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First-Ever Find: Temple Menorah Relief by Jewish Eyewitness

reprinted from Arutz 7
Elul 22, 5769, 11 September 09 10:42

by Gil Ronen

The Israel Antiquities Authority has uncovered one of the world's oldest synagogues in an excavation at Migdal, near the Sea of Galilee (Kinneret). Inside the synagogue, a stone relief contains a depiction of the seven branched Menorah which stood in the Temple, and which was most likely seen by the artist who sculpted the stone relief. Known depictions of the Menorah from Second Temple times include the famous relief of Titus's Arch in Rome, which shows Roman soldiers taking it away after destroying the Temple, and depictions on contemporary coins as well as graffiti etched into stone in Jerusalem's Jewish Quarter. However, the new find is said to be the first which includes a relief etched by an artist contemporary with the Temple. 

The Menorah relief. (Israel Antiquities Authority, Moshe Hartal)

The synagogue has been dated to the years 50 BCE – 100 CE. The rectangular stone bearing the Menorah relief stands inside its central chamber. The chamber is about 120 square meters in size and stone benches line its sides. The decorated stone depicts amphorae (earthenware vessels) on both sides of the Menorah and bears additional decorative motifs on its four sides and its top.

The floor of the synagogue was adorned with a mosaic and its walls were covered with a colorful fresco. The dig was conducted by Dina Avshalom-Gorni and Arfan Najer of the Antiquities Authority. According to Gorni, the find is “unique and exciting.”

"This is the first time that a Menorah decoration is discovered from the days in which the Temple still stood,” she said. “It is the first Menorah that is discovered in a Jewish context, which is dated to Second Temple times – the early Roman period. We can estimate that the inscription that appears on the stone... was made by an artist who saw the seven-branched Menorah in the Temple in Jerusalem. The synagogue joins only six synagogues known in the world from Second Temple times.”

The dig was conducted on land owned by a company which intends to build a hotel on the property.

Ancient Migdal – or Migdala, in Aramaic – was mentioned in Jewish sources and served as one of the central bases for forces under the command of Josephus Flavius (Yosef Ben Matityahu), who commanded the Galilee rebellion but later crossed over to the Roman camp. Resistance at Migdal continued after Tiberias and the rest of the Galilee had surrendered. Migdal is also mentioned in the Christian “New Testament” as the place where Mary Magdalene, or Mary of Magdala, came from. In late Second Temple times the town was an administrative center of the western Sea of Galilee area. Until the establishment of Tiberias in the year 19 CE, it was the central town on the coast of the Sea of Galilee.

The site will be open to visitors in the future.

Earliest Known Depiction of Second Temple Lamp Uncovered

reprinted from Haaretz

by Eli Ashkenazi, Haaretz Correspondent

An artist who visited the Second Temple returned to his Galilee home some 2,000 years ago amazed by what he'd seen.

In a synagogue on Lake Kinneret's shores, he carved the candelabra he'd seen into a rock.

The stone and other discoveries were recently uncovered by an Israel Antiquities Authority dig near Moshava Migdal. The dig uncovered the earliest known synagogue dated to the days of the Second Temple.

The dig is intended as a salvage operation ahead of the construction of a hotel on a site owned by the Franciscan church.

The uncovered synagogue dates to 50 BC to 100 AD, and at its center the engraving of the seven-branched lamp, or menorah, "unlike any ever seen" according to workers at the site.

According the Antiquities Authority "starting with the beginning of the dig three weeks ago, we realized we had found something interesting. The findings at the site were also well preserved."

The synagogue's central hall measured 120 meters square and was surrounded by benches for attendees. On the floor was a mosaic and the walls were frescoed.

In the hall the square stone was uncovered, decorated with engravings on all four sides and tip.

One engraving includes the seven-branched lamp which stands on a single leg with a triangle base with vessels on either side. "This is a very exciting and unique discovery, this is the first time a lamp engraving from the Second Temple age has been uncovered, the earliest lamp in a Jewish context, dated to the beginning of the Roman period," site director Dina Avshalom-Gorni said.

A representative the Fransiscan church-owned company planning the 122-room hotel also expressed joy at the discovery and stated it strengthens the church's resolve to establish an interdenominational dialogue center in the region.

The Antiquities Authority said the dig site is still closed to visitors.



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