Menorah (Temple)

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A reconstruction of the Menorah of the Temple created by the Temple Institute

The menorah (Hebrew: מְנוֹרָה[mənoːˈɾaː]) is described in the Bible as the seven-lamp (six branches) ancient Hebrew lampstand made of pure gold and used in the portable sanctuary set up by Moses in the wilderness and later in the Temple in Jerusalem. Fresh olive oil of the purest quality was burned daily to light its lamps. The menorah has been a symbol of Judaism since ancient times and is the emblem on the coat of arms of the modern state of Israel.


This devices' purpose was to focus the light emitted by the seven oil lamps and at the same time funnel the smoke of the service toward the Ark which is held up 7 1/2 feet up by means of its poles interfaced with (the middle pole "SHOOTS through from end to end") vertical blind style. This gold was beaten into a thin sheet and bent around into a cone-like shape and hammered and pressed and embossed around into a circular 4 1/2 foot tall combination table cover and light reflector. Pounded into the gold the similitude of an almond branch with its stem or (shaft) and six branches {3 per side) wrapped around and containing 3 bowls on each branch. The central stem having 4 bowls bent in together with the 18 in the branches totaling 22 bowls in all. Looking down these bowls form Gods STAR or LOGO[1] of menorah willow consisted of a base and a shaft with six branches, beaten out of solid gold. The six branches rose to the height of the central shaft so that all seven lamps at their apexes were in a straight line where it was taken out of fashion by the Romans.[2]

The Hebrew Bible, or Torah, states that God revealed the design for the menorah to Moses and describes the construction of the menorah as follows (Exodus 25:31-40):

31 And you must make a lamp-stand of pure gold. Of hammered work the lamp-stand is to be made. Hammered into a sheet and hammered around a sphere to form a rounded overall shape with a flat bottom edge to support it and the top bent around the sphere to complete its shape. Into this one piece of gold (foil) he then inscribed and tapped the directed image-work.IE: the shaft, the six branches, the knops, bowls, and flowers as directed. (Exodus).Careful reading will reveal that the top bowl of the shaft is the middle bowl and the other 21 wrap around it causing a star of sevens. Exodus. The duel purpose of this object appears to be the containment and deflection of smoke from the table up into the Ark since it sits kitty corner over the table. The Ark is of course held up 7 1/2 feet up into the smoke by means of its 2 staves interacting with the middle "bar shooting thru the standing vertical bars" Rashi,[3] Ibn Ezra,[3] and Maimonides[4] (according to his son Avraham),[5] held they were straight; no other Jewish authority expresses an opinion on the subject.[6] Archaeological evidence, including depictions by artists who had seen the menorah, indicates that they were neither straight nor semicircular but elliptical.[7]

Stone with Menorah that was found in the Archaeological site Magdala.

Until 2009, the earliest preserved representation of the menorah of the Temple was depicted in a frieze on the Arch of Titus, commemorating his triumphal parade in Rome following the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70 CE.

In 2009, however, the ruins of a synagogue with pottery dating from before the destruction of the Second Temple were discovered under land in Magdala owned by the Legionaries of Christ, who had intended to construct a center for women's studies.[8] Inside that synagogue's ruins was discovered a rectangular stone, which had on its surface, among other ornate carvings, a depiction of the seven-lamp menorah differing markedly from the depiction on the Arch of Titus, probably carved by an eyewitness to the actual menorah present at the time in the Temple at Jerusalem. This menorah has arms which are polygonal, not rounded, and the base is not graduated but triangular.

Representations of the seven lamp artifact have been found on tombs and monuments dating from the 1st century as a frequently used symbol of Judaism and the Jewish people.[2]

It has been noted that the shape of the menorah bears a certain resemblance to that of the plant Salvia palaestina.[9][10]

Contrary to some modern designs, the ancient menorah did not contain anything resembling seven candles, as candles were unknown in the Middle East until about 400CE.


The lamps of the menorah were lit daily from fresh, consecrated olive oil and burned from evening until morning, according to Exodus 27:21.

The Roman-Jewish historian Flavius Josephus states that three of the seven lamps were allowed to burn during the day also;[11] however, according to the Talmud (Rashi, Tractate Shabbat 22b), only the center lamp was left burning all day, into which as much oil was put as into the others. Although all the other lights were extinguished, that light burned oil, in spite of the fact that it had been kindled first. This miracle according to the Talmud (Tractate Menahot 86b) was taken as a sign that the Shechinah rested over Israel.[12] It was called the ner hama'aravi (Western lamp) because of its position. This lamp was also referred to as the ner Elohim (lamp of God), mentioned in I Samuel 3:3.[2] The miracle of the ner hama'aravi ended about 40 years before the destruction of the Temple (c. 30 CE) according the Talmud Tractate (Yoma 39a), "Our Rabbis taught: During the last forty years before the destruction of the Temple (that is to say from around 30 CE) the lot [‘For the Lord’] did not come up in the right ...hand; nor did the crimson-coloured strap become white; nor did the westernmost light shine"[13]

History and fate[edit]

Depiction of the Menorah on the Arch of Titus in Rome.

