The renovation of the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem that started in 1967 lasted over 15 years. During the construction of the Kotel Yeshiva over the Western Wall's plaza, an impressive building complex was discovered including the homes of affluent Jews, and ashes from the city's destruction in 70 AD.
The complex, better known as the Herodian Quarter – the Wohl Archaeology Museum, is the largest roofed archeological site in Israel (about 2,700 square meters). Actually it is a Jewish neighborhood overlooking the Temple from the final days of the Second Temple period. A bridge connected the Mount with the neighborhood in which the Temple's priests resided.
Findings reveal the lavish lifestyle of the neighborhood's residents including dozens of ritual baths, art works such as mosaics, frescos and stuccos.…
One of the most significant findings is the engraving of the Menorah. Since the Temple is less than 100 meters away, [and the Herodian Quarter looked down on the Mount and was populated by kohanim, priests, and their families, all of who would have seen the real Temple menora] it is quite likely that this is an exact replica of the real thing.…
Top left: The menora fresco c. 60 CE found in the Herodian Quarter; Center left: A coin from the Hasmonean dynasty featuring a menora; Center right: The Rambam's (Maimonides') schematic drawing of what he imagined the Temple menora to look like; Top right: Chabad menora based on the Rambam's schematic drawing and used for Hanukka. Please click images to enlarge.
In other words, the contemporaneous depictions of the menora have curved branches. The Rambam's version 1000 years later has straight branches.
Here's how this plays out now. No serious scholar today doubts the menora had curved branches. We simply have too many contemporaneous depictions of the menora made that way and there are no contemporaneous depictions with straight branches.
Enter Chabad. The late Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson adopted the Rambam's version as a Chabad logo of sorts. At the same time, he claimed the Rambam's version was the historically correct version – the Temple's menora, the late Rebbe claimed, had straight branches.
I think the Rebbe first made this claim before the discovery of many of the coins, the fresco, and other contemporaneous depictions were found. Still, he stuck to his guns. Today, most Chabad menoras used for Hanukka have straight branches.
Is this a crisis? Not really. But it is wrong to teach the Temple menora looked a certain way when all available evidence says it did not. The Rambam would never have made that drawing if he had the coins and other evidence we have. He was not one for arguing against reality. That dubious honor has been left to today's haredi world and, in particular, its evangelists from Eastern Parkway.