Was the Temple Menorah taken to Rome after the destruction of Jerusalem

The Arch of Titus

The Arch of Titus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today we can find lots of remains in Rome which are of particular interest for Christians, like the Arch of Titus, built in 81 C.E. by the emperor Domitian, which still stands on the main processional street of ancient Rome (Via Sacra).

The relief panels of the Arch of Titusstill standing at the entrance to the Roman Forum, chronicle the triumphal episodes of Emperor Vespasian and his son Titus returning to Rome to publicly celebrate their victory, having quashed the First Jewish Revolt in 70 C.E. and having caused the fall of Jerusalem. The arch captures prominently the triumphal procession. One of the scenes shows the seven-branched menorah which was a popular motif of religious art in antiquity and which became a popular symbol signifying Judaism. Representations of the menorah decorated tombs and the walls and floors of the synagogues.

The menorah was carried on litters in the parade that took place in the summer of 71 C.E.

“Romans Taking Spoils of Jerusalem,” detail of marble relief from the Arch of Titus, Rome, c. 81 ad. In the Roman Forum. Height 2.03 m.

“Romans Taking Spoils of Jerusalem,” detail of marble relief from the Arch of Titus, …
Erich Lessing/Art Resource, New York

The first-century C.E. Jewish historian Flavius Josephus informs us that after the triumph — depicted so famously on the Arch of Titus in Rome — most of the Temple treasures were deposited in the newly built Roman Temple of Peace. Josephus rather vaguely mentions

“those golden vessels and instruments that were taken out of the Jewish temple.” {Josephus, The Jewish War 7.158–162}

The Roman Temple of Peace was apparently a magnificent building that Emperor Vespasian built

“in so glorious a manner, as was beyond all human expectation and opinion” and had “adorned with pictures and statues.” {Josephus, The Jewish War 7.158–162}

If the Temple Menorah survived the destruction of the Roman Temple of Peace, what happened to it after the sack of Rome by Visigoths in 410 and by Vandals in 455? Is it even possible that the Menorah survived all the calamities and chaos of the fifth and sixth centuries? A tradition recorded by the Byzantine historian Procopius of Caesarea (c. 500–560) has it that the Temple treasures eventually ended up back in Jerusalem. Procopius relates that Emperor Justinian returned the spoils of the Temple to Jerusalem because they were cursed—any city that once housed them was eventually destroyed. Could the Temple Menorah have still been part of the Temple treasures at that point in history and thus found its way back to the holy city?

Fredric R. Brandfon thinks that

There is little doubt that the Temple Menorah was taken to Rome after the destruction of Jerusalem.

and tells the fascinating story of the Temple Menorah in his article “Did the Temple Menorah Come Back to Jerusalem?” in the September/October 2017 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.


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