Students discover ancient menorah-adorned lamp while preparing Independence Day surprise

Israeli students preparing a gift for the state discovered an ancient precursor of Israel’s national symbol. 

By: World Israel News Staff

Israeli students working on the interactive “Sanhedrin Trail” in honor of Israel’s 70th independence celebrations did not imagine that the symbol of the state of Israel would unexpectedly emerge from the ground in the form of an ancient oil lamp bearing the symbol of the Temple’s menorah.

Over the past year, thousands of students in the Galilee have been excavating and organizing Israel’s first “smart trail,” in which dozens of stones on the trail relay information, history and activities to hikers’ mobile telephones.

During archaeological excavations at Horbat Usha, the first place where the Sanhedrin relocated after the failed Bar Kokhba revolt which ended in 135 CE and where Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, codifier of the Mishnah, spent his childhood, they discovered a 1,400 year old oil lamp bearing the symbol of the menorah, dating to the Byzantine or Umayyad periods.

The menorah serves as the official symbol of the state of Israel.

The students also uncovered material remains from the time of the Sanhedrin, including evidence of the glass industry that is also mentioned in rabbinical texts, as well as ornamental items dating back 1,800 years.

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Dr. Einat Ambar-Armon, an archaeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and an expert on ancient clay lamps, said that “unlike the modern day symbol of the state in which the Temple’s menorah is depicted with seven branches and a single broad base, the menorah engraved on the ancient lamp has eight branches and a three-legged base.”

The discovery of a lamp decorated with a menorah, a symbol of the Jewish people, “is without doubt exciting, especially at a site with such a unique heritage,” she added.

Another fascinating discovery during the excavation of the trail was made by Ilai Yonah,  a student at Ha-Moshava High School in Zikhron Ya’akov, who found a gold coin on the trail – only two others exist in the State Treasures – bearing an inscription of the Ottoman sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, builder of Jerusalem’s current Old City walls.

The Sanhedrin, a tribunal of 71 elders which served as Israel’s leadership in ancient times, settled in Usha, and then moved on to Shefar’am, Bet She’arim and Zippori, until it was finally established in Tiberias.

Where the future meets the past

In celebration of Israel’s Independence Day, the IAA is opening the Sanhedrin Trail – an interactive trail accompanied by a unique web application that serves as a readily accessible “independent guide” in the spectacular landscapes of the Galilee, and offers a different sort of hiking experience for families, individuals and groups.

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The trail stretches across the Lower Galilee and is 70 km long (in five walking segments). It is dedicated to 70 great people, the Sanhedrin sages who rehabilitated the Jewish people following the Bar Kokhba Revolt, and is presented to the state of Israel and its citizens as a gift for its 70th anniversary.

The new web application “communicates” with the stones and offers information about the recent and ancient history of the Galilee, flora and fauna, landscape, observation points and attractions.

Israel Hasson, director of the IAA, stated that “the new trail and the discoveries along it are a celebration for the citizens of Israel on the occasion of 70 years of independence and a gift from thousands of young people who invested so much of their energy in developing it.”

He said that the new trail is “a flagship project that connects the future generation preparing the trail to its heritage and to the Jewish people’s great and inspiring leaders.”