The menorah – What is it?
The menorah is a lampstand of great importance in the history of the Jews. Its first mention in the Old Testament is found in Exodus 25:31-39:
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You shall make a lampstand of pure gold. The lampstand shall be made of hammered work: its base, its stem, its cups, its calyxes, and its flowers shall be of one piece with it. And there shall be six branches going out of its sides, three branches of the lampstand out of one side of it and three branches of the lampstand out of the other side of it; three cups made like almond blossoms, each with calyx and flower, on one branch, and three cups made like almond blossoms, each with calyx and flower, on the other branch—so for the six branches going out of the lampstand. And on the lampstand itself there shall be four cups made like almond blossoms, with their calyxes and flowers, and a calyx of one piece with it under each pair of the six branches going out from the lampstand. Their calyxes and their branches shall be of one piece with it, the whole of it a single piece of hammered work of pure gold. You shall make seven lamps for it. And the lamps shall be set up so as to give light on the space in front of it. Its tongs and their trays shall be of pure gold. It shall be made, with all these utensils, out of a talent of pure gold.
The menorah was originally built for use within the Jewish tabernacle constructed in the wilderness by the Israelites during the time of Moses. The directions for its construction came directly from God to Moses. According to the Mosaic Law, the menorah was lit every evening and cleaned every morning (Exodus 27:20-21). It burned fresh olive oil and served as part of the worship practices of God's people during this period.
After the Israelites entered the Promised Land, the menorah would have remained in the tabernacle (Joshua 18:1). Levitical priests of this time would have had leadership of the menorah. It was likely in use throughout the period of the judges of Israel through the time of the last judge, Samuel.
During the time of King Solomon, the Jewish temple was constructed in Jerusalem and the items from the tabernacle were placed into it. This original menorah would have remained in the temple until its destruction by the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar in the seventh century.
The value of the menorah was tremendous. It was made of one piece of hammered gold that weighed one talent. Though the exact weight of a "talent of pure gold" is debatable, first-century Jewish historian Josephus placed the menorah in his time at approximately 100 pounds. If the Exodus talent was the same size, the monetary value of the gold would have been extremely high. Currently, one gram of gold is worth about $44.75. One hundred pounds of gold would be worth about $2,031,650. In any period of history, a talent of gold would have had high value. One commentator suggests that a talent of gold would have been worth 20 years' wages for a common first century laborer.
The menorah continues to exist as one of the most important symbols of the Jewish tradition. Versions of it can be found in connection with Hanukah celebrations that have resulted in its use in many commercial ads. Interestingly, even those devout Jews who are making preparations for a future Jewish temple have constructed a new menorah to match the original. The menorah still endures as an important symbol among the Jews in today's world.
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