Explaining why Maimonides’ view of the Menorah is incorrect . . .

The menorah’s physical dimensions have puzzled many scholars for centuries. This famous image of the menorah raises several problems and much has been written on it.  The authenticity of the depicted menorah’s base is sometimes called in question since it consists of two hexagons, the one superimposed on the other, on whose sides dragons are depicted–images that one would hardly expect to see on a sacred Jewish artifact! Perhaps Roman artists added these embellishments for the public procession of Israel’s captured treasures.

Those scholars who regard it as genuine article insist that the Roman triumphal arches were designed as historical documents and toward that end; in general, they strove to be as accurate as possible. Most of the details demonstrate to the sculptors’ intimate knowledge of the Temple’s vessels as described in the Bible and other Jewish sources. Moreover, the proportions of the menorah, with its over-sized base, are in such blatant conflict with the classical notions of aesthetic form that it is inconceivable that a Roman craftsman would have invented them.

Conversely, those who argue against its authenticity are quick to point out that certain elements of the menorah are omitted in this depiction. For example, the menorah had feet extending from its base [1] whereas the menorah on the Arch of Titus has no feet. The base of the menorah certain fits the Hellenistic and Herodian style which was current at that time and there is ample reason to suggest Herod redesigned the menorah to make it more atheistically appealing. Perhaps Herod followed Solomon’s example who constructed ten single lampstands (1 Kings 7:49). Solomon built ten menorot of gold, five along the northern and five along the southern wall of the Heikhal (1 Kings 7:49; 2 Chron. 4:7). These were ornamented with carvings of flowers and furnished with appliances of gold for tending the lamps (1 Kings 7:49-50), the number of which on each menorah is not stated. This being the case, the Arch of Titus merely shows just one menorah which was taken by the Romans, to whom in all likelihood did not care what kind of  menorah they were carrying. One menorah was probably just as good as another.[2]

Over the last couple of years or so,  the feet of the menorah unearthed from a newly-discovered synagogue not far from the Migdal Beech in Jerusalem, strongly resembles the feet of the menorah depicted on the famous Hasmonean coin. But the synagogue menorah is resting on a square base, whereas the coin’s menorah is not. Perhaps the base of the menorah was placed on top of a square base in the days of the Temple, under Herod’s watchful engineering eye. Simply put, Herod added style and flare, and his aesthetic judgments were quite exceptional indeed.

It is also possible that when the menorah was taken to Rome, Roman artisans fused the base of the menorah with the menorah itself for practical and aesthetic purposes.

So much for history … Continue reading “Explaining why Maimonides’ view of the Menorah is incorrect . . .”