Ancient menorah inscribed on stone slab discovered in Tiberias mosque

The menorah dates back to between the 2nd and 4th centuries CE.

December 12, 2017 08:20
3 minute read.
The menorah-inscribed stone door discovered in Tiberias, December 2017

The menorah-inscribed stone door discovered in Tiberias, December 2017. (photo credit: COURTESY OF TAL ROGOVSKY)

An ancient seven-branched menorah inscribed on a large slab of basalt originally used as a door at a Jewish cemetery between the 2nd and 4th centuries CE has been unearthed from a mosque dating to the Muslim period at an archeological site in Tiberias.

The excavation, which commenced in 2009, was overseen by Dr. Katia Cytryn-Silverman of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute of Archeology and the Department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies.

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According to Cytryn-Silverman, the ornate doorway was taken from the nearby cemetery and used as part of the mosque’s foundation. It later served as a step in a sugar warehouse built during the Crusader period.

“The stone is engraved in splendor with a seven-branched menorah,” she said on Monday.

“The incarnations of the stone adorned with the menorah reflect 1,000 years in the ancient history of Tiberias between the 2nd and 12th centuries CE, and covers Jewish, Muslim and Christian periods.”
Tiberias was a central city in the Galilee and served as a seat for the Sanhedrin.

“The Jews of the city during the Mishna and Talmud period also had a magnificent cemetery, and the doors of the burial systems were made of thick basalt slabs, decorated with various symbols,” she explained.

Tiberias, which was conquered by the Muslims in 635 CE, became a district capital, and a mosque was subsequently built there.

“The mosque’s builders made use of accessible building materials that were in the vicinity, and also recycled stones that had symbolic significance – a message of the victory of Islam over the cultures and religions that preceded it,” Cytryn-Silverman said.

“Thus, Jewish burial doors were exposed in the excavations, which served as bases for the columns of the building.”

The mosque was destroyed during an earthquake in 1068 CE, she noted.

However, the menorah-adorned door was used once again as a step at a sugar warehouse built during the Crusader period.

“One of the steps in this building was made of the basalt door, which was fashioned and adapted to the extent necessary,” said Cytryn-Silverman. “This indicates that the Crusaders were reconstructing stones that were uprooted from the ruins of the mosque.”

Dr. Katya Citrin-Salberman poses with the steon decorated with a seven-branched menorah (credit: Tal Rogosky)

The sugar industry, she said, was widespread in the Jordan Valley and Tiberias during and after the Crusader periods.

“For example, a letter from 1182 CE sent by the Hospitaller Crusader Order of Jerusalem, requesting the shipment of sugar from Tiberias for the production of medicines and syrup for patients in the hospital of the Order was found in the area,” the researcher said.

“So, the menorah had a sweet ending.”

Moreover, Cytryn-Silverman noted that the three incarnations of the menorah fit three stages in the history of Tiberias.

“In the first stage, it reflects an important Jewish city and the seat of the Sanhedrin,” she said.

“In the second stage, it reflects the capital of an important district and mosque in the early days of Islam, which was destroyed by an earthquake that occasionally struck the Jordan Valley.”

“In the third phase,” she continued, “it reflects the Crusader Christian period and development of the sugar production industry in the region.”

And while Cytryn-Silverman noted the menorah was not a Hanukkia, she nonetheless said it has symbolic value on the eve of Hanukkah.

“What’s interesting here is that we are coming to the holiday season and we have something here with Jewish, Muslim and Christian history,” she said. “And I think it is something very interesting for the end of the year.”

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