An Ancient Depiction of a Nine-Branched Menorah Discovered in the Negev

April 9, 2019 | Amanda Borschel-Dan
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While the menorah in the Jerusalem Temples, like that described in the book of Exodus, had seven branches, the menorah traditionally used for the holiday of Hanukkah has nine. The former type is one of the most common motifs of ancient Jewish art; the latter rarely appears at all. But during excavations of a Second Temple-era village near the southern Israeli city of Beersheba, archaeologists have found a potsherd depicting a nine-branched candelabrum. Amanda Borschel-Dan writes:

The site is dated to the 1st century CE and was settled until the Bar Kokhba Revolt in 135 CE; . . . underground hidden passageways discovered there may have been used by Jewish rebels. Unearthed on the southernmost border of [the Roman province of] Judea, . . . the site’s finds indicate a continuation of Jewish religious practice on the edges of the kingdom, such as ritual baths, stone vessels associated with the laws of purity, and an abundance of pottery and lamps decorated with typical Jewish themes such as grape leaves. Additional finds include olive and date pits and baking facilities. . . .

In addition to the site’s size and [the fact that it has been well preserved], the archaeologist Shira Bloch emphasized that its significance is also drawn from the clear evidence that despite being on the outskirts of the kingdom, the residents “kept their Judaism.” . .

The jewel of the excavation so far is the depiction of the nine-stemmed menorah. Bloch clarified that while it may be tempting to call it a “hanukkiah,” a menorah which has a total of nine flames that is used during the . . . holiday of Hanukkah, there is no evidence of holiday celebrations there at that time and therefore one cannot assign that purpose to the image.

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