Wednesday, December 09, 2015

The Magdala Stone as a snapshot of the Temple

ICONOGRAPHY: A Carved Stone Block Upends Assumptions About Ancient Judaism (ISABEL KERSHNER, NYT).
BEIT SHEMESH, Israel — The carved stone block is about the size of an occasional table. It has held its secrets for two millenniums. Whoever engraved its enigmatic symbols was apparently depicting the ancient Jewish temples.

But what makes the stone such a rare find in biblical archaeology, according to scholars, is that when it was carved, the Second Temple still stood in Jerusalem for the carver to see. The stone is a kind of ancient snapshot.


I approached the stone, and I could not believe what I was seeing,” said Rina Talgam, a Hebrew University of Jerusalem professor specializing in ancient art of the Middle East. Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists had asked her to visit the site to view Magdala’s mosaics and frescoes, but when she first saw the stone, “they said I stood there for three hours.”

Ms. Talgam concluded that she was looking at a three-dimensional depiction of the Temple of Herod, including its most sacred inner sanctum, known as the Holy of Holies.

She has since spent years deciphering and interpreting the symbols that adorn the stone and researching the possible implications of the discovery.


One side of the stone has what experts say is an unusual feature for the time: a carving of a seven-branch menorah. A candelabra of that kind is described in the Bible and is believed to have stood in the Temple, and it emerged as a Jewish symbol of hope for redemption centuries later, according to David Mevorah, senior curator for Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine archaeology at the Israel Museum.

The reading of the Magdala Stone as a depiction of the Temple is not a new development (see here), but it is covered in more detail in this article, which doubtless was inspired by the current Hanukkah celebration. There's lots more on the Magdala Stone and the site of Magdala here and links.

Also: "millenniums?" Are proper Latin endings a thing of the past even for New York Times writers?

Cross file under "Temple Mount Watch (sort of)."