Tuesday, September 10, 2013

  • Tuesday, September 10, 2013
  • Elder of Ziyon
Early Monday a spectacular archaeological find was announced:

During excavations at the foot of the Temple Mount, which were conducted this summer, Hebrew University of Jerusalem archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar discovered two bundles of treasure containing 36 gold coins, gold and silver jewelry, and a gold medallion with the menorah (Temple candelabrum) symbol etched into it.

Also etched into the 10-centimeter (4-inch) medallion are a shofar (ram’s horn) and a Torah scroll.

...Hanging from a gold chain, the menorah medallion is most likely an ornament for a Torah scroll. If this is the case, it is the earliest Torah scroll ornament found in archaeological excavations to date.
Diana Muir Appelbaum has a different theory:

 The gold medallion with its image of the seven-branched menorah that once stood in the Temple, a Torah scroll, and a shofar is a remarkable piece of jewelery.  At 10:30 on this video, which includes excellent photos of the objects, archaeologist Peretz Reuben compares the newly discovered medallion with a similar medallion in the collection of the Jewish Museum of London.  The London medallion features  (12:16) very similar images of a menorah, shofar and Torah scroll.   Unlike the Ophel menorah, however, the London menorah is inscribed (12:39) in Greek: This is the donation of Jacob the head of the synagogue (or community) the setter of pearls.  A wealthy  and generous jeweler (remember the vastly higher rarity, and therefore, value, of pearls before the 19th century development of cultured pearls)  and community leader who apparently donated the London medallion to a synagogue for use as a Torah ornament.
Reuben and Eilat Mazar, the archaeologist who headed the dig,  propose that the Ophel medallion was intended for a Torah ornament, and that, because the image of a Torah in this period was rare in the land of Israel but common in the diaspora, that it may have been fashioned elsewhere and brought to Jerusalem by pilgrims.   Perhaps.  But the Ophel medallion does not have a donor inscription.  Instead, it is large and associated with a heavy gold chain and, in short, it looks remarkably like a chain of office.
Large gold medallions suspended from heavy gold necklaces are known in this period.   Here is a Byzantine pectoral now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  
Popes and Byzantine bishops wore  pectoral medallions [Engolpion  (ἐγκόλπιον)]  and pectoral crosses at least from the time of Pope Hilarius (461-468).
Jews in the Levant, who had suffered under Byzantine rule, are known to have supported the Sassians against Emperor Heraclius in the hope that a Sassanian Persian conquest would be less oppressive than Byzantine rule. If  they had expectations of attaining some kind of official status as a community under Persian rule as a reward for this political  support, or if for a brief time early in the Sassanian period some sort of autonomous status was granted,  there may have been a moment when someone prepared -  or actually wore – a heavy, gold chain of office with a large gold medallion symbolic of his role as the leader of the Jewish community of Jerusalem or of the Land of Israel.
Simcha Jacobovici also thinks along these lines:
The Jews were not always victims. The Persian monarch Khasrau II put a Jew, Nehemiah ben Hushiel, at the head of his army. The latter recruited 20,000 Jewish troops. They were then joined by the wealthy leader Benjamin of Tiberias and a military force of Tiberian Jews. The combined Jewish-Persian forces successfully captured Jerusalem in 614 CE, the exact date that Mazar points to. In other words, the Jews were not fleeing the Persians, they were leading them. This same Nehemiah was appointed the ruler of Jerusalem. He was a messianic figure who began the work of rebuilding the Temple of Jerusalem. He even appointed a council to sort out genealogies in order to establish a new High Priesthood.

The Christian population of the city, however, fearful that the reestablishment of a Jewish Temple would challenge the supremacy of the Church, rioted. A mob captured Nehemiah and his “council of the righteous”, murdered them and, after dragging their bodies through the streets of Jerusalem, dumped them over the city walls. Later, Nehemiah’s followers staged a bloody retaliation.

In other words, the treasure probably dates to this tragic moment in Jewish history when plans for the rebuilding of the Temple were suddenly aborted. Mazar speculates that the treasure was meant for the building of a synagogue. Unlikely. The treasure was found a mere 50 meters from the Temple Mount’s southern walls. This kind of treasure and this kind of symbolism are more likely connected to Nehemiah’s plans to rebuild the Holy Temple. You don’t build synagogues on the Temple Mount – you rebuild the Temple.

The video can be seen here.

The similarities between the London medallion and the Ophel medallion are unmistakable, except for the dedication. But the London medallion is not definitively a Torah breastplate either.

Meanwhile, Muslim leaders are claiming that this medallion, as well as all other archaeological evidence that points to a Jewish presence in Jerusalem that pre-dates Islam, is a forgery.


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