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Architectural detail with menorah, synagogue of Ostia Antica

The menorah ( Hebrew מְנוֹרָה[menoˈra]: candlestick, lamp), also known as the seven-armed candlestick, is one of the most important religious symbols of Judaism . Literary and archaeological sources are available for the reconstruction of the object, which has been lost or destroyed since ancient times.

In the Bible

The menorah as an inventory of the Mishkan (tabernacle)

According to the biblical representation, Moses was commissioned to build a transportable sanctuary ( Mishkan ) on Mount Sinai . For each ritual object, he was given a description on the one hand, and a heavenly model on the other. One of these objects was a chandelier:

31 Thou shalt also make a candlestick of fine gold, the base and shaft of carved work, with goblets, knobs and flowers. 32 Six arms should extend from the candlestick on both sides, three arms on each side. 33 Each arm shall have three cups like almond blossoms with knobs and flowers. So it should be with the six arms on the candlestick. 34 But the shaft of the candlestick should have four cups like almond blossoms with knobs and flowers, 35 and one knob under each pair of the six arms that go out from the candlestick. 36 Both knobs and arms shall come out of it, made entirely of pure gold. 37 And thou shalt make seven lamps, and put them on top, so that they shine forward, 38 with wick cutters and pans of fine gold. 39 You shall make a candlestick with all these utensils out of a talent of fine gold. 40 And see that you do everything according to their plan, which was shown to you on the mountain. (Exodus 25: 31-39, Luther Bible 2017)

The menorah in the Temple of Solomon

During the forty years of migration, the Israelites always carried the tented shrine including the menorah with them, according to the biblical description, until it was finally integrated into the temple in Jerusalem.

According to 1 Kings 7.49, King Solomon had various ritual devices made for the temple, including " five candlesticks on the right hand and five candlesticks on the left in front of the Holy of Holies made of pure gold with golden flowers, lamps and wick cutters ."

Hachlili points out that neither a tree-like candlestick shape nor a cultic meaning of these candlesticks is mentioned in the text. According to the archaeological comparison material, column-shaped stands with one lamp each should be assumed, which should simply illuminate the hall.

The entire establishment of the First Temple came to an end when Jerusalem was destroyed in July 586 BC. Chr. Lost.

The candlestick in Zechariah's vision (book illumination by Josef Asarfati, Biblia de Cervera, around 1300, Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal )

The menorah from an exegetical perspective

According to Keel , Knauf and Staubli (who here summarize the findings of Voss and Hachlili), the shape of the illumination of the sanctuary has undergone a development. In the Old Testament texts you differentiate between an older and a younger conception of the appearance of the menorah:

  • The older one can be found in 1 Kings 7 and Zechariah 4: the menorah is a column-like stand on which seven bowls of light can be placed on top. Such stands made of ceramic, bronze or stone are well attested as archaeological finds in the ancient Orient. The vision report in Zechariah 4 (as a reflection of a real existing temple device, which is likely) would then be the earliest evidence that seven lights were attached to such a stand, which was widened like a goblet at the top.
  • The younger characterizes the representation in Exodus 25: the menorah is a seven-armed candlestick with floral shapes, basically what the seven-armed candlestick looked like in the Second Temple.

The menorah in the Second Temple

Literary sources


For the second temple , the temple devices were made anew, although candlesticks are not specifically mentioned. Jesus Sirach (beginning of the 2nd century BC) mentions a candlestick which apparently had the older column shape with only one light: “ like the bright light on the sacred candlestick. .. "(Sirach 26:17)

Antiochus IV. Epiphanes plundered in 169 BC The temple and " had the golden altar, the candlestick and all the implements that go with it taken away " (1 Maccabees 1:21)

Flavius ​​Josephus

Then a seven-armed candlestick was made from scratch; at the respective conquests of Jerusalem in 63 BC By Pompey and 54 BC. BC by Crassus Pompejus visited the temple equipment forbidden, but the candlestick remained untouched. Flavius ​​Josephus described how he looked from his own eyes (he belonged to the Jerusalem priesthood).

