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Bill Thayer

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A menorah in a Roman inscription (CIJ 644)

not that rare, actually • (CIJ = Corpus inscriptionum judaicarum)

A square stone tablet embedded in a brick wall. It is a Roman inscription in the church of S. Ambrogio in Milan, Italy; its most salient feature is a menorah at the top.
Transcribed:
1



5

ום 
[image ALT: A letter-sized glyph of a menorah]
	..
HIC REQUIESCIT
IN PACE BM |..
ES ALEXANDRINVS
QVI VIXET ANN
OS PLVS MENVS
. . .
Expanded (and corrected!):
1



5

של 
[image ALT: A letter-sized glyph of a menorah]
	 ום
Hic requiescit
in pace bonae memoriae |..
es Alexand(r)inus
qui vixit annos
plus minus
[a number]
Translated:


[image ALT: A letter-sized glyph of a menorah]
	Peace
Here lies in peace
|..es (Joseph? Moses?) of happy memory
Alexand(r)inus (of Alexandria)
who lived
more or less
[—] years

Are we getting the idea that the letter i was weakly pronounced, at least wherever the stonecutter was working? And in fact, Latin minus has become menos in modern Spanish and meno in Italian: the sound change was starting to operate when Alexandrinus died.


[image ALT: A small close‑up of a letter 'M' incised in a stone inscription, showing that it was cut by first marking out the terminal dots, then connecting them.]
	Now look carefully at the actual cutting of the letters: each letter stroke has been defined by a dot at each end — and the stonecutter just connected the dots. It is said that this is the mark of an illiterate cutter of inscriptions.

Finally, the menorah itself: it has 7 branches. Not so unusual, except that — to quote The New Jewish Encyclopedia — "The Menorah now used in the synagogue has either more or less than seven branches so as to avoid the thought of any imitation of the ancient Temple." It is tempting then to date this inscription before the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD; but the style of the lettering is much later, so all we can apparently conclude is that our modern Jewish convention about representing the menorah does not itself date back that far.


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Page updated: 9 Sep 06