The original menorah was made for the Tabernacle, and the Bible records it as being present until the Israelites crossed the Jordan river. When the Tabernacle is pitched in Shiloh (Joshua 18:1), it assumed that the menorah was also present. However, no mention is made of it during the years that the Ark of the Covenant was moved in the times of Samuel and Saul. There is no further mention of the menorah in Solomon's temple, except in (2 Chronicles 4:7) as he creates ten lampstands. These are recorded as being taken away to Babylon by the invading armies under the general Nebuzar-Adan (Jeremiah 52:19) some centuries later.

During the restoration of the Temple worship after the 70-year captivity in Babylon, no mention is made of the return of the menorah but only of "vessels" (Ezra 1:9-10). Since the Temple was an enclosed place with no natural light, some means of illumination must have existed.

The Book of Maccabees records that Antiochus Epiphanes took away the lampstands (plural) when he invaded and robbed the Temple (1 Maccabees 1:21). The later record of the making of "new holy vessels" may refer to the manufacture of new lampstands (1 Maccabees 4:49). There is no biblical mention of the fate of the menorah.

The fate of the menorah used in the Second Temple is recorded by Josephus, who states that it was brought to Rome and carried along during the triumph of Vespasian and Titus. The menorah was deposited afterwards in the Temple of Peace in Rome.

Most likely, the menorah was looted by the Vandals in the sacking of Rome in 455 CE, and taken to their capital, Carthage.[14] The Byzantine army under General Belisarius might have removed it in 533 and brought it to Constantinople. According to Procopius, it was carried through the streets of Constantinople during Belisarius' triumphal procession. Procopius adds that the object was later sent back to Jerusalem where there is no record of it, although it could have been destroyed when Jerusalem was pillaged by the Persians in 614.

Symbolism According to Christians[edit]

The Holy Bible KJV New Testament, describes the menorah as holding the "lights" of the seven churches. They as listed are; Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. Many of the letters of The New Testament are written to these bodies... So, Ephesians 3:4 New International Version (NIV) 4 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, The letters concern their "light" or condition in practice through God's Holy Spirit.

The menorah symbolized the ideal of universal enlightenment.[15] The seven lamps allude to the branches of human knowledge, represented by the six lamps inclined inwards towards, and symbolically guided by, the light of God represented by the central lamp. The menorah also symbolizes the creation in seven days, with the center light representing the Sabbath.[2] It is also said to symbolize the burning bush as seen by Moses on Mount Horeb (Exodus 3).[16]

According to Clement of Alexandria and Philo Judaeus, the seven lamps of the golden menorah represented the seven classical planets in this order: the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.[17]

Kevin Conner has noted of the original menorah, described in Exodus 25, that each of the six tributary branches coming out of the main shaft was decorated with three sets of "cups... shaped like almond blossoms... a bulb and a flower..." (Exodus 25:33, NASB).[18] This would create three sets of three units on each branch, a total of nine units per branch. The main shaft, however, had four sets of blossoms, bulbs and flowers, making a total of twelve units on the shaft (Exodus 25:34). This would create a total of 66 units, which Conner claims is a picture of the completed Christian canon of scripture (containing 66 books). Moreover, Conner notes that the total decorative units on the shaft and three branches equate to 39 (the number of Old Testament books); and the units on the remaining three branches come to 27 (the number of New Testament books).[19] Conner connects this to Bible passages that speak of God's word as a light or lamp (e.g. Psalms 119:105; Psalms 119:130; cf. Proverbs 6:23).[20]

Hanukkah (Chanukah)[edit]

The Menorah is also a symbol closely associated with the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah (Chanukah). According to the Talmud, after the Seleucid desecration of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, there was only enough sealed (and therefore not desecrated) consecrated olive oil left to fuel the eternal flame in the Temple for one day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days which was enough time to make new pure oil.

The Talmud (Menahot 28b) states that it is prohibited to use a seven-lamp menorah outside of the Temple. The Hanukkah menorah therefore has eight main branches, plus the middle ninth lamp set apart as the shamash (servant) light which is used to kindle the other lights. This type of menorah is called a hanukiah in Modern Hebrew.[2]

Modern use[edit]

Synagogues have a continually lit lamp or light in front of the Ark, where the Torah scroll is kept, called the ner tamid (eternal light). This lamp represents the continually lit ner Elohim of the menorah used in Temple times.[2]

In addition, many synagogues display either a Menorah or an artistic representation of a menorah.

A menorah appears in the coat of arms of the State of Israel, based on the depiction of the menorah on the Arch of Titus.