“It was made of little balls, lilies, pomegranates and goblets, seventy in all, made from a single foot high, and divided into as many arms as there are planets, including the sun. Namely, it went out in seven points that were equally spaced from one another and stood in a row. Seven lamps shone on them, also as many as there are planets, and they looked to the east and south, because the candlestick was inclined. " ( Antiquitates 3.6.7)

Josephus emphasized that the menorah had astral symbolism in his day:

"The 70-part chandelier signifies the signs through which the planets pass, and its seven lamps the planets themselves." (Antiquitates 3.7.7)

Mishnah and Talmud

  • Height of the menorah: 18 hands width, about 1.60 m ( Menachot 28b)
  • Three steps were necessary so that the priest could light the lights: “ The one on whom the lot to remove the ash from the candlestick had fallen went in and found the two eastern lamps burning; he removed the ash from the others, but left them in their place burn. If he found them out, he deashed them and lit them from the burning ones, and then he deashed the rest. A stone was in front of the candlestick, which had three steps, on which the priest stood and cleaned the lamps. He left the jug on the second step and went out. "( Mishnah Tamid 3.9)
  • It is forbidden to make things for profane use on the model of temple implements; this is especially true of the menorah. Here it is not enough to choose a material other than gold, but one should also have a different number of candlestick arms, i.e. more or less than 7 ( Rosh Hashana 24 ab, Menachot 28a and more).

Archaeological sources

Jewish coin from the Hasmonean period (1st century BC) depicting a menorah.

Coin finds

Archaeological finds depicting a seven-armed candlestick have been around since the Hasmonean period (2nd half of the 1st century BC) and have increased since then. Dated coins with this motif can be assigned to the reign of Mattathias Antigonos (40–37 BC), who thereby emphasized his high priestly dignity.

Graffiti from Herodian times

  • House wall in the Herodian Quarter , Jerusalem
  • Small limestone sundial, Temple Mount Excavations
  • Several menorot in Jason's tomb, Jerusalem
  • Several menorot in the Naḥal Michmaš caves
  • On ossuaries there are menorot with different numbers of arms
  • Likewise a little later on clay lamps.

The menorah on the Arch of Titus in Rome

When the Romans conquered Jerusalem in September 70 AD, the temple burned; Various temple implements, however, including the menorah, were taken out of the building by the soldiers and shown to Titus .

The menorah as a share of the spoils in triumph of Titus on the Arch of Titus in Rome . (Photo: copy of the relief, Beth Hatefutsoth )

These precious loot were presented on Titus' triumphal procession through Rome. This scene is depicted on the Arch of Titus , a triumphal arch in memory of this event. The ancient relief served as the basis for modern reconstructions; Because of the decorations on it, however, it is questionable whether the massive hexagonal base actually belonged to the menorah or was only its base to be carried around during the triumphal procession. The reconstruction of Hachlili assumes a heavy, conical base, which was also necessary so that the chandelier had a stable stand.

Josephus writes that the menorah was then brought into the temple of peace donated by Vespasian ( Bellum 7.161). This is the last reliable historical information about their whereabouts.

Synagogue of Magdala, relief of a menorah.

Magdala Synagogue

A rescue excavation by the Israel Antiquities Authority (lead: Arfan Najar ) in 2009 on a site on the Sea of ​​Galilee belonging to the Congregation of Legionaries of Christ (near Moshava Migdal ) exposed the foundation walls of an ancient synagogue . The building was dated to the period 50 BC by the excavators. Dated to AD 100, making it one of the earliest known synagogues. One of the finds was a limestone block decorated with reliefs on all sides. It was in the center of the room, maybe it was some kind of lectern. " One engraving includes the seven-branched lamp which stands on a single leg with a triangle base with vessels on either side ." In the opinion of the excavators, the relief could come from an artist who had seen the candlestick in the Second Temple himself. Due to its size and design, it is far more informative than the various menorah graffiti known from this period. (This relief would confirm the reconstruction of Hachlilis with the conical base instead of the hexagonal base on the relief of the Arch of Titus.) Today there is an archaeological park with a replica of the Magdala stone on the excavation site; it says: " The Magdala Stone is likely the earliest known artistic depiction of the Second Templ e."

