‘En Gedi

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Dates Excavated:

1. 1970-1972
2. 1996-2002


1. Dan Barag, Yosef Porat, and Ehud Netzer
2. Yizhar Hirschfeld

Archaeological Information: /

Date of Building Construction:

Phase I: end 2nd-beginning 3rd century[987]

Phase II: mid-3rd – beginning 4th century[988]

Phase III: mid-5th-second half 5th century[989]

Place of Building in Settlement:
In the center and highest top of the settlement, surrounded by houses.[990]

Building Description:
This synagogue had at least three phases:
Phase I (=Barag Stratum IIIB or Porath 2020 Phase IIc): A trapezoidal-shaped building with two entrances in the north wall.[991] No internal columns divided up the space. The building had a crude mosaic floor with geometric designs (L125). On the west side of the building was a large courtyard, also paved with monochrome mosaics.
Phase II (=Barag 1992 Stratum IIIA or Porath 2020 Phase IIb): Four columns were added to create an eastern and a southern aisle, making the building a basilica. The center door in the northern wall was blocked and made into a rectangular niche, which could have been the location for a Torah shrine. Between the second opening near the northeastern corner and the niche, a stepped seat was installed, possibly a so-called Seat of Moses.[992] Three entrances were also made in the west wall with an exedra beyond it. The mosaic floor was repaired. Along the south wall, three-tiered benches were added.
Phase III (=Barag 1992 Stratum II or Porath 2020 Phase IIa): The three doorways in the west wall were turned into passageways to create a western aisle. Another narthex was added to the west of the building with a washing installation in the southwestern corner. The door in the southern end of the west wall now led into a small side room, and the eastern door opening in the north wall led to another side room to the north (L110). The function of both rooms is unknown. The niche in the hall was replaced by a rectangular structure which protruded 1.5 m into the nave,[993] with an apse behind it which might have been the location for a wooden Torah shrine.[994] The interior of the wooden structure held a storage space, or, according to the excavators, a genizah in which 3000 coins were found.[995] In front of the wooden structure, a rectangular area surrounded by chancel screens was constructed.[996] The mosaic floor was renovated and decorated with three seven-branched menorahs, colorful birds, and multiple inscriptions. The building was destroyed in a fire, which left many objects in situ.[997]

Maps and Plans

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First Deposit

Date Excavated: 1970-1972

Deposit Location:

In the synagogue niche in the middle of the northern wall.

Archaeological Information:

Stratum II or Phase IIa, Locus 101, Reg. Nos. 55 and 265

Certain association with the building itself? Yes

Deposit Retrievable? Yes

Deposit Type: IIA4

Deposit Description:

Nearly 3000 coins were found in the debris of the Stratum II Torah shrine, together with the remnants of (a) charred scroll(s), a goblet, a miniature silver seven-branched menorah, pottery lamps, and fragments of glass.[998] The coins were initially dispersed into two main groups related to L101: Reg. No. 55 and Reg. No. 265, but were then combined into one group. 138 coins were cleaned immediately after the discovery and more coins were cleaned by the IAA in the 2010s. Only 175 of the coins were preserved well enough to be identified.[999]

