Menorah engraving may date to era of the Maccabees, archaeologist says

Dr. Raviv suggests a priestly settlement stood at the site during Second Temple times and/or during the period between the two revolts against Rome.

By Josh Plank, World Israel News

A rare engraving of a menorah, the seven-branched lamp which stood in the temple in Jerusalem, may date back to the Maccabean Revolt of the Chanukah story, according to a paper by Dr. Dvir Raviv of Bar-Ilan University published recently in the archaeological journal, In the Highland’s Depth.

The menorah graffito, which is about 40 cm wide and 30 cm in height, was discovered in the 1980s during the Benjamin Region Survey at a tomb on the outskirts of the village of Mukhmas, northeast of Jerusalem.

Due to the rare use of the temple menorah as an artistic decoration during the Second Temple period until the Bar Kokhba revolt and based on an examination of its features, Raviv believes the graffito to be related to the temple priests.

Raviv suggests that a priestly settlement stood at the site during the Second Temple period and/or during the period between the two revolts against Rome (70–132 CE).

Due to the difficulty of accurately dating the menorah graffito and the lack of clear references to the presence of priests in Mukhmas in the days of the Second Temple, it is possible to attribute the decoration of the menorah to a family of priests who settled there after the destruction of the temple until the Bar Kokhba revolt, Raviv said.

The Mukhmas engraving also resembles two paintings of menorahs discovered in the nearby al-Aliliyat caves, which served as a hiding place and refuge both during the Second Temple period and the period of the Jewish revolts against Rome.

However, Raviv said there is further evidence of Mukhmas being a priestly settlement during the Second Temple period.

While today Mukhmas is an Arab village, its existence as a Jewish village long before the Arab occupation is mentioned in ancient texts.

In the Mishnah, a written collection of Jewish law, in Menachot 8:1, the place is called Mikhmas. It is said that the choicest flour for offerings in the temple came from this area, a clue that priests may have resided there in ancient times.

Another source that may hint at the presence of priests in Mukhmas as early as the Chanukah story is the description of Jonathan, the brother of Judah Maccabee, settling in Mikhmas as described in 1 Maccabees 9:73.

“It is possible that Jonathan’s choice to settle in Mukhmas and establish his status in Judea from it was related, among other things, to the fact that the locals were priests who formed a significant part of the social elite in Judea during the Second Temple period,” Raviv said.