Menorah of the Temple

Did Titus Carry Away a Fake Menorah



John Hoole – December 2, 2012





We are taking a small break today from our series on Eschatology.  I want to take you today to the Jewish Quarter of Old Jerusalem.


As you know, the Temple was completely destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70.  The prophecy of Jesus, in Matthew 24:2, stating that, “not one stone shall be left upon another,” was so completely fulfilled that they do not know exactly where the Temple stood.  The Roman armies, under the direction of Titus, so completely destroyed all remains of anything on the Temple Mount in the 1st century.


Then again, there was the Bar Kokhba rebellion that occurred A.D. 132 – 135, when over 500,000 Jews lost their lives to the Romans.  After this the Romans wanted to so decimate any remnant of Jews in Israel, they issued a decree that no Jews were allowed at all in the city of Jerusalem.  In fact, the Romans renamed the city to Aelia Capitolina, in honor of Emperor Hadrian whose clan name was Aelius, and began to rebuild the city as a Roman city over the ruins of old Jerusalem.


When the Romans built cities, many – maybe most – had two main streets through them.  The north-south street was called Cardo Maximus.  The main street going from west to east was called Decumanus Maximus.  When we were in Italy, we visited the ancient port city of Rome called Ostia Antica.  While we were there we walked down the Cardo Maximus and the Decumanus Maximus.


The Romans built a Cardo and a Decumanus in Jerusalem.  After the 1967 6-Day War, and the reunification of Jerusalem, archaeologists began trying to locate it, looking first in the Jerusalem Quarter.  The Jerusalem Quarter of Old Jerusalem is the southeast section of the city.  They knew from recorded information that the northern terminus of the Cardo was at or near the Damascus Gate.  It would then proceed south through the entire length of the city.  The Decumanus was shorter going from the Jaffa Gate on the west to the temple mount on the east.


The word “Cardo” means “Heart.”  And in Roman cities, it was the main street through the heart of town.  And that was true of Old Jerusalem.  This was the marketplace of Jerusalem. So let me now take you to the Old Jerusalem Cardo.

When they located a portion of the ancient Cardo, they found it some 19 feet (6 meters) below current street levels.  A portion of it was excavated in the early 1970’s and they have uncovered about 200 yards of the old Cardo, but they know there is much more buried under the buildings of the current city.


As I mentioned earlier, the construction of the Cardo began in the middle of the 2nd century after Christ.  It continued to expand for the next several hundred years.  We do know from historical records that it was still operative in the 6th century during the reign of Emperor Justinian.  And what I show you today probably dates more closely to his time that the time of Christ.


The Cardo was flanked by two rows of columns about 40 feet (12 meters) apart.  They found the ruins of columns made of hard limestone, and they have been reconstructed in their original position in the Cardo.  The columns were 5 meters high (about 16 feet).


The businesses and shopping areas would be outside these column on both sides of the street.  The shops appear to have been about 16-17 feet deep (5 meters), and they would have been covered with a roof.  It would have been something similar to this reconstruction.  Here is an artist’s rendition of what the Cardo might have looked like.


As you can see in the photo, the shopping area was not only covered, but it was a few inches higher than the open street.  This feature, along with the covered roof, kept any rain from invading the shops.  Part of the excavated Cardo has been turned into modern underground shops selling a whole array of products – rugs to t-shirts to shofars to jewelry, etc.


Near the entrance to the modern Cardo area, this Menorah was once on display.  I find this significant.  The Bible describes 103 vessels and utensils which were to be used in the operation of the Temple.  According to a Jewish organization, called The Temple Institute, most, if not all, of the instruments have been recreated.  They are making preparation for when Temple #3 is built.  This menorah is one of those instruments, put here on display by the Temple Institute.


Exodus 25:31 NKJV


31     You shall also make a lampstand [Hebrew: MenoRAH] of pure gold; the lampstand shall be of hammered work. Its shaft, its branches, its bowls, its ornamental knobs, and flowers shall be of one piece. 


The verses that follow give the minutest of details as to how his menorah is to be fashioned.  Verse 40 says the lamps are to be made “after the pattern for them, which was shown to you on the mountain.” (NAS)  The description of the seven branches of the menorah and its decorations are very thorough.  One detail is that this menorah is to be fashioned out of one piece of gold.


