The emblem of the state of Israel, officially adopted in 1949, features a menorah surrounded by olive branches on either side with the word Israel (in Hebrew) at the bottom. The menorah itself rests on a two-tiered base, containing six odd-looking figures. After determining these drawings’ significance, Elon Gilad finds himself confronting another mystery. (Free registration required).
The menorah . . . on the emblem is a stylized version of the menorah carved in relief on Titus’ Arch in Rome. The arch was built in 83 CE to mark the victories of the deceased emperor—including the conquest of Jerusalem. . . . Simply, those scribbles on the emblem are simplified versions of the ornamentation on the base of the menorah that is depicted on the arch.
The paint on the relief faded away centuries ago, and the stone engraving itself has worn over the ages. Yet we can still see that these designs portray a host of mythological creatures.
But the Ten Commandments state, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.” Is it possible that a menorah with graven images really stood in the Temple? On this, researchers are divided. . . .
Other depictions of the Temple menorah are not particularly helpful. The most ancient image of it found to date is well known to Israelis—it appears on the “tails” side of the contemporary ten-agorot coin. That menorah is a copy of coins minted by King Antigonus II Mattathias, the last Hasmonean king, in 37 BCE, just over 100 years before the menorah arrived in Rome. The menorah in these coins [has] a base . . . much smaller than the one on Titus’ Arch, having only one level, not two. Nor can any designs be seen adorning it.
The differences may be due to the medium: ancient coins are often highly symbolic representations of the original. But it could also mean that sometime between 37 BCE and 70 CE, the menorah, or at least its base, was changed. . . .