Photo Credit: Flash90
Israeli archaeologist Eilat Mazar showing an ancient medallion dated to the late Byzantine period (early seventh century CE) with a shofar (ram's horn) and a Torah scroll ornament, September 9, 2013. The treasure was discovered in recent Jerusalem excavations near the Temple Mount southern wall, by members of the Hebrew University Institute of Archaeology.

During excavations at the foot of the Temple Mount which were conducted this summer, Jerusalem Hebrew University archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar discovered two bundles of a treasure containing thirty-six gold coins, gold and silver jewelry, and a gold medallion with the menorah (Temple candelabrum) symbol etched into it. Also etched into the 10-cm medallion are a shofar (ram’s horn) and a Torah scroll.

Mazar, a third-generation archaeologist working at the Hebrew University’s Institute of Archaeology, directs excavations on the City of David’s summit and at the Temple Mount’s southern wall, the Ophel area. Calling the find “a breathtaking, once-in-a-lifetime discovery,” Dr. Mazar said: “We have been making significant finds from the First Temple Period in this area, a much earlier time in Jerusalem’s history, so discovering a golden seven-branched Menorah from the seventh century CE at the foot of the Temple Mount was a complete surprise.”

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The discovery was unearthed just five days into Mazar’s latest phase of the Ophel excavations, and can be dated to the late Byzantine period (early seventh century CE). The gold treasure was discovered in a ruined Byzantine public structure, a mere 150 feet from the Temple Mount’s southern wall.

The menorah, a candelabrum with seven branches that was used in the Temple, the national symbol of the State of Israel, reflects the historical presence of Jews in the area. The position of the items as they were discovered indicates that one bundle was carefully hidden underground while the second bundle was apparently abandoned in haste and scattered across the floor.

Given the date of the items and the manner in which they were found, Mazar estimates they were abandoned in the context of the Persian conquest of Jerusalem, in 614 CE. After the Persians conquered Jerusalem, many Jews returned to the city and formed the majority of its population, hoping for political and religious freedom. But as Persian power waned, instead of forming an alliance with the Jews, the Persians sought the support of Christians and ultimately allowed them to expel the Jews from Jerusalem.

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. It was buried in a small depression in the floor, along with a smaller, gold medallion, two pendants, a gold coil and a silver clasp, all of which are believed to be Torah scroll ornaments.

“It would appear that the most likely explanation is that the Ophel cache was earmarked as a contribution toward the building of a new synagogue, at a location that is near the Temple Mount,” said Dr. Mazar. “What is certain is that their mission, whatever it was, was unsuccessful. The treasure was abandoned, and its owners could never return to collect it.”

The Ophel cache is the third collection of gold coins to be found in archaeological excavations in Jerusalem, said Lior Sandberg, numismatics specialist at the Institute of Archaeology. “The thirty-six gold coins can be dated to the reigns of different Byzantine emperors, ranging from the middle of the fourth century CE to the early seventh century CE,” said Sandberg.

Found alongside the coins were a pair of large gold earrings, a gold-plated silver hexagonal prism and a silver ingot. Remnants of fabric indicate that these items were once packaged in a cloth purse similar to the bundle that contained the menorah medallion.

Mazar’s Ophel excavation made headlines earlier this year when she announced the 2012 discovery of an ancient Canaanite inscription (recently identified as Hebrew), the earliest alphabetical written text ever uncovered in Jerusalem.

The 2013 excavation season at the Ophel ran from the middle of April to the end of July, on behalf of the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University. The Israel Antiquities Authority is carrying out the preservation works, and is preparing the site for the public.

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48 COMMENTS

  1. would like to know why Mazar believes the cache was earmarked for a new building and not just hidden because of uncertain politics. It also struck me that the number of coins found was 36, “double Chai”. Coincidence?

  2. This goes some way to prove how long the Jewish Community has used the Temple Mount, a further reason for Jerusalem to be Israel’s Capital and inform Islamic followers this Mount is indeed Judaic and have an equal if not greater right to worship here than Islam.

  3. This is not the only time that idolaters have prayed to their gods or god at the temple. The Greeks did the same and the Romans too, and the worshippers of the moon-gods or the sun-gods will do the same.

  4. This is not the only time that idolaters have prayed to their gods or god at the temple. The Greeks did the same and the Romans too, and the worshippers of the moon-gods or the sun-gods will do the same.

  5. Look at all these anti-Islamic comments! And here I am, a Muslim (American Muslim), happy that these treasures were found because people of “the middle of the fourth century to seventh century CE”, of different Byzantine Empires, need to be remembered. Judaism is an Abrahamic religion that I love and respect but don’t take every thing out of context and insult my faith wherever there’s a niche to fill with acrimony and arrogant ignorance.
    If they pulled the body of Abraham (peace be upon him) out of ground what would these people say about Islam then??

  6. Such a shame radical Islam is giving bad PR.  True Abraham is father to both Isaac and Ishmael.  Sons and daughters outside of matrimony, do not inherit, only the legitimate child  inherits.  Does the illegitimate child hate his/her half brother? In most cases on discoverig each other,  usually a familial bond arises between them?

  7. Tremendous find that’s as beautiful as it is important. I have a question about the bundle “apparently scattered across the floor”. How was it covered and not found by someone shortly thereafter?

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