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Table of showbread. Titus arch relief (replica).

From a materialistic point of view the table of showbread was probably the most interesting of the three classical old testament treasures. It was made from significant amounts of gold while the ark of the covenant was from gold plated wood.

table of showbread

The bible describes the table in Exodus, chapter 25. It was made from gold plated acacia wood. Some solid gold objects were applied, e.g. four golden rings. Two beams from gold plated acacia wood were inserted through these rings to carry the table. Belonging to this table was a set of golden cups and vessels. It was part of the ceremony in the temple in Jerusalem that loafs of bread were placed on the table. That way the Hebrews thanked God for the food.

Like the Menora but in contrast to the Ark of the covenant the showbread table is shown on a reliable and remarkable source: The Titus arch in Rome. When Rome conquered Jerusalem in AD 70 the religious items were removed from the temple and brought to Rome as trophies. Fortunately, table and Menora were depicted on the inner side of the arch. So we know for sure that these items existed and were in Rome shortly after AD 70. The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, who served the Romans, left a detailed account of these events called “The Jewish War”.

According to Flavius Jospehus, the table and the Menora were stored by Titus in the new temple of the peace goddess. He was very proud of these trophies. The stone law tablets Titus brought to his palace.

In the 5. century Rome was plundered twice. In AD 410 by the Visigoths and in AD 455 by the Vandals. In both cases it was said that the successful conqueror took the “Jerusalem gold” or “Hebrew gold” or “Solomon’s gold”.

As far as the table is concerned it appears that it taken by the Visigoths. At first they had the plan to move to Sicily and further to North Africa. But their King Alerich died near Cosenza in southern Italy. According to tradition, the river Busento was redirected and a grave for the king was dug in the riverbed. After the king was buried with lots of treasure the river was allowed to return into its former bed. But these are just myths. However, after Alerich’s death the Visigoths gave up the idea to move to north Africa. They went to south France instead. There most valued possessions they stored in the castle of Carcassonne which is still an impressive sight today. The 6. century historian Prokopius notes that they kept also “the devices of King Solomon which were very impressive” and that “the Romans once removed them from Jerusalem”. I have not checked but it seems he was not more specific. So we do not know what exactly the Visigoths hat at this time.

Upon pressure from the Franks the Visigoths under king Roderich retreated to modern day Spain and stored the treasure in Toledo. Spanish myths mention the table but not the Menora.

In the 7. and 8. century the Muslims started to conquer very large regions in the Near East and north Africa. They crossed the strait of Gibraltar and conquered Toledo in 711. When king Roderich fled to the north the Muslim leader Tarek followed him. Interestingly, an Islam chronicle mentions that Tarek found the “table of Solomon” in a conquered city. This city has been identified as Medinacedi where a small fortress exists. This table is mentioned by several oriental authors. I am not sure, though, that king Roderich would leave treasure of this calibre behind.

It speaks in favour of the Spanish myths and oriental authors that they speak only of the table and not of other Temple treasures like the Menora. These other temple items were brought elsewhere. If Spanish or oriental authors had merely invented their stories why would they restrict their stories to the only temple item that ever came to Spain?

From a researchers point of view it is good that the Muslims started to play a role. After the collapse of the Roman empire they were the most educated people in the Mediterranean. This brings historians and written sources into play at a time where the most powerful ruler in central Europe, Karl the Great, was illiterate.

According to the contemporary historians, Tarek sent the Table to Kalif Hualid in Damascus. The famous “tales of 1001 nights” mention the arrival of the object, too.

In a medieval chronicle of the city Mekka it is said that Hualid sent 36.000 gold dinar coins (=150 Kg) to his subordinate in Mekka. The gold was supposed to embroider the doors of the Kaaba. “It was said it originated from the golden table of Solomon”, said the chronic, “having been sent from Toledo on a strong mule”.

Did the table contain 150 Kg gold?

The bible says the only solid gold item of the three relics, the Menora, contained 50 Kg gold. No amount is mentioned for table and ark which were mainly gold plated wood with some gold items attached. It appears the amount of gold used for table and ark was not worth mentioning to the biblical authors. From that I would conclude that ark and table might have comprised several kg of gold each but not 150 Kg.

The only antique source is Flavius Josephus who speaks of “a table of gold weighing several talents”.( The Jewish War, book 7, chapter 5). A gold talent was some 30 Kg. It seems he does not know that the table consists mainly of gold plated wood. In my interpretation “Several talents” is the total weight of the table and not of its gold applications.

Another hint to the total weight is the relief on the Titus arch. The table is carried by 8 men.

Taking all this into consideration I do not believe that the table comprised 150 Kg gold. Also, I believe Tarek and the Kalif knew that the symbolic value of the table was far greater than the material value of its gold content.

However, even if the table was not transformed into coins I do not see any way to perform a targeted search. The trace ends in Spain.

(C) 2006-2011 Thorsten Straub, www.biblical-finds.com