Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Update: a Photo of one of the "Jesus Plates" and a question about the number of arms on the menorah

Jim West via Robert Cargill has posted a picture of one of the recently discovered plates. Bob's comments are below the photo.

I note that the candleabrum/hanukiah in the picture is 9-branched (8 + shamash), not the typical 7-branched menorah that we find depicted, for instance, on the Arch of Titus, which was erected in 82 CE long after the Maccabean Revolt. Were these 9-branched hanukiot typical at this time? If not, would the presence of a 9-branched hanukiah be evidence of a forgery? Or would this have to be the earliest example of a 9-branched hanukiah? If anyone knows of an earlier hanukiah, I’d be interested to learn.

Robert Cargill, UCLA

Bob asks an important question here. I had a quick scan through Rachel Hachlili's The Menorah, The Ancient Seven-Armed Candelabrum (Brill, 2001). She mentions that there are examples of menorot with more or less than seven arms. She lists some on pp. 438-39; 464, 477. Some do come from the land of Israel, although she noted that they are predominately from the Golan (69, 200). Many of these examples come from the 4th-5th century CE, but she also lists some from the 1st century (441-42), which suggests that a nine branched Menorah is not an indicator of a forgery.


  1. The only lead-inscribed texts I know of are magical/Gnostic ones, and that seems to me to fit together oddly with the nine-armed menorah.

    It is my understanding that the 7-armed was felt to have significant astronomical/astrological connotations (the seven heavens - corresponding to the sun, moon and five visible planets) and I had always thought that it was to combat that association that later rabbis mandated the nine-armed form/prohibited the seven-armed form.

    But Hachilili's book provides evidence of nine-branched menorot from first century Palestine, and so clearly that is not beyond the realm of possibility.

    Thanks for highlighting this aspect of the question.

    Now does anyone with skills in Paleo-Hebrew want to try to make out what the pages in the released photos actually way?

  2. James,

    Where does Hachlili's book mention a first century example? I was unable to find one.

  3. Thanks, I missed that. I will correct the post.

  4. Are there better pictures? Too much glare in the middle to make out the letters.

  5. Here is something very interesting from Hachlili's book p. 198 which you might not have noticed. The nine-branched menorah in the lead book is assymetrical. So too were many of the images developed in early Jewish art:

    The symmetrical design was an integral part of Jewish art (but see Vitto 1993:166 who argues that this phenomenon seems to be characteristic of local Palestinian art). The inclination to depict unidentical objects such as the pair of menoroth or animals within the heraldic design must have been intentional, as it would have been just as easy to portray identical designs. Furthermore, it need not be related to unskillful artistic treatment as some designs do use symmetrical patterns. Unidentical symmetry was a style intentionally adopted by the Jews in particular. One may conjecture that it is associated with a desire to avoid a perfection that only God can achieve. Yet it may have been due to the character of Jewish popular art, and to the artists' standards of composition and their cultural environment, which did not demand perfection.

    While this is isn't the exact same thing it could be used to argue for the authenticity of the discovery.

  6. Stephen,

    Although I missed it in Hachilili's book I am aware of the tendency in second temple Judaism to make images asymmetrical. Other times images could be merged to make something seemingly impossible, like a fig tree bearing grapes. The reason for this is perhaps to suggest that humans can not make something equal to or greater than the almighty.

    And your observation on this note is important. It does seem to be asymmetrical which made lean towards authenticity.

    I wonder if these are Ebionite works?