Pic of the Day 2017-12-12: The Light of Freedom

Tonight marks the beginning of Hanukkah, so it seemed appropriate to dedicate a Pic of Day post to some Menorot (singular, Menorah) I have photographed in situ at ancient sites or in museums. I’ll include a few bulleted notes among the photos—some general info, and a couple of random observations I have made over the years.

  • The Menorah is closely associated with Hanukkah because of the miraculous burning for 8 days of a single day’s supply of consecrated oil (presumably in the Temple Menorah) at the Temple’s re-dedication.
Jerusalem; Israel Museum
Portions of a Menorah depicted in plaster from a Jerusalem house destroyed in AD 70 (now in the Israel Museum) and one of the oldest depictions known (photo: Daniel C Browning Jr)
  • Hanukkah is the major feast holiday of the Jews that is not specified in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. It is, therefore, less familiar and less understood to Christians.
Capernaum: Synagogue
Menorah and other Temple service items in relief on a capital from the 4th century AD synagogue (the “White Synagogue” at Capernaum (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)
  • Hanukkah means “dedication,” which is how the holiday is known in the New Testament (John 10:22). The holiday celebrates the re-dedication of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem following its desecration at the hands of the Seleucid King Antiochus IV and his suppression of Judaism—acts which sparked the Maccabean Revolt and resulting in the liberation and re-dedication for which the holiday is named.
Ostia: Synagogue
Menorah motif in the synagogue remains at Ostia, the port of Rome (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)
  • Even as a child, I noticed that every Christmas season, there was a seemingly-obligatory news story about Hanukkah, explaining that it celebrates the miracle of the 8-day burning oil. This provides the Menorah connection (and the alternate name Festival of Lights), but glosses over the real importance of the holiday—a celebration of deliverance from oppression and restoration of free worship. Making Hanukkah about burning oil is akin to making Christmas about giving gifts.
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Laura Scovel looks at a Menorah carving in the synagogue ruins at Priene in Asia Minor/Turkey (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)
  • The Menorah appropriately became the symbol of Jewish identity as a minority people in the Roman world—perhaps all the more because of the Roman destruction of the Jewish Temple in AD 70.
Boğazköy Museum
A Menorah on a Jewish tombstone from north central Turkey, now in the Boğazköy Museum (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)
Beth Shearim:
Large Menorah in the 2nd-3rd century AD “Cave of the Coffins,” a Jewish underground cemetery at Beth Shearim, Israel (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

The Menorah represents many things;* among them is the light of freedom. May it illuminate our own times.

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*For further reading, try Steven Fine’s new-ish book, The Menorah: From the Bible to Modern Israel (Harvard University Press, 2016).