A breath-taking discovery just off the Temple Mount: a medallion featuring reliefs of the menorah (the historic seven-branched candelabrum used inside the temple), a shofar (a ram's horn used during Rosh Hashana) and a Torah scroll was unearthed recently along with a trove of gold and silver artifacts.
The unusual find -- apparently dating to the Byzantine era in the 7th century C.E. -- was unearthed by a team excavating the area below the southern wall of the holy basin (an area that is believed to be the biblical Ophel). Dr. Eilat Mazar, an archeologist from the Hebrew University, has been in charge of the operation.
The cache was found hidden inside two fabric bags underneath a limestone floor in a Byzantine-era structure. One bag contained dozens of gold coins and artifacts used for trade. The excavators believe the medallion, found in the second bag, was used to adorn torah scrolls, which, if proven accurate, would make it the oldest such ornament ever discovered.
The latest phase of the Ophel excavations ran from April through July. This project is run jointly with the Israel Antiquities Authority, which has been tasked with preserving the area, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and East Jerusalem Development Ltd. The area is part of the national park that surrounds Jerusalem's Old City.
"This is a remarkable discovery you come across only once in a lifetime," Mazar said on Monday. "You don't get to see the menorah on the footsteps of the Temple Mount every day; such a medallion was never discovered. The fact that a Torah scroll is featured alongside the seven-branch candelabrum is just as amazing. This probably means that the medallion was used to adorn a Torah scroll in a synagogue."
The other 36 coins were minted over a period of 250 years from the time of Constantine II (the emperor of Rome in the third century C.E.) to the emperorship of Maurice, who ruled Byzantine toward the end of the 6th century C.E.
Experts believe the cache was brought to Jerusalem by Diaspora Jews who arrived after the Persian conquest of Jerusalem in 614 C.E.
Mazar stressed that the fact that the artifacts were discovered in such close proximity to the Triple Gate (now blocked, on the southern wall) underscores the Jewish people's perpetual yearning for revival and salvation throughout their history. "As an Israeli archeologist and as a Jew I am very grateful for being able to partake in this unique privilege of unearthing this treasure."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated Mazar on Monday, saying this was a "prime testament to the bond that links the people of Israel to Jerusalem, to the land and to their heritage. A Menorah, a shofar, a Torah scroll -- when it comes to describing the essence of our people, no description could be more concise."