as the emblem for the State of Israel.
The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans Under the Command of Titus, A.D. 70, Oil on canvas, 1850
Menorahs carved on top of a column, dating from the late Roman period.
Relief Depicting a Menorah, from Umm Qeis (Ancient Gadara) Jordan (Basalt)
Ancient mosaic floor uncovered in Tunisia believed to be the ruins of a Jewish synagogue built over the 1st to 6th centuries AD
Below is a photo of a mosaic taken by Todd Bolen. He writes:
About a year ago , it was reported that the ancient synagogue in Jericho had been destroyed by Arab vandals. In my recent visit, there was no evidence of harm to the ancient remains, and the synagogue appeared to be well-protected by the Palestinian authorities. The beautiful mosaic floor includes an Aramaic dedicatory inscription, a depiction of the Ark of the Law, a seven-branched menorah, a lulav, and a shofar. In addition, the centerpiece (shown above) has a Hebrew inscription, shalom al yisrael, "peace upon Israel." This synagogue was in use from the 6th to the 8th centuries A.D.
Source: Todd Bolen, http://www.bibleplaces.com/newsletter/200605may.htm
Relief of the menorah from Ostia
Fourth-century oil lamp with a menorah from Cologne (Römisch-Germanisches Museum; Köln)
The Menorah as shown on a relief from Sardes
Stone tablet from the synagogue in Peki'in, Israel.
Drawing of the Temple menorah, in Maimonides's own hand, between 1168 and 1204, in a manuscript of his Perush Hamishnayot, illustrating his comments on Menachot 3:7. Reproduced in Y. Kafih's edition, Jerusalem, 1967, vol 3 p 79
In this 1806 French print, the woman with the Menorah represents the Jews being emancipated by Napoleon Bonaparte
Menorah with depression for oil lamps, Synagogue at Hamat Tiberias, Sea of Galilee, 6th century, stone.
Menorah on Hasmonean coin
Three foot long engraved stone discovered in the Magdala synagogue, which dates to the 1st century
Photo By Heather Wizell
Engraving from the 1st century found in the Upper City of Ancient Jerusalem near the Temple Mount. It is one of the earliest depictions of a menorah.
From the 'Erection of the Tabernacle and the Sacred Vessels' by Gerard Hoet (1648 - 1733)
A Jewish tombstone from the Roman Empire with Greek writing and menorahs, Vatican Museum, Rome
Found in Sepphoris, Israel, part of the synagogue mosaic dating from the time of the Mishnah
The Israel Museum, by Dr. Jean-Luc Pilon, Canadian Museum of Civilization. Gold glass base with Jewish symbols. Rome. 4th century CE. The gold glass has the image of a menorah, a lulav, an etrog, and a shofar. On top is an open Torah ark with its scrolls displayed.
"The Holy of Holies" lithograph by J.R. Jones (1879)
Jewish ritual objects shown on a gold goblet (2nd century CE) excavated in Rome
Hanukkah lamp unearthed near en:Jerusalem
A Dutch research team found the charcoal fragments embedded in lime powder used in the construction of Villa Torlonia, a Jewish catacomb, dated from 50 B.C. to A.D. 400. The discovery suggests that the Jewish catacomb came into use a century before the earliest Christian sites, and even before Christianity itself appeared in Rome. The catacombs are in a remarkable state of preservation and contain the “Kokhim” graves and painted cubicula, distinguished by Judaic motifs such as the seven-branched candelabras, or menorahs, that appear on many grave stones.
http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-sites-places/temple-at-jerusalem/understanding-the-jewish-menorah/ - see slide show on bottom
Beit Shearim Menorah Caves
A Messianic Seal from the Christian church in ancient Jerusalem has been rediscovered after 2,000 years. This ancient symbol was found on Mount Zion. It is believed to have been created and used by the Jewish believers who called themselves Nazarenes in the first Messianic Church
Source: Photo by BecFromMD http://www.flickr.com/photos/37466257@N00/1160511167/sizes/z/in/photostream/
Tombs of the Maccabees, Modi'in, Israel
If you enjoyed this article about ancient menorahs, you may also be interested in:
- The History of Hanukkah
- Hamsa Hand Symbology
- What is the Evil Eye?
- See our beautiful collection of handmade menorahs