But, in the Bible, there is no mention as to the height of the menorah.  Neither is there any mention of the base, its dimensions or design.  But verse 39 does tell us that it is to weigh one talent of pure gold.  That is 93 pounds of gold.  The Jewish Talmud has further instruction, and, according to this document, the menorah is to be 18 hand widths tall, which is considered the height of an average man.  Before continuing, notice the shape of the base.  It is two-tiered and hexagonal in shape.


The pattern of the Menorah is taken primarily from Scripture, but since the shape and size of the base is not mentioned there, how did they come up with a two-tiered hexagonal base for the recreated menorah.  Its base is dependent on a depiction found in the city of Rome.  At the time, some fifteen years ago, this was considered the oldest known depiction of the menorah.


On one of our Holy Land Trips, we stopped for three days in Rome.  We visited the wonderful touristy sites there.  Places like the Basilica of St. Paul, the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica.  We went through the Catacombs, walked over Travertine Hill.  We also visited the ancient Coliseum.  Nearby are two massive arches and the Roman Forum.  One is dedicated to Emperor Constantine.  The other is dedicated to Titus Vespasianus – more commonly known as Titus.




Titus was the military commander who defeated the Jews and destroyed the Temple in A.D. 70.  Titus would later become emperor, following his father Vespasian.  And his brother Domitian would follow him to the throne after his death in A.D. 81.  Domitian is the emperor who exiled the apostle John to the Island of Patmos.



Well, this arch has some information that has been used to help identify the shape of the Menorah’s base.  On the inside of the arch, you will see several bas-reliefs.  One of them shows the Romans carrying away some of the Temple instruments, including the Menorah.  Here is a closer look.  It shows a base having two levels, each being hexagonal in shape.  And that is the design used in the Menorah now standing in Jerusalem.  It was believed that the depiction on the Arch of Titus was the oldest and most accurate.  The question now being raised – is the Titus depiction showing the proper base for the menorah?  We may never know for sure, but we do have some clues.


When I took you to Capernaum on the north Galilee shores, I showed you a number of pictures taken of the well-preserved synagogue there.  I didn’t show you this picture.  Notice the bas-relief of the menorah here.  It shows a base having 3 legs.


Two thoughts need to be kept in focus.


         1.      This synagogue was not built until the 3rd or 4th century, therefore it is later than the Arch of Titus.

         2.      But it is Jewish, not Roman, therefore maybe more original.


But, there is more.  In Jerusalem a couple of years ago, while excavating for a house in the Jewish Quarter, workmen uncovered the ancient home of a priestly family.  On a stone tablet in this home is a carving of the Menorah, with the instructions for the order of lighting the flames.  The menorah in this carving is depicted as having a triangular base, which appears to be supported by 3 legs.


This all begs the question, which is certainly of a speculative nature, but still begs to be asked:  Was the menorah carried off by the Romans, the Great Menorah of the Temple, or was it a fake designed by the Jews to preserve the original which had been hidden?


A few years ago, we were on one of our tours of the Holy Land in Israel.  I had shared with Dr. Fuiten that I was wondering if the menorah taken by Titus was a fake.  I mentioned to him that I was starting to think the Temple Menorah may have had a tripod base.  That day we were going through the Davidson Center, near the southwest corner of the Temple Mount.  Dr. Fuiten was ahead a me around a corner in the hallway.  He comes back to me and brings me ahead to see a large depiction of the Temple Menorah.  It had a tripod base.


Here is a mosaic uncovered in the city of Tiberias.  It depicts two menorahs, each with a tripod base.  And only in the last couple of years have they begun archaeological work in Migdal.  They have uncovered a large stone with carved images on its end, including a menorah with a tripod base.  It has been dated to the time of the second temple period.


Let me show just a few more menorahs.  Here is a photo of one from Umm el-Qanatir, which is located in the Golan Heights.  It dates only back to several hundred years after Christ.  This menorah dates to the 3rd or 4th century, and was found in an old synagogue in Tunisia.  It also has a tripod base.


None of this proves that the menorah taken by Titus in A.D. 70 was a fake.  It only raises a question.  I have, however, recently found, on-line, a couple of Jewish groups that question the validity of what is depicted on the Titus Arch.