Container Present? No

Description of Coins:
The final publication of the synagogue of ‘En Gedi is in an advanced stage and should be published soon.[1000] It will include a coin catalogue written by Gabriela Bijovsky. The IAA was kind enough to give me access to this report, which I was able to use for this project.[1001] Of the circa 3000 coins found in the debris of the Torah shrine, only 175 were preserved well enough to be identified. The coins range in date from the second century BCE (an uncertain Seleucid coin) to 518-527 CE (Justin I). The Seleucid coin is followed by eight Jewish coins, including two prutot of Mattathias Antigonus (40-37 BCE, minted in Jerusalem), [1002] a Herodian prutah of Agrippa I (41-42 CE, Jerusalem), [1003] two Roman procuratorial coins (minted in Jerusalem under Tiberius and Pontius Pilate), and three prutot of the Jewish War (minted 67-68 CE in Jerusalem). According to Bijovsky, these coins pre-date the construction of the synagogue by many centuries but constitute very common types that circulated in the Second Temple village of ‘En Gedi, and are found in large numbers in almost all the other excavations at the site.[1004] The period between the two Jewish Revolts is also well represented in the deposit, starting with a coin of Vespasian, struck in Gaza in 69-70 CE, followed by two coins of Domitian (both minted in Caesarea, one of them bearing two countermarks), two coins of Trajan (one minted in Ashkelon 106-107 CE, the other in Caesarea), and three coins of Hadrian (two minted in Ashkelon – 117/188 CE and 119/120 CE, and one in Gaza bearing a double date: year three of the imperial visit, which is also year 192, or 131/132 CE).[1005] Four other coins can be dated roughly to the first century CE, three of which were minted at Ashkelon, and two others to 70-135 CE. The deposit continues with no gaps into the second and third century,[1006] starting with two coins of Antoninus Pius through the Severan dynasty, up to the end of provincial coinage by the early second half of the third century. Among this group of 53 coins are five minted in Jerusalem (or Aelia Capitolina), two coins minted in Petra, [1007] a coin of Elagabalus possibly from Neapolis,[1008] and a coin of Severus Alexander probably from Anthedon. [1009] In addition, there is a rare coin minted in Damascus (emperor unknown) and three imperial issues from Rome: a sestertius of Antoninus Pius and two others of uncertain rulers: a sestertius and a dupondius. After this, the chronological sequence continues with a series of very worn Antoniniani dated to the second half of the third century (including a possible coin from Milan, the only coin from this minting place found in an ancient synagogue deposit), and a group of radiate fractions from the reigns of Diocletian and Maximian. After this, the number of coins increases: huge quantities of unidentifiable and corroded Late Roman minimi, generally dated to the 4th and 5th century CE, constitute the bulk of the deposit (due to their bad state of preservation, only 74 of these appear here in the database). Only five coins of the 5th century were in good enough condition to be analyzed. They include a nummus of Theodosius II, one of Valentinian III, and one of Marcian, and two coins of the “cross in wreath” type. The latest coin is a follis of Justin I.

Conspectus Table:

Conspectus table 'En Gedi, 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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Second Deposit

Date Excavated: 1971

Deposit Location:

In the courtyard of a house next to the synagogue, inside a small silo in the corner of the courtyard floor.[1010]

Archaeological Information:

Courtyard House D, Locus 285, Reg. No. 1227

Certain association with the building itself? No with synagogue, yes with houses [1011]

Deposit Retrievable? Yes

Deposit Type: IIA5

Deposit Description:

A hoard of 41 Byzantine folles, wrapped in cloth, was found in the courtyard of House D, which is located adjacent to, and west of the synagogue.[1012] The coins were hidden with an oil lamp in a small silo (L285) made of field stones cemented in lime mortar (35X72 cm in inner space), covered by the clay lid of a casserole, in the southeast corner of the courtyard (L233). All the coins were cleaned after discovery but most are in a very poor state of preservation; as some of the coins adhered to each other their identification can only be partially observed.

Container Present? Yes: a cloth bundle

Description of Coins:
As with the Torah Shrine deposit, the Byzantine folles deposit has not been published yet. However, the unpublished paper by Gabriela Bijovsky from 2016, given to me by the IAA, informed my database. The deposit contained folles of only three emperors: Anastasius I (512-518 CE), Justin I (518-538 CE), and Justinian I (527-538 CE), clearly indicating that the coins in this deposit were assembled at one time. The seven folles of Anastasius I are of the large module, all minted in Constantinople. The seven folles of Justin I include one minted in Constantinople, one in Nicomedia, and five uncertain mints. The four folles of Justinian I comprise one minted in Constantinople, two in Nicomedia, and one of an uncertain mint. The illegible coins include 21 worn folles and two half-folles, all roughly dated between 512 and 538 CE. Bijovsky remarks that the lack of small module coins of Anastasius I and heavy folles of Justinian I probably indicates that coins of a certain weight and module were specifically selected for hoarding.[1013]

Conspectus Table:

Conspectus table 'En Gedi, Deposit 2. 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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Third Deposit

Date Excavated: 1970-1972

Deposit Location:

Under the floor of a side room of the synagogue of Stratum II or Phase IIa.

