In my previous blog, I noted that both Brandfon and Billington trace the objects taken by the Roman’s from the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70 to the Nea Church in Jerusalem.
At that point, the story becomes very complex because of the Persian invasion and capture of Jerusalem in A.D. 614. It is complex partially because the Jews initially assisted the Persians, and may have gained possession of the objects then. But soon, the Persians sided with the Christian. And eventually the Byzantine ruler Heraclius captured Jerusalem in 630 and was harsh on the Jewish population.
Both Brandfon and Billington cite a number of Jewish sources from this period. They concluded that when the Muslims took control of Jerusalem in 638 the trail goes cold! Billington writes:
I have searched through every Byzantine, medieval Catholic, Crusader, and Arab historical source that I could find, and these sacred Jewish items disappear from historical sources at the time that Omar took Jerusalem in 638 AD. . . .
It appears that the Jews wisely hid their sacred items from Omar and the Muslim Arabs before they [?] surrendered Jerusalem to them. . . .
My best guess—and it is only a guess—is that the 7th Century Jews hid their Golden Temple Menorah and their other sacred Temple items somewhere inside of the Temple Mount . . . But this is only a guess. (Billington pp. 21–22)
The end? Well not quite, as my teachers and later colleague Anson Rainey used to tell his students—”let me enrich you with some new uncertainties!”
Steven Fine, who has been scanning the Arch of Titus in Rome, has an article that traces the echos of beliefs that the objects remained in Rome! Among other sources, Fine draws our attention to a passage found in The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela (12th century):
In the church of St. John in the Lateran there are two copper columns that were in the Temple, the handiwork of King Solomon, peace be upon him. . . . There also is the cave where Titus the son of Vespasian hid away the Temple vessels which he brought from Jerusalem. (Fine p. 62)
By the end of the 13th century, then, the Lateran [church!] was claiming to have the Temple booty of the Solomonic Temple, taken anachronistically by ‘Titus and Vespasian’ and on display (or in a reliquary). Though neither Christians nor Jews could actually see the Menorah, its presence was intense” (p. 63).
Fine, Steven. “The Temple Menorah—Where is It?” Biblical Archaeology Review 31, no. 4 (July/August, 2005): 18–25, 62–63.
Brandfon, Fredric. “Did the Temple Menorah Come Back to Jerusalem?” Biblical Archaeology Review 43, no. 5 (September/October, 2017): 40–49, 70.
Billington, Clyde E. “What Happened to the Golden Temple Menorah?” Artifax 34, no. 1 (Winter, 2019): 18–21.
Fine, Steven. “True Colors: Digital Reconstruction Restores Original Brilliance to the Arch of Titus.” Biblical Archaeology Review 43, no. 3 (May/June, 2005): 28–35, 60–61.