The menorah, the seven-branched candelabrum, has traversed millennia as a living symbol of Judaism and the Jewish people. Naturally, it did not pass through the ages unaltered. The Menorah explores the cultural and intellectual history of the Western world’s oldest continuously used religious symbol. This meticulously researched yet deeply personal history explains how the menorah illuminates the great changes and continuities in Jewish culture, from biblical times to modern Israel.
Though the golden seven-branched menorahs of Moses and of the Jerusalem Temple are artifacts lost to history, the best-known menorah image survives on the Arch of Titus in Rome. Commemorating the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, the arch reliefs depict the spoils of the Temple, the menorah chief among them, as they appeared in Titus’s great triumphal parade in 71 CE. Steven Fine recounts how, in 2012, his team discovered the original yellow ochre paint that colored the menorah—an event that inspired his search for the history of this rich symbol from ancient Israel through classical history, the Middle Ages, and on to our own tumultuous times.
Surveying artifacts and literary sources spanning three thousand years—from the Torah and the ruins of Rome to yesterday’s news—Fine presents the menorah as a source of fascination and illumination for Jews, Samaritans, Christians, and even Freemasons. A symbol for the divine, for continuity, emancipation, national liberation, and redemption, the menorah features prominently on Israel’s state seal and continues to inspire and challenge in surprising ways.
[Fine’s] absorbing [book] traces the history and symbolism of an object which has served as an emblem of Judaism far longer than the Magen David… An illuminating read.
Magisterial…Fine displays a savvy approach to his study of the menorah.
Especially helpful are the numerous illustrations and vivid color photographs, many taken by Fine himself or his research team. Positioned alongside the relevant prose, the images help the reader grasp Fine’s insightful interpretations of the evolving iconography.
Fine weaves into his story references to the menorah in Jewish and Christian literature and scholarship over the ages, ranging from Josephus to modern times. He notes that menorahs can be found not only in synagogues around the world but in Christian churches as well, especially in Rome but also throughout the world.
Fine meticulously documents how this well-known, still-extant artifact became a familiar and important symbol for the Jewish people and the State of Israel, despite initially representing the Romans’ defeat of the Jews in Jerusalem.
Steven Fine’s The Menorah is a remarkably comprehensive and accessible study of this most ancient of all Jewish symbols, from its Biblical roots in Ancient Near Eastern culture through its Roman re-casting and Christian appropriation down to its contemporary uses and misuses by Israeli messianic extremists and anti-semitic parties in the former Soviet Union. By drawing upon his extensive training as a scholar of Rabbinics, archaeology, and Jewish art history, Fine has been able to produce not only an unprecedented study of a Jewish icon, but the basis for a meditation upon the nature of visual iconicity itself in Jewish culture.
[An] engaging study of the menorah in history and legend… Lavishly illustrated in color… The menorah deserves a full-length study to sort out fact from fiction; Steven Fine has unquestionably provided it. As well as meeting the highest scholarly standards, his book is also a page-turner, introducing the reader—especially the non-Jewish reader—to an unknown world of imagery, to conspiracy theories involving Freemasons as well as Jews, to the politics of modern Israel, and to ultra-Orthodox Judaism in its many forms.
Delightfully written…A significant contribution to the study of Jewish religious art and symbolism as well as of the impact of symbolism. This volume should find many uses for students of Jewish religion and comparative religion as well.
- 304 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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