Archaeological Information:

Stratum II or Phase IIa, Locus 168, Reg. No. 1246 (under the floor of room L110)

Certain association with the building itself? Yes

Deposit Retrievable? No

Deposit Type: IIB6

Deposit Description:

Approximately 143 unidentifiable minimi and 7 identifiable coins were found as one group under the floor of a side room to the north (L110) of the synagogue. The room could be accessed through an opening in the northern wall of the building (W102), but its function is unknown.

Container Present? No

Description of Coins:
As with the Torah Shrine and the follis deposit, the group of coins found under the floor of a side room of the synagogue has not been published yet. However, the unpublished paper of Gabriela Bijovsky from 2016 reveals information on seven of these coins.[1014] Only four could be dated: one Roman provincial coin to the second century CE, one Late Roman coin to 378-383 CE, one to 383-395 CE, and one to 395-408 CE. None could be attributed to a certain emperor or minting place.

Other Images

Conspectus Table:

Conspectus table 'En Gedi, Deposit 3. 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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– Barag D. & Porat Y., 1970, “The Synagogue at En-Gedi,” in: Qadmoniyot, Vol. 3, pp. 97-100 (Hebrew)
– Barag, Dan, Yoseph Porat, and Ehud Netzer, 1972, “The Second Season of Excavations in the Synagogue at En-Gedi,” in: Qadmoniot, Vol. 2, pp. 52-54 (Hebrew)
– Hüttenmeister F. & Reeg G., 1977, Die Antiken Synagogen in Israel, 2 vols., Wiesbaden: L. Reichert, pp. 108-114
– Barag D., Porat Y, and Netzer E., 1981, “The synagogue at ‘En-Gedi,” in: Levine L. (ed.), Ancient Synagogues Revealed, Jerusalem: The Israel Exploration Society, pp. 116-119
– Levine L., 1981, “The Inscription in the ‘En Gedi Synagogue,” in: Levine L. (ed.), Ancient Synagogues Revealed, Jerusalem: The Israel Exploration Society, pp. 140-145
– Chiat M., 1982, Handbook of Synagogue Architecture, Chico: Scholars Press, pp. 219-224
– Ilan Z., 1991, Ancient Synagogues in Israel, Tel Aviv: Ministry of Defence, pp. 318-321 (Hebrew)
– Mazar B. & Barag D., 1993 “En-Gedi,” in: NEAEHL, pp. 399-409
– Ariel D.T., 2002, “The Coins from the Surveys and Excavations of Caves in the Northern Judean Desert,” in: ‘Atiqot, Vol. 41, No. 2, p. 298
– Hadas G., 2005, “The Excavations in the Village of ‘En Gedi, 1993-1995,” in: ’Atiqot, vol. 49*, pp. 41-71 (Hebrew) and 136-137 (English)
– Hirschfeld Y. ed., 2006, Ein Gedi- A Very Large Village of Jews, Hecht Museum: University of Haifa
– Hirschfeld Y., 2007, En-Gedi Excavations II, Israel Exploration Journal
– Milson D., 2007, Art and Architecture of the Synagogue in Late Antique Palestine: in the Shadow of the Church, Leiden/Boston, pp. 352-357
– Spigel C., 2012, Ancient Synagogue Seating Capacities: Methodology, Analysis and Limits, Mohr Siebeck, pp. 198-204
– Hachlili R., 2013, Ancient Synagogues: Archaeology and Art: New Discoveries and Current Research, Leiden: Brill, pp. 120-121, 183, 185, 191, 270, 272, 306, 463, 521-522, 536, 544-545


