Close-up of the spoils from Jerusalem on the Arch of Titus (credit: photo taken by Dnalor_01 (own work) [CC-BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia)

He also made the lampstand of pure gold. He made the lampstand of hammered work. Its base, its stem, its cups, its calyxes, and its flowers were of one piece with it. And there were 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; – Exodus 37:17-18 (ESV)

The menorah was a seven-branched lampstand that was an integral part of the tabernacle built by the Israelites at Mount Sinai. Later, it was presumably incorporated into Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem and finally (either the original or a copy) in Herod’s temple until that temple was destroyed by the Romans AD 70. Scholars and archaeologists have not been able to discover what happened to the menorah after that point. While it is still missing, it is depicted in the Arch of Titus, a Roman monument from the first century. After the death of emperor Titus (about AD 81), his brother, emperor Domitian of Rome constructed a monument commemorating Titus’s military victories during the First Jewish-Roman War (AD 66 – 74). This is the war made famous for the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, leaving only a section of wall standing and its ritual articles removed by the Romans.

The Arch of Titus in Rome, Italy where the triumph parade celebrated the Roman victory over the Jewish people. (credit: photo taken by Jebulon (own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons)

Like all Roman and Greek statues and monuments, the Arch of Titus is a natural stone color. It is easy to assume that this monument and all of Rome were always this natural hue with the beauty of the craftsmanship uninterrupted by color.

The digital reconstruction of the panel of Temple spoils, Arch of Titus (credit: VIZIN and the Yeshiva Univ., center for Israel Studies)

However, while this is how we have grown accustomed to thinking about Roman statues and monuments, small flecks of paint show us that this wasn’t always so. A new technology has revealed that the Arch of Titus was originally painted in bright colors. In fact many, perhaps most of the Roman era monuments, are now believed to have been painted in bright colors.

An article published by Haaretz notes that it was during the research of a study on the statue of Caligula that small flecks of paint were noticed. After the study was completed, Professor Steven Fine of Yeshiva University suggested that they should also test the Arch of Titus. The team first made a 3D rendering of the Menorah panel. This digital reconstruction helped them to see areas of the monument that had broken away and restore them in the rendering. Next, with permission from the Roman Antiquities Authority, they tested the Menorah and found traces of yellow paint.

Rendering of the 3D scan of the Arch of Titus’ menorah panel. Created by UNOCAL, a scanning firm in Milan. Photo: Courtesy of Steven Fine, the Arch of Titus Project. (credit: VIZIN and the Yeshiva Univ., center for Israel Studies)

They were not able to continue testing the Arch, but hope to in the future. With the knowledge they had, the team brought back a glimpse of how the Arch might have looked with color. Finn stated that, “Once you have one bit of color on a major monument, you have it all.” However, he cautioned stating that they haven’t perfected the exact true colors of the panel.

As noted in Haaretz, “Their reconstruction is theoretical, but is based on common sense and standard Roman iconography, and also the belief that the Romans had a very limited palette. For instance blue was a tough color to synthesize until the 19th century: ‘They had to use costly lapis lazuli, which decomposes quickly.’”

Biblical Archaeology Review identifies that the team’s results align with the first century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus’s account of the Roman victory parade. In his writings of the war and plunder of the temple, he describes the menorah as being gold. While the paint flecks found are yellow, rather than gold it is likely that the yellow represented the gold of the menorah. The monument also matches his records that the menorah was carried on litters in a parade.

Temple of Peace destroyed in the Sack of Rome, only ruins remain (Photo: Courtesy Biblical Archaeology Review)

Josephus tells us that the spoils of war were brought to the Roman Temple of Peace; described as an elaborate building built by emperor Vespasian using funds from the Jewish-Roman war campaigns. It was here that he displayed the spoils of the war. We can guess that the Menorah might have been among the types of things placed in the Roman Temple. However, it is unclear where it may have gone after that.

In a recent article written for Biblical Archaeology Review, the author reminds us that the only other time we have record of anyone seeing the Menorah after it is depicted in the Arch of Titus in AD 81, “is when a second-century rabbi Simeon ben Yohai travels to Rome, where he reportedly sees the Menorah. Where precisely? Presumably in the Roman Temple of Peace.” The temple was burned down around AD 192 and later rebuilt, but there is no further mentions of the Temple Menorah.

Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. And He said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.” – Matthew 24:1-2 (ESV)

The author posed more questions for consideration, “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?”

New technology continues to help peel back the layers of history. It is exciting when the veil is removed and we see with new eyes. Keep Thinking!