Hikers in Judea discover rare menorah etchings from Second Temple era

A rare archaeological discovery substantiates scientific research regarding the Jewish nature of the Judean lowlands during the Second Temple period.

Hikers exploring a water cistern in Judea over the weekend made a rare discovery – a limestone carving of a seven-branched menorah, among other ancient impressions.

Hiking enthusiasts Mickey Barkal, Sefi Givoni and Ido Meroz were visiting hidden caves in the Judean shephelah (lowlands).

“We heard there are interesting caves in the region. We began to peer into them, and that’s how we came to this cave, which is extremely impressive with rock-carved niches and engravings on the wall,” Meroz said. “Just before we were about to return, we suddenly noticed an engraving that at first glance seemed to be a menorah. When we realized this is an ancient depiction of a menorah, we became very excited. Its appearance was quite distinct.”

They reported the discovery to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA).

The menorah, etched on the wall of the cave, has a base with three feet and appears to portray the one that stood in the Second Temple.

A cross was engraved near the menorah. Another engraving was found on the side of the cave, which seemed to resemble a type of key characteristic of antiquity, as well as other depictions, some of which have not yet been deciphered.

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Alongside the cistern is a columbarium with dozens of niches that were used to raise doves in antiquity. During the Second Temple period, doves were used as part of the sacrificial rites in the Temple.

“There are buildings and hiding refuges from the time of the Bar Kochba uprising (2nd century AD) at the site and buildings that date to the Byzantine period,” explained Sa’ar Ganor, Ashkelon’s district archaeologist. “It is rare to find a wall engraving of a menorah, and this exciting discovery, which was symbolically revealed during the Chanukah holiday, substantiates the scientific research regarding the Jewish nature of the area during the Second Temple period.”

“The menorah was probably etched in the cistern after the water installation was hewn in the bedrock – maybe by Jewish inhabitants…and the cross was etched later on during the Byzantine period, most likely in the fourth century CE,” Ganor assessed.

The menorah is a distinctly Jewish symbol from the Second Temple period. To date, only two engravings of menorahs are known in the region of the Judean shephelah: one on oil press at Bet Loya, where the same style menorah is depicted, and the other at a burial complex in the vicinity of Bet Guvrin.

The hikers who discovered the engravings will receive a good citizenship certificate and be invited to participate in future archaeological surveys conducted by IAA in the area.

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By: Aryeh Savir, World Israel News