Archaeological Finds as Evidence of a Curved Menorah
Obviously, archaeological finds are a good way of finding out more about the mystery of the shape of the Menorah branches. There was a coin found that was minted by Mattathias Antigonus around 40 BCE that depicts a curved-branched Menorah. This was a Jewish coin and there are therefore those that argue that surely this is an accurate depiction of the Menorah found in the Temple. This finding therefore provides support for the theory that the Menorah in the Temple had curved branches.
After the Chanukah Victory
It is relayed in the story of the Chanukah miracle that the Maccabees returned to the Temple after defeating the Greeks and needed to repair and replace the Temple vessels that had been broken or stolen. The golden Menorah had been stolen four years earlier by Antiochus and the Jews therefore fashioned a temporary Menorah made of iron. When financially things improved this was replaced by a silver Menorah and later by a gold one.
What does the Bible say?
In the Bible, the seven-branched Menorah that featured in the Temple is described in much detail. Interestingly, the Torah fails to tell the reader whether the branches of the Menorah were curved or straight and of course this has led to divergent opinions over the years.
Similarly, a depiction was found from around the same time period in the Old City of Jerusalem that shows a seven-branched curved-branched Menorah. The Menorah seems to be excessively decorated compared to the ornamentation described in the Bible and this could be due to the fact that the Menorah was rarely seen by the general public. Those that believe this too is proof that the Temple Menorah had curved branches will argue that the artist may have guessed the finer details whereas the overall shape of the branches would be easily remembered.
Of course, one of the most famous depictions of the Menorah is the one found on the Arch of Titus in Rome that serves as a historical record of events. The scene portrays the procession carrying the Temple vessels that had been stolen in Jerusalem and among the vessels is the Menorah. The Menorah stands out in the depiction, giving indication of its importance and it is this that leads many to believe that this candelabrum is none other than the Menorah from the Temple. It can be clearly seen in the picture that the branches are curved.
There are those who argue that this could not be the Temple Menorah as the base of the Menorah is nothing like what we know it to be like. The two-tiered, octagonal design of the base is a novelty and additionally, archaeologists have come to the conclusion that some of the creatures depicted on the panels are sea serpents and the Jewish people would never allow such heathen images to adorn items in the Temple.
Maimonides is said to be the one behind a famous drawing that depicts the Menorah as having straight branches. Unlike other sources that may or may not have been depicting the Temple Menorah there is no doubt regarding this picture. It is intended to be an accurate drawing of the components and dimensions of the Menorah despite not being drawn to scale. The curvature of the base is extremely precise that it seems to have been drawn with a compass and one therefore assumes that if the artist would have wished he could have easily have drawn curved branches too. According to the view of the Rambam it is unquestionable that the Temple Menorah had straight branches.