The seven‐branched candelabrum of the wilderness tabernacle and Jerusalem Temples, it was typical of Iron Age elevated metal structures combining the functions of lampstand and lamp. The tabernacle menorah, anachronistically described in the postexilic Priestly code (P) (Exod. 25.31–40 and 37.17–24), was said to have been hammered, together with all of its lamps and utensils, from one whole talent (ca. 44 kg [96 lb]) of pure gold by the craftsman Bezalel. Based on a tripod, three branches curved from both sides of a vertical shaft; these, with the central stem, were decorated with cups carved in the shape of open almond blossoms, the uppermost holding the lamps. These botanical motifs may reflect tree of life symbolism, common in the ancient Near East.
According to 1 Kings 7.39 (and 2 Chron. 4.7), ten pure gold lampstands, which are not described in detail, together with gold accoutrements, adorned Solomon's Temple, five on the south side of the main hall, and five on the north. The Second Temple, following the priestly directions for the wilderness tabernacle, had one golden menorah. According to Josephus (Ant. 3.8.199), three of its lamps burned all day; the rest were lit in the evening. The Talmud relates that the westernmost lamp, closest to the Holy of Holies, was never extinguished (b. Yoma 33a). The menorah was removed in 169 BCE by Antiochus Epiphanes IV (1 Macc. 4.49–50) during his desecration of the Temple. Judas Maccabee supplied a new menorah, together with other vessels, during the Temple's cleansing (1 Macc. 4.49–50; 2 Macc. 10.3). Josephus recounts that when Herod's Temple was destroyed in 70 CE, the menorah was carried by the Romans in Titus's triumphal march (War 7.5.148–49). The Temple menorah seems to be depicted on the Arch of Titus in Rome, although there is some controversy over this rendition's accuracy, particularly regarding the double octagonal pedestal, since according to all Jewish sources and considerable archeological evidence, the menorah stood on three legs. After 70 CE, the menorah became an enduring Jewish religious and national symbol, frequently appearing in synagogue, domestic, and funerary art; it appears today on the emblem of the State of Israel.
Judith R. Baskin