Israel Antiquities Authority

Five-branched candelabra. The menorah image from the house of Leontis in Beth-Shean may parallel the Talmud’s teaching that “no one may make…a [three-dimensional] menorah in the form of the [Temple] menorah; one may make [a menorah] with five, six or eight branches, but not with seven” (Babylonian Talmud, Rosh ha-Shanah 24a-b). This depiction of a five-branched menorah may represent the artist’s desire to protect the uniqueness of the Temple menorah even beyond what the Talmud ordained. Not everyone, however, shared the scruples of our artist: Seven-branched menorahs are common in ancient Jewish art (see mosaic pavement from Beth Alpha and mosaic pavement from Beth-Shean), and three-dimensional, seven-branched lamps are known to have illuminated ancient synagogues in Israel and Asia Minor.