British Jews planning a summer trip to Italy this year will have the chance to see the original Magdala Stone, which was found in a first-century synagogue and is thought to be a 3D model of the First and Second Temple.
The stone, which was found in Magdala, Galilee, and which dates from the time of the Second Temple, is one of the most important archaeological discoveries ever made in Israel.
It is now set to go on public display and feature in an exhibition in St. Peter’s Square and the Great Synagogue of Rome from next week until 23 July.
Each of the stone’s faces is decorated with reliefs, one of which is a seven-branched menorah – the first from this period found in the Galilee. It is the first time that a menorah appears on a Jewish religious structure as a Jewish symbol.
On the top face, there is the golden showbread table and veil, decorated with a large rosette, separating the Sanctuary from the Holy of Holies, while along the long side there is a depiction of the side of a building with pillared archways, its three-dimensional design creating the illusion of appearing inside the temple. The back shows a pillared structure with two wheels above a geometric shape, illustrating fire.
“Presumably, the front and sides of the stone carvings represent the Second Temple in Jerusalem, and the back side depicting wheels and fire represents the Holy of Holies,” said organisers.
Archaeologists currently studying the stone include Professor Rina Talgam from Hebrew University of Jerusalem as well as Chief Archaeologist Dina Gorni-Avshalom and Arfan Njjar from the Israel Antiquities Authority.
Among their unanswered questions is the symbolic meaning of a large rosette on the top side of the stone, consisting of six petals surrounded by six identical petals. Some have suggested that the number twelve could relate to several biblical traditions and its prominence on the stone indicates it is of great significance.
“The stone is covered in decorative symbols relating to the structure of the Temple and ceremonial Jewish objects that may unlock many unsolved mysteries which have long baffled archaeologists,” they said.