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Ancient Menorah Stone in Tiberias

Ancient Menorah Stone in Tiberias

Archaeologists unearthed a beautiful and ancient stone in the city of  Tiberius in Galilee in November of 2017. It is an impressive piece of basalt rock with an image of a seven-branched menorah. Menorah is a special temple lampstand which the Bible describes in detail.

31 “Then you shall make a lampstand of pure gold…32 Six branches shall go out from its sides; three branches of the lampstand from its one side and three branches of the lampstand from its other side… 34 and in the lampstand four cups shaped like almond blossoms, its bulbs and its flowers… 37 Then you shall make its lamps seven in number…” (Exodus 12:13-37)

This basalt slab was originally a part of an old Tiberias tomb. Unfortunately, one knows which one.  The researchers believe that this rock was in a Jewish tomb from 2nd -4th century. But this menorah-carved rock had an interesting journey since those days. Katia Cytryn-Silverman, an archaeologist at Hebrew University said that the stone with an image of the menorah is of Jewish origin. Still, it is not clear who made it.

The stone came from the site of an old mosque. That structure appeared in Tiberias sometime after it came under Muslim control in 635 CE.  In the past, it was common to reuse or repurpose stones for new building projects regardless where they came from. That’s how the stone which was a part of a Jewish tomb came to be part of the mosque.

“The Jews of the city during the Mishna and Talmud period also had a magnificent cemetery, and the doors of the burial systems were made of thick basalt slabs, decorated with various symbols,” Cytryn Silverman told The Jerusalem Post.

Katia Cytryn-Silverman with the menorah stone
Katia Cytryn-Silverman with the menorah stone

This ornately carved stone with seven-branched menorah appears to be a doorway decoration. According to Hebrew University researchers, the mosque fell apart during an earthquake in the year 1068. And after that, as one would expect, the builders repurposed some rocks from the mosque. They built a new structure – a sugar factory. This menorah stone found a new purpose during the construction and became a part of a staircase.

Amazing… a basalt stone, which began its life as a doorway to a Jewish tomb 1800 years ago, became one of the base stones of a mosque 600 years later. And after several more hundred years, the same stone became a stair slab in a Crusader-built sugar factory.

“The sugar industry was widespread in the Jordan Valley and Tiberias during and after the Crusader periods. For example, a letter from 1182 CE sent by the Hospitaller Crusader Order of Jerusalem, requesting the shipment of sugar from Tiberias for the production of medicines and syrup for patients in the hospital of the Order was found in the area,” Cytryn Silverman explained. “So, the menorah had a sweet ending.”

And now that this old rock is unearthed, in 2017, just before Hanukkah. It proudly bears the image of the seven-branched menorah for the whole modern world to see. Out of all the images that could have been on this rock, it a carving of the menorah – a symbol of Jewish spiritual heritage.

 

 

Pinchas

I am an educator, researcher, a faculty member and an avid believer in online education. My specialties are Sacred Texts and Cultures (Second Temple period, early Judaism and nascent Christianity). I am passionate about meaning, context, and cultural transmission of ancient texts. My preoccupations with history, ancient languages and contextual interpretation often find expression in my blog posts. Every human has a pretext, every message has a context. Context changes everything! Enjoy reading.


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