‘Sanhedrin Trail’ Leads to Discovery of Ancient Oil Lamp Adorned With Menorah

“Six branches shall issue from its sides; three branches from one side of the menorah and three branches from the other side of the menorah.” Exodus 25:32 (The Israel Bible™)

Students who participated in preparing a new archaeological hiking trail discovered a 1,400-year-old oil lamp bearing the symbol of a menorah. The discovery was just one of many side-benefits of the unique interactive trail that thousands of young people have been preparing and excavating.

The Sanhedrin Trail—offered by the Israel Antiquities Authority on the occasion of Israel’s 70th Independence Day—will be accompanied by a unique web application that will serve as a readily accessible “independent guide” in the spectacular landscapes of the Galilee, and will offer a different sort of hiking experience.

This year in the Galilee, thousands of students have been excavating and organizing the first “smart trail,” in which dozens of stones on the trail will transmit information and activities to hikers’ mobile phones. The trail, covering a distance of 45 miles, divided into sections, traces the movement of the Sanhedrin sages in the north, following them across the Galilee from Beit She’arim to Tiberias.

Young people preparing the Sanhedrin Trail as a gift to the country on its 70th birthday. (Photo credit: Israel Antiquities Authority)

The inauguration of the trail will take place immediately after Independence Day, on April 22-26, with marches and activities for thousands of students and young people, each day on a different section along the trail.

The trail is dedicated to 70 Sanhedrin sages who rehabilitated the Jewish people following the Bar Kokhba revolt, featuring a series of free activities along the route, as well as events attended by thousands of school children.

The new web application that communicates with the trail’s info-stones offers information about the recent and ancient history of the Galilee, flora and fauna, landscape, observation points and attractions. The data is available only in Hebrew for now, and can be accessed at www.shvila.co.il.

Rocks along the trail will pop messages into hikers’ cellphones. (Photo credit: Israel Antiquities Authority)

The IAA’s educational-tourism flagship project is being implemented in cooperation with the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage – Landmarks Project, Ministry of Finance, National Religious Education Administration (Hemed), and the Shelah Department of the Ministry of Education, municipalities, local and regional councils, Nature and Parks Authority, and the Jewish National Fund.

The trail’s story is the story of the rebirth of the Jewish people. It opens with archaeological excavations at Horbat Usha, the first place where the Sanhedrin relocated after the Bar Kokhba revolt, and where Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, the final editor of the Mishnah, spent his childhood.

The students uncovered material remains from the time of the Sanhedrin: evidence of the glass industry that is also mentioned in rabbinical texts, as well as ornamental items dating back 1,800 years.

Evidence of the glass industry in the time of the Sanhedrin. (Photo credit: Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority)

As to the intact oil lamp decorated with the menorah symbol, dating to the Byzantine or Umayyad periods, according to Dr. Einat Ambar-Armon, an archaeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority and an expert on ancient clay lamps, “Unlike the modern-day symbol of the state in which the Temple’s menorah is depicted with seven branches and a single broad base, the menorah engraved on the ancient lamp has eight branches and a three-legged base. The discovery of a lamp decorated with a menorah, a symbol of the Jewish people, is without a doubt exciting, especially at a site with such a unique heritage in part of the Sanhedrin Trail.”

Another fascinating discovery at the excavation of the trail was made by Ilai Yonah, a student at Ha-Moshava High School in Zikhron Yaʽakov: a gold coin bearing an inscription of the sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, builder of Jerusalem’s city walls. Only two more such coins exist today, stored at the IAA treasury in Jerusalem.

Gold coin of Suleiman the Magnificent – only the third such coin existing in the State Treasures. (Photo credit: Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority)

The Sanhedrin settled in Usha, and then moved on to Shefarʽam, Bet She’arim and Zippori, until it established its permanent location in T’veria. The route the Sanhedrin Trail follows crosses the Galilee along nature sites and through magnificent landscape, such as Nahal Zippori, Yodfat, Mount Arbel, and Mount Atzmon.

Young people walking down the new Sanhedrin Trail above T’veria. (Photo credit: Israel Antiquities Authority)

Israel Hasson, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said in a statement: “The new trail and the discoveries along it are a celebration for the citizens of Israel on the occasion of 70 years of independence and a gift from thousands of young people who invested so much of their energy in developing it.”

Yair Amitzur, an Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist who conceived the idea of the trail, said in a statement: “The Sanhedrin Trail is a huge project incorporating within it the values of nature, environment and history and is where the cultures of all of today’s populations in the Galilee meet. There is no other a trail in Israel that utilizes such an application, and in this respect, we the archaeologists are making history.”

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