Beth Alpha

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Dates Excavated:

Jan 10-Feb 27, 1929


Eleazar Lipa Sukenik

Archaeological Information: /

Date of Building Construction:

5th century [911]

Place of Building in Settlement:
Synagogue on a narrow street surrounded by dwellings. [912]

Building Description:
This synagogue is a basilica with two rows of five columns. It has an elaborately decorated mosaic floor with a zodiac cycle and Aramaic and Greek inscriptions. In the southwest wall is an apse with three steps leading up to a raised platform, extending 2.3 m into the main hall. Post holes on the platform might indicate a Torah shrine, rods for a curtain, or a chancel screen. In the southeast corner of the nave are two raised platforms. There are single benches around all four walls of the structure. Three doors in the north wall lead to the aisles and nave, while a single door in the west wall leads down three steps into a side room. On the north side of the building is a narthex with a large courtyard in front. Remains of roof tiles indicate that the building had a tiled roof construction.

Maps and Plans

Other Materials

First Deposit

Date Excavated: 1929

Deposit Location:

In a hole in the apse floor

Archaeological Information:


Certain association with the building itself? Yes

Deposit Retrievable? Yes

Deposit Type: IIA2

Deposit Description:

36 Byzantine coins were found in a hole dug into the apse floor, covered with stone slabs, of which one was still in place.[913] The apse floor was raised above the nave and had three steps leading up to it. The cavity in the floor was about 80 cm deep, 1 meter long, and 80 cm wide, rounded on the south side. Its interior was plastered to prevent small items from falling through.[914] The coins were mixed with earth. Only seven survived in good condition.

Container Present? No

Description of Coins:
The coin deposit at Beth Alpha was discovered in 1929 and was never published. The final excavation report mentions that 36 bronze coins were found, of which seven were identifiable. The full description reads: “The earliest was a coin of Constantine the Great (306-337) bearing, on the obverse, the head of the emperor as divus, covered with a veil; and, on the reverse, a chariot harnessed to four horses. It was impossible to decipher the inscription. A second coin, not so well preserved as the first, was attributable to the time either of Constantine or of his sons. A third coin was attributable to Theodosius I (379-395) or Honorius (395-423). Two of the coins belong to the reign of Valentinianus II (383-392) or Valentinianus III (425-455). Two other coins, one preserving the obverse and the other the reverse, belong to the time of Justinus I (518-527). On the first is stamped a half-length representation of the emperor, turned to the right, wearing diadem, paludamentum and cuirass. Of the inscription there survive only the letters IVSTI on the left of the coin. On the second, the value of the coin is indicated by the letter M i.e. 40 nummi. A cross stands above the M and a star to the right. The form of a star on the left is defaced. The mint is indicated by the letters NIKM, i.e. Nicomedia. The letter B between the limbs of the M signifies the second officina at Nicomedia. All other coins, according to Regling, belong to the period preceding the reform in coinage introduced by Anastasius I.” Besides this, no further information on the content of the deposit can be found: the coins are not at the IAA or at the Hebrew University, and nobody knows where they ended up. All we can say that the bronze coins range in date from 306 to 527 CE, and that at least one was minted in Nicomedia.

Other Images

Conspectus Table:

Conspectus table Beth Alpha, Deposit 1. This table can be seen in full screen by clicking the icon on the bottom right. For more details on the specific coins in each row, please hover over the numbers.

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– Sukenik E.L., 1932, The Ancient Synagogue of Beth Alpha: An Account of the Excavations Conducted on Behalf of the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag
– Sukenik E.L., 1934, Ancient Synagogues in Palestine and Greece, London: The Oxford University Press, pp. 31-35
– Sukenik E.L., 1951, “A New Discovery at Beth Alpha,” in: Louis M. Rabinowitz Fund for the Excavation of Ancient Synagogues, Bulletin II , p. 26
– Kadman L., 1967, “The Monetary Development of Palestine in the Light of Coin Hoards,” in: A. Kindler (ed.), The Patterns of Monetary Development in Phoenicia and Palestine in Antiquity (International Numismatic Convention, Jerusalem, 27–31 December 1963), Tel Aviv–Jerusalem, pp. 311–324
– Avigad N. 1971, “Beth Alpha,” in: Encyclopaedia Judaica, Vol. 4, pp. 192-192
– Chiat M., 1980, “Synagogues and Churches in Byzantine Beit She’an” in: JJA, Vol 7, pp. 6-24
– Chiat M., 1982, Handbook of Synagogue Architecture, Chico: Scholars Press, pp. 121-127
– Ilan Z., 1991, Ancient Synagogues in Israel, Tel Aviv: Ministry of Defence, pp. 173-175 (Hebrew)
– Avigad N., 1993, “Beth Alpha,” in: NEAEHL, pp. 190-192
– Milson D., 2007, Art and Architecture of the Synagogue in Late Antique Palestine: in the Shadow of the Church, Leiden/Boston, pp. 314-316
– Spigel C., 2012, Ancient Synagogue Seating Capacities: Methodology, Analysis and Limits, Mohr Siebeck, pp. 154-158
– Hachlili R., 2013, Ancient Synagogues: Archaeology and Art: New Discoveries and Current Research, Leiden: Brill, pp. 186-188, 191, 540


– The Bornblum Eretz Israel Synagogues Website:
– Jewish Virtual Library:
– Bible Walks:


[911] Sukenik writes in 1951: “Although the inscription found on the Beth Alpha mosaic speaks of work carried out in the 6th century, it does not refer to the synagogue itself but only to the laying down of the mosaic pavement. From the pottery fragments found beneath the layer of mortar covering the walls, we concluded at the outset of the excavation that the building dated from about 5th century, and this opinion was confirmed by the discovery of the coins in the platform of the apse. According to Regling it can be definitely concluded that the synagogue existed before the reform introduced by Anastasius I in the coinage system (498), which completely withdrew earlier coins from circulation” (Sukenik 1951, p. 26). However, we now know that the reform of Anastasius I did not cause the immediate withdrawal of earlier coins, but that coins from the 4-5th centuries and earlier continued to circulate for centuries. A construction date based on the coin deposit is problematic as the coins were not found in the foundation or under the floor but in an easily accessible hiding space. Instead, the coins are an indication of the synagogue’s period of use. A better indicator might be the remains of patches of mosaic floor found under the richly decorated 6th century mosaic floor. Since this synagogue was excavated early in the 20th century, however, no standard, high-detailed excavation report was ever published.

[912] The site was discovered in 1847 by a former Prussian consul. It was visited by travelers until Kibbutz Hefzibah was founded next to the site in 1922 (Sukenik 1932, pp. 9-10).

[913] Sukenik 1932, p.13, p. 48. In the IAA Archives of the British Mandate (The scientific Archive 1919-1948) is a letter written in 1929 by an Assistant Inspector of the Department of Antiquities in Jerusalem, who visited the Beth Alpha synagogue during excavations. On the second to last page, he writes “No objects were discovered except 32 coins picked up from a cavity at the platform of the apse.” ( Sukenik, however, submitted a final report to the Department of Antiquities on March 17 of 1929: “On the spot where the Torah-Shrine stood there was a small receptacle built into the floor, which apparently served as the treasure-box of the Synagogue; 36 Byzantine coins were still there. More details will be known once the coins are cleaned” (

[914] Sukenik 1932, p. 13 writes: “It is probable that this cavity serves as a treasury of the synagogue, and that these coins, in course of time, dropped down to the floor of the cavity.” It is unclear where he believes the original place of the coins was: higher up in the cavity?