This year, as families around the world sit down to dinner on Christmas Eve, many others will be lighting the menorah to symbolize the first night of Hanukkah. And while the traditional tale of the Jewish holiday will be told in synagogues, prayer, and dinner conversation, the menorah itself now has its own separate story, thanks to one New York professor.
Steven Fine, who teaches Jewish History at Yeshiva University, recently published a complete history of the menorah, entitled The Menorah: From the Bible to Modern Israel, going to great lengths to weave the story together. So much so that in July 2012, he tracked down the Arch of Titus menorah in Rome, the world’s oldest and most famous depiction of the religious symbol.
Fine was trying to figure out the menorah’s original colors. (Yes, menorahs weren’t always monochrome, as they’re often represented these days.) He found that the Arch of Titus’ had a yellow pigment deep in the stone’s creases. “But Fine found himself drawn to deeper questions about this potent emblem of Judaism, as both a scholar and a seeker,” as a press release on the book notes.
Starting in 75 CE and working his way forward to 2005, Fine shows that the menorah is more than just a religious symbol. You can order the book for $29.95 from Harvard University Press here.
For more from Steven Fine on the menorah, watch the short video below.