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  • The Menorah Treasure at the Foot of the Southern Wall
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The Menorah Treasure at the Foot of the Southern Wall

The first days of the excavations on behalf of Hebrew University in the Ophel region, near the Southern Wall of the Temple Mount, were quite normal. No one prepared the excavators for what they were about to discover a few moments later. “Suddenly, one of the workers approached me excitedly,” relates Dr. Eilat Mazar. “Eilat, you have to come and see something up close!” “I thought to myself that it was probably another regular artifact, and replied that I would come later, but he insisted, ‘Eilat, you must come now!’”

The Original Menorah Medallion

 Eilat and the excavator approached the excavation site. Underneath the dust, the glimmer of a very large piece of gold was visible. After the excavators cleaned and removed the dust slowly and thoroughly, taking turns performing the careful work and all wanting to take part in this rare historic moment, it was possible to clearly discern a golden medallion upon which the seven-branched Menorah (candelabrum) was embossed. The excitement that overcame the excavators as they encountered the ancient medallion was indescribable.

The diameter of the medallion is approximately ten centimeters and it is made of pure gold. The medallion was apparently used as a decoration for a Torah scroll, and it is 1,400 years old – the oldest of its kind ever discovered. The image of the  seven-branched Menorah is embossed on the medallion, with a shofar (ram’s horn) and a Torah scroll on either side of it. Along with the medallion, 36 gold coins, a pair of gold earrings and silver items were also discovered.

The image of the Menorah symbolizes the strong yearning for the Temple felt by the exiled Jews who returned to the Land of Israel. The period of the return to Zion was characterized by immense financial and logistic challenges, a hostile local population, difficult droughts and disappointment at the recollection of the former days of the second Temple period. For them, the Menorah represented a symbol which they could yearn for during the darkness of the exile.

Necklace inspired by the Menorah Medallion

The medallion was apparently brought to Jerusalem by messengers of the Jewish community who came to the city during the period of the Persian conquest from the Byzantines. During this period, the Jews were permitted to return and live in Jerusalem for the first time since the second Temple era. The Persian government, which controlled the Land of Israel during the fourth century, allowed the Jews to develop but eventually turned its back on them, abandoning them to Christian harassment due to political concerns.  In the end, the Jews were forced to flee, and thus they hid the golden treasure. For 1,400 years, the medallion waited, buried in the ground near the Southern Wall. Empires came and went – the Umayyad Caliphate and the Abbasid Caliphate, crusaders, enemies, Mamluks and Ottomans. Yet finally, after 1,400 years, this treasure was rediscovered and returned to the hands of the Jewish nation in the renewed city of Jerusalem.

The discovery personally brought Eilat Mazar full circle, as she is a relative of Professor Nahum Slouschz, who found a stone-sculpted Menorah while excavating a synagogue at Hamat Tiberias in 1921. That project was the first excavation in Israel executed by Jews residing in Israel, and thus became the symbol of the Israel Exploration Society. Her grandfather is Benjamin Mazar, who excavated in Beit Shearim on behalf of the Israel Exploration Society and discovered many decorative images of the Menorah inside the catacombs there.

“The discovery of the Menorah treasure,” Eilat Mazar concludes, “expresses and illustrates the ceaseless yearning of the Jewish nation for redemption and revival in its own homeland throughout the generations.”

For more information about the Menorah Treasure collection please press here

 

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    Avishai Shraga
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