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Israeli archeologist sheds light on rare engraved menorah discovered near Jerusalem

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This is only the second time that a menorah has been discovered on a Jewish tomb from the period preceding the Bar-Kokhba revolt

By ILANIT CHERNICK

An archeologist from Bar-Ilan University has shed light on a rare seven-branch menorah drawing that possibly dates back to the Hasmonean era, found at the entrance to a tomb on the outskirts of the Arab village of Mukhmas near Jerusalem.

The engraved menorah finding was initially discovered but archived in the 1980s during a survey initiated by the Staff Office for Archaeology in Judea and Samaria.

However, recently Dr. Dvir Raviv from Bar-Ilan University’s Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology, highlighted this unknown discovery in a paper published in the archaeology and history journal In the Highland’s Depth.

In the paper, Raviv points out that the menorah engraving found in Mukhmas “dates back to the period between the Hasmonean era and the Bar-Kokhba revolt, and is considered a rare and unique find, as decorative use of the Temple menorah was rare during this period.” 

He explained that the “most prominent examples found to date include depictions of the menorah on coins of the Hasmonean ruler Mattathias Antigonus, on objects and remnants from Jerusalem, on a stone table in Magdala north of Tiberias, and on the Arch of Titus in Rome.”

According to Raviv, menorahs were quite commonly used to decorate the façades of Jewish tombs in ancient times, “but this is only the second time that a menorah has been discovered on a Jewish tomb from the period preceding the Bar-Kokhba revolt.” 

A long-known example is Jason’s Tomb in Jerusalem, from the Hasmonean period, which included “small, schematic carvings on the walls of the entrance vestibule, unlike the large, decorated menorah discovered on the façade of the Mukhmas tomb.”

Raviv explained in the paper that the menorah’s engraving in the village of Mukhmas is akin to paintings of two seven-branched menorahs that were documented in the al-‘Aliliyat caves, nearby.

These caves served as a hiding place and refuge during the Second Temple period and during the days of the Jewish revolts against Rome.

Raviv’s paper suggested that the menorah may have been a motif related to the Temple and the priesthood that served in it during this time because it was rare to use a menorah as an artistic decoration between the Second Temple period and the Bar-Kokhba revolt.

“The depictions of menorot found on the outskirts of Mukhmas and the mention of Mikhmas (today the village of Mukhmas) in the Mishnah (the book of Jewish Oral Law) as the place from which selected semolina wheat was brought to the Temple may indicate that a priestly population lived there during the Second Temple period,” the paper explains. “Additionally, Mikhmas is mentioned as the dwelling place of Jonathan the Hasmonean, where he began to establish his status in Judea after the death of his brother Judah [the] Maccabee.”

Discussing this suggestion and discovery, Raviv pointed out that “Jonathan’s choice of the town as the base from which to consolidate his control of Judea may have been linked to the location of Mikhmas in a densely-populated area of Jews who supported the Hasmoneans during the years of the revolt.”

Concluding, Raviv said that because it’s difficult to determine “the exact date of the menorah’s graffito and the scarcity of explicit references to priests in Mikhmas during the Second Temple period, it is possible that a group reached the site only after the destruction of the Temple and lived there during the period between the revolts.”

*Featured Image: A rare drawing of a seven-branch menorah on a cistern in the al-‘Aliliyat cliffs near Mukhmas, northeast of Jerusalem, which researchers believe could date back to the Hasmonean era. (Credit: Boaz Langford/Bar-Ilan University)

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