The idea that something found that dates to the era when the Jerusalem was controlled by Christians and pagans, an era in which Jews were almost always banned from living in the city, could somehow prove something about a Temple that was destroyed hundreds of years earlier is bizarre. But that is exactly the claim some Chabad hasidim are making.
The find of a potsherd found in rubble near the Temple Mount and dated to the Byzantine Era was announced early today. It has an engraving of what appears to be a straight-armed menorah, and some people – mostly Chabad hasidim – are pointing to this as a defense of their late rebbe's claim that the Temple menorah had straight arms.
There are no known Jewish depictions of a straight-armed menorah save a schematic drawing (think blueprint) drawn by Maimonides 1,100 years after the Temple was destroyed. All depictions from the era when the Temple was standing and in use show curved arms, and that includes coins minted by the Hasmoneans (Maccabees), who were Temple priests and saw the menorah firsthand. The same is also true of relief carvings in homes in an area of Jerusalem's Old City heavily populated by Temple priests. They, too, saw the real menorah firsthand and all their depictions show a curved-arm menorah. And throughout Jewish history after the destruction of the Second temple, the menorah was always depicted with curved arms. There is not one bookplate, painting, synagogue mosaic or other depiction that shows the menorah with straight arms– until Chabad began doing it in 1982.
The idea that something found that dates to the era when the Jerusalem was controlled by Christians and pagans, an era in which Jews were almost always banned from living in the city, could somehow prove Chabad's contention that the Temple menorah had straight arms is bizarre. It's much like saying that we know Moses wore a kapote (long black rabbinic frock coat) because Schneerson wore one.
At any rate, the potsherd, seen above and below, was carved after it was fired. It is extremely hard to carve curves in fired pottery and much easier to carve straight lines. It also dates from an era where the Temple Mount was under Christian control, and the menorah may even be a Christian representation of the menorah, not a Jewish one. But most striking is that the oil cups of the menorah are so tilted, the oil would have spilled out from the cups on the outer branches, and no attempt appears to have been made to make them level. And that tells me the potsherd is either not meant to a literal depiction of the menorah or was some type of mark or decoration. Whatever it was, one thing is certain – it does not represent a menorah that was functional: