An Ancient Engraving of a Menorah Is Discovered a Second Time

December 9, 2020 | Amanda Borschel-Dan
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In 1980, an excavation of the town of Michmas—located about six miles outside of Jerusalem—uncovered a 2,000-year-old engraving of an menorah, which was then forgotten. Recently a scholar has re-examined it in light of new evidence, dating it to the mid-2nd century BCE, around the time of the Maccabean revolt. Amanda Borschel-Dan writes:

Ancient Michmas is best known from the book of Maccabees. As depicted in 1Maccabees 9:73, Jonathan, the youngest of the five sons of the revolt-instigating priest Mattathias the Hasmonean, makes peace with the Seleucid general Bacchides and settles in Michmas before the beginning his reign, which spanned 161-143 BCE. “Thus the sword ceased from Israel: but Jonathan dwelt at Michmas, and began to govern the people; and he destroyed the ungodly men out of Israel.”

According to the report from the 1980s, the menorah is approximately twenty inches wide and twelve inches high, with a flat base of some four inches. It has a total of seven branches, with six coming out of a central stem. [The] menorah was crowned by an intriguing but unclear paleo-Hebrew letter, which was scratched into the cave wall. . . . The new study . . . outlines [various] evidence supporting the hypothesis that ancient Michmas was an agricultural settlement populated mainly by kohanim (priests).

This newly rediscovered menorah and mysterious letter join another 1980s find of a hideaway cave, in the nearby el-’Aliliyat region. There, archaeologists discovered a mikveh (ritual bath), a cistern, and two menorahs drawn with a charcoaled stick, one crowned by an Aramaic/Hebrew inscription.

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