Through this comprehensive study of the Menorah, Carol Meyers demonstrates that its symbolic value comes to exceed its function as a source of light, for it symbolizes plant life, cosmic power, and ultimately the reality of the presence of the deity in the tabernacle.
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The Menorah, the seven-branched lampstand that became such a prominent symbol in post-biblical Jewish tradition, is described in great detail in the priestly texts of the Pentateuch. This comprehensive study of that appurtenance of the ancient cult distinguishes between two aspects: its function as a cultic apparatus (a lamp) and its various levels of symbolic meaning, expressed by its shape and iconographic features. Through careful analysis of the terms used for its component parts, Carol Meyers demonstrates that its symbolic value comes to exceed its function as a source of light, for it symbolizes plant life, cosmic power, and ultimately the reality of the presence of the deity in the tabernacle. Drawing upon archaeological materials, she traces the origins of the Menorah back to the Wilderness period, thus accounting for Egyptian technological and artistic influences without denying the presence of Semitic elements. In a new introduction written for this reprint edition, the author takes into account recent developments in biblical and archaeological scholarship. She updates and corrects some of the assertions she made 27 years ago. She offers a modified interpretation of the Wilderness traditions, which likely reflect the wanderings of a small group of displaced Semites, who could not have produced a large shrine with costly appurtenances, rather than a massive Israelite departure from Egypt as described in the biblical sources. In addition, she suggests that new insights into the gendered nature of Israelite religion would mean that female as well as male features are embedded in the fertility aspects of the Menorah's symbolism.
Carol Meyers is the Mary Grace Wilson Professor in the Department of Religion at Duke University. Her archaeological work includes excavations in Gezer, Khirbet ShemaÆ, Meiron, Gush Halav, Nabratein and Sepphoris. Her most recent book is
Women in Scripture: A Dictionary of the Named and Unnamed Women in the Hebrew Bible, the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, and the New Testament (hardcover Houghton Mifflin, 2000; paperback Eerdmans, 2001).