Sometimes when teaching learners of the Hebrew language, a chart shaped like the seven-lamp menorah is used to help students remember the role of the binyanim of the Hebrew verb.

Temple Institute reconstruction[edit]

The Temple Institute has created a life-sized menorah, designed by goldsmith Chaim Odem, intended for use in a future Third Temple, The Jerusalem Post describes the menorah as made "according to excruciatingly exacting Biblical specifications and prepared to be pressed into service immediately should the need arise.".[21] The menorah is made of one talent (interpreted as 45 kg) of 24 karat pure gold, hammered out of a singlar block of solid gold, with decorations based on the depiction of the original in the Arch of Titus and the Temple Institute's interpretation of the relevant religious texts

In other cultures[edit]

The kinara is also, like the menorah, a seven candleholder which is associated with the African American festival of Kwanzaa. One candle is lit on each day of the week-long celebration, in a similar manner as the Hanukiah (which was modeled after the menorah) during Hanukkah.

In the Orthodox Church the use of the menorah has been preserved, always standing on or behind the altar in the sanctuary.[22] Though candles may be used, the traditional practice is to use olive oil in the seven-lamp lampstand. There are varying liturgical practices, and usually all seven lamps are lit for the services, though sometimes only the three centermost are lit for the lesser services. If the church does not have a sanctuary lamp the centermost lamp of the seven lamps may remain lit as an eternal flame.

In Taoism, the Seven-Star Lamp qi xing deng 七星燈 is a seven-lamp oil lamp lit to represent the 7 stars of the Northern Dipper.[23] This lampstand is a requirement for all Taoist temples, never to be extinguished. In the first 9 days of the lunar 9th month festival, an oil lamp of 9 connected lamps may also be lit to honour both the Northern Dipper and 2 other assistant stars (collectively known as the Nine Emperor Stars), sons of Dou Mu appointed by the Taoist Trinity (the Three Pure Ones) to hold the Books of Life and Death of humanity. The lamps represent the illumination of the 7 stars, and lighting them are believed to absolve sins while prolonging one's lifespan.[citation needed]

In Popular Culture[edit]

The menorah features prominently in the 2013 crypto-thriller The Sword of Moses by Dominic Selwood.

Further reading[edit]

  • Rachel Hachlili, The Menorah, the Ancient Seven-armed Candelabrum: Origin, Form, and Significance (Leiden, Brill, 2001). ISBN 90-04-12017-3


See also[edit]


  1. ^ EXODUS
  2. ^ a b c d e f Birnbaum, Philip (1975). A Book of Jewish Concepts. New York: Hebrew Publishing Company. pp. 366–367. ISBN 088482876X. 
  3. ^ a b Exodus 25:32
  4. ^ Maimonides depicted them as straight in two separate manuscript drawings. But see Seth Mandel's alternative interpretation below.
  5. ^ Commentary on Exodus, ch 7
  6. ^ See Likutei Sichot vol 21 pp 168-171
  7. ^ Mandel, Seth The shape of the Menorah of the Temple Avodah Mailing List, Vol 12 Num 65
  8. ^
  9. ^ JTS Taste of Torah commentary, 18 June 2005
  10. ^ Talmud Tractate Yoma 22b and 39a. 
  11. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg "Seven-Branch Candlestick". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. 
  12. ^ Talmud Bavli Tractate Yoma. 
  13. ^ Talmud Tractate Yoma. pp. 39b. 
  14. ^ Edward Gibbon: The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Volume 7: Chapter XLI. From the Online Library of Liberty. The J. B. Bury edition, in 12 volumes.)
  15. ^ Chanan Morrison, Abraham Isaac Kook, Gold from the Land of Israel: A New Light on the Weekly Torah Portion - From the Writings of Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaKohen Kook, page 239 (Urim Publications, 2006). ISBN 965-7108-92-6
  16. ^ Robert Lewis Berman, A House of David in the Land of Jesus, page 18 (Pelican, 2007). ISBN 978-1-58980-720-4
  17. ^ p.10, Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry by Albert Pike (L.H. Jenkins, 1871 [1948])
  18. ^ NASB, The Lockman Foundation, 1995
  19. ^ Kevin Conner, The Tabernacle of Moses, City Christian Publishing (1976), p43
  20. ^ Kevin Conner, The Tabernacle of Moses, City Christian Publishing (1976), p43-44
  21. ^ Jerusalem Post. "More than a Model Menorah" [1] December 13, 2011
  22. ^ Hapgood, Isabel (1975) [1922]. Service Book of the Holy Orthodox-Catholic Apostolic Church (5th ed.). Englewood NJ: Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese. p. xxx 
  23. ^ Jeaneane D. Fowler, An Introduction to the Philosophy and Religion of Taoism: Pathways to Immortality, page 213 (Sussex Academic Press, 2005). ISBN 1-84519-085-8

External links[edit]