Prokopios on the whereabouts of the menorah after the destruction of Jerusalem

Prokopios of Caesarea , a historian of the 6th century, writes about the triumphal procession of Belisarius in 534 AD in Constantinople , which he is likely to have witnessed himself, that the " treasures of the Jews " were carried there, which Titus after the Jewish war Had Rome brought. A member of the Jewish community then turned to a person from the imperial environment with the comment: “ I think it is unwise to bring these treasures to the palace of Byzantium. Because they should only be in the place where Solomon, the former king of the Jews, had them set up. Because of them, Geiseric was able to take the palace of the Romans and now the Roman army beat the vandals . - When the emperor ( Justinian ) heard this, he was afraid and had everything brought to the shrines of the Christians in Jerusalem as quickly as possible . "

Larger metal objects from ancient times (e.g. statues) have rarely survived, and when they do, they have often been recovered from shipwrecks more recently. The bulk of the works of art were melted down because of their material value. This is also the likely fate of the menorah and other temple implements.

The current 10 Agorot coin of the Bank of Israel.

Modern reception

Modern Hebrew (Ivrit)

Linguistic differentiation is made between the menorah, which means that every candlestick in the shape of a tree (עץ החיים) can be meant, and the eight- or nine-armed Hanukkia for the Hanukkah festival.

Symbol in the State of Israel

To the artwork Benno Elkans: see Knesset menorah .

The national coat of arms of Israel depicts a menorah between two olive branches. The model for this motif is the menorah on the Arch of Titus in Rome.

Among the coins of the Bank of Israel , the 10 Agorot piece shows a replica of a coin of the last Hasmonean Antigonus (40–37 BC), probably (see above) the oldest representation of the Menorah of the Second Temple.


The legendary novella The Buried Candlestick by Stefan Zweig revolves around the fate of the menorah on the way from Rome to Constantinople and Jerusalem.


On the initiative of the Dutchman Bart Repko, people from Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands brought a replica of the captured chandelier from Rome to Jerusalem in 2019. The replica weighs 120 kilograms, is 1.60 meters tall, and the cost of the project was around 120,000 euros. The project was financed from donations, and some gave their jewelry for the gilding of the menorah. It was made by the Erzgebirge company Kunstguss Döhler , it was cast from metal and coated with gold leaf by hand. The replica of the menorah is not intended as a cult object, but should find a worthy place in Jerusalem as a symbol of reconciliation.


Ancient sources

  • Bible texts: Luther Bible , revised 2017.
  • Flavius ​​Josephus: Jewish antiquities (Antiquitates) , trans. Heinrich Clementz, 14th edition, Wiesbaden 2002, ISBN 3-921695-19-8 .
  • Mishnah: trans. Dietrich Correns, Wiesbaden 2005, ISBN 3-86539-016-1 .

Secondary literature

Web links

Commons : Menorah  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Menorah  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Rachel Hachlili: The Menorah . S. 17 .
  2. Othmar Keel / Ernst Axel Knauf / Thomas Staubli: Salomons Tempel . Academic Press Friborg, Freiburg (Switzerland) 2004, ISBN 3-7278-1459-4 , pp. 30-31 .
  3. Rachel Hachlili: The Menorah . S. 12-16 .
  4. Rachel Hachlili: The Menorah . S. 18-21 .
  5. Rachel Hachlili: The Menorah . S. 8 .
  6. Rachel Hachlili: The Menorah . S. 10-11 .
  7. Rachel Hachlili: The Menorah . S. 23.42 .
  8. Rachel Hachlili: The Menorah . S. 24 .
  9. Oliver Gussmann: The priestly understanding of Flavius ​​Josephus . Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2008, p. 165 .
  10. Rachel Hachlili: The Menorah . S. 26 .
  11. ^ Lawrence H. Schiffman: The Magdala Stone. Retrieved on December 15, 2017 (English): "It has been suggested that this object was the base for what we call a teivah, a" chest, "the ancient synagogue furnishing that served both to hold the sefer Torah and upon which it was read. "
  12. Eli Ashkenazi: Earliest Known Depiction of Second Temple Lamp Uncovered . In: Haaretz . September 11, 2009.
  13. ^ The Magdala Stone, Oldest carving of the menorah. Retrieved December 15, 2017 .
  14. Prokopios of Caesarea: The Wars of Justinian . tape 4 , no. 9.6-9 .
  15. The buried candlestick . Project Gutenberg-DE
  16. "Bringing the Menorah Home". In: Israelnetz .de. May 10, 2019, accessed May 11, 2019 .