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Ancient Golden Treasure

December 3, 2013
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Calling the find “a breathtaking, once-in-a-lifetime discovery,” Dr. Mazar said, “We have been making significant finds from the First Temple Period, much earlier in Jerusalem’s history, so discovering a golden seven-branched Menorah from the 7th century AD was a complete surprise.” The discovery can be dated to the late Byzantine period (early 7th century AD). The gold treasure was discovered in a ruined Byzantine public structure a mere 50 meters [164 ft] from the Temple Mount’s southern wall.

The menorah, a candelabrum that was used in the Temple, is the national symbol of the State of Israel and 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. Mazar estimates they were abandoned in the context of the Persian conquest of Jerusalem in AD 614. After the Persians conquered Jerusalem, many Jews returned to the city 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. In that case it is the earliest Torah scroll ornament found in archaeological excavations to date. It was buried along with a smaller gold medallion, two pendants, a gold coil and a silver clasp, all of which are believed to be Torah scroll ornamentations.

“It would appear 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 only 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 coins can be dated to the reigns of different Byzantine emperors, ranging from the middle of the 4th century AD to the early 7th century AD,” said Sandberg. Found with the coins were a pair of large gold earrings, a gold-plated silver hexagonal prism and a silver ingot. Remnants of fabric indicated that these items were once packaged in a cloth purse similar to the bundle that contained the menorah medallion.

Source: Excerpts of a press release from Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Photo Credit: Ashernet and IAA

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