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    Earliest Known Hanukkah Menorah?

    JUDAEA. Second Temple / Roman Era (circa 70-200 CE). Ceramic nine-spouted Hanukkah lamp. Proto-Beit Natif style terracotta lamp of rectangular form, with a projecting carrying handle, is 4.8" long and 3" wide (12.4 cm X 7.5 cm), decorated with vine scrolls, grape bunches and grape leaves, with nine wick spouts in a line along the front and a single central filling hole. Minor loss to handle, the spouts are lightly scorched, light earthen encrustation overall, otherwise the lamp is intact, unrestored and in excellent condition. See Haneroth Halalou: The Josef Chaim Kaufman Collection of Oil Lamps from the Land of Israel (Archaeological Center Israel, 2012), page 41, 66 for a "Samaritan" type Hanukkaiah of a somewhat later type (see below).

    From The Living Torah Museum Collection; ex Michael Kaufman Collection, acquired by private donation.

    The decorative motif and general form share similarities to the Beit Natif type, commonly dated to the Third Century CE or later. However it appears to be an early, transitional form, extending the dating to the period between the Jewish War (66-70 CE) and the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132-135 CE). The nine spouts are thought by at least one prominent expert to mark this lamp as an early form of ritual Hanukkah lamp, or Hanukkaiah, as directed in the Talmud to celebrate the Festival Of Lights in honor of the Wars of the Maccabees, in which the people of Israel secured their religious freedom.

    A letter from Dr. Meir Ben Dov, archaeologist and Field Director for the Temple Mount Excavations in Jerusalem, dated 6 December 1988, states the following: "It is my considered opinion that this is a Hanukah menorah, a lamp used for Jewish ritual use during the festival of Hanukah requiring nine lights. As a Hanukah lamp dating back to the period of the Second Jerusalem Temple it is an object of extraordinary significance. It is undoubtedly the earliest Hanukah lamp extant. It is also possibly the oldest Jewish ceremonial object to have been discovered to date. This Hanukah Menorah is thus of the greatest importance as an object relating to Jewish history and to the development of objects used in the Jewish ritual."

    Dr. Ben Dov is a widely acknowledged expert in the field of Biblical archaeology with impeccable credentials on early pottery. However, his attribution of this piece as an early Hanukkaiah has been contested by others who note that the celebration of Hanukkah with a nine-spouted lamp cannot be confirmed until the fifth century CE. Also, the design of this lamp, while singular in many ways, shares attributes with the Beit Natif type, which post-dates the Second Temple period. It should also be noted that, on a Hanukkaiah, the central spout is almost always set apart from the other eight, while on this lamp the spouts are closely spaced in a single line.

    This position is somewhat undercut by the extreme rarity of nine-spouted oil lamps as archaeological finds in a Judaean context. Multi-nozzled lamps with four, five, seven, ten and eleven spouts are regularly encountered, but lamps with nine spouts remain exceedingly rare, at least suggesting that the number nine had some special ritual significance and lamps with this number of spouts were not for everyday use.

    Further support for Dr. Ben Dov's position has been provided by a somewhat later pottery lamp type of the 5th-9th century CE, also with nine holes in a single line, sold by Christie's on June 8, 2004 (lot 77, realized $26,290). In addition to having nine spouts, this shovel-shaped lamp, of a later form than the Kaufman specimen offered here (and quite similar to lot 52082 in the present auction), also had a decorative elements in raised relief on its surface that included a nine-spouted menorah of the classic design, and was inscribed in Greek "with God's help," lending support to the theory that this was itself a Hanukkaiah. It also suggests that, by the fifth century, a nine-spouted lamp was being used for the Festival of Lights observance, a use that could have begun much earlier with the lamp offered here.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    November, 2016
    16th Wednesday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 4
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 5,200

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