– The Bornblum Eretz Israel Synagogues Website:
– Coin Hoards of the Roman Empire:
– Bible Walks:
– Jewish Agency for Israel:
– Virtual World Project


[987] Based on the coins found in the genizah of the Stratum II synagogue, which date to the Severan dynasty. However, these coins were not found under the floor of the Stratum IIIB synagogue and their use for dating is thus problematic. Spigel 2012a, p. 198 dates the different building phases as following: Phase I: 3rd-4th century, Phase II: 4th-5th century, Phase III: 5th-6th century. It is unclear where he is getting these dates from and it might be a mistake in his publication (personal communication).

[988] This date is based on a time when “a fixed location for the Ark of the Law in the wall facing Jerusalem began to be a standard phenomenon.” In other words, the date is not based on archaeological evidence but on historical conjecture.

[989] It is unclear what this date is based on. Hirschfeld 2006, p. 19* writes “The synagogue of Stratum II was built in the mid-5th century CE or during the second half of that century, when the Jewish settlement at the site flourished.”

[990] Hirschfeld 2006, p. 12*. The first travelers to ‘En-Gedi mention the site in the 19th century, but the first methodical survey was carried out in 1875 by a team of British researchers. More Western researchers visited the site in the beginning of the 20th century and the first picture of the synagogue was taken in 1911 by F.M. Abel. Later, Benjamin Mazar (1949; 1961-64), Yohanan Aharoni (1956), Nahman Avigad (1961-62), Joseph Naveh (1978), and Gideon Hadas (1980s) surveyed or excavated parts of the settlement. The synagogue area was eventually excavated by Dan Barag, Joseph Porat, and Ehud Netzer between 1970 and 1972 (Hirschfeld et al. 2007, pp. 17-20).

[991] Chiat 1982, p. 220; Barag 1993 and 2006, p. 17; Spigel 2012a, p. 199. Hachlili 2013, p. 121, however, talks about three openings. It is unclear where she got this information from.

[992] Barag 2006, p. 17.

[993] A base of dressed stones was found here; the excavators suggest it had a wooden structure on top that held the Torah scrolls. Porat identifies this structure as L119, a bemah (Porat, unpublished report).

[994] Chiat 1982, p. 221: fragments of wooden posts were found in situ, as well as the negatives of a wood frame at the bottom of the niche walls and the negatives of reeds in plaster fragments found in the niche.

[995] Barag 2006, pp. 19-20: the finds discovered here include a footed, goblet-shaped vessel, a small, bronze seven-branched menorah, pottery lamps, a decorated pottery bowl, fragments of glass vessels, and remnants of burnt scrolls. In my opinion, these are not from a genizah (a storage place for sacred objects that were no longer being used but could not be thrown away) but were still being used in synagogue rituals at the time of its destruction (see Deposit 1, below).

[996] This was a rectangular space which enclosed a mosaic panel. At the four corners of this structure were small sockets, which apparently held the posts of a chancel screen (possibly of wood) which surrounded the area.

[997] Barag et al. 1982, p. 117; Hirschfeld 2006, p. 16. This would have taken place at the end of the 6th or beginning of the 7th century, based on the coins found in the village. Bijovsky remarks in her unpublished paper on the ‘En Gedi synagogue coins, however, that the latest coins found at the synagogue site go no later than “the undated series of Justinian I, struck until 538 CE”. There thus seems to be a discrepancy between the latest coins found in Hirschfeld’s excavation of the Byzantine village (which go up to 600 CE) and the latest coins in the synagogue and its deposits (Bijovsky, IAA unpublished paper 2016, p. 7). The pottery from the synagogue, however, points to a destruction of the building in the mid-6th to 7th century.

[998] Bijovsky, IAA unpublished paper 2016, p. 2, pp. 4-6. The scroll was eventually scanned at the IAA with the same techniques scholars are now using to read the Dead Sea Scrolls. The researchers discovered that the charred scroll contains texts from the first two chapters of the book of Leviticus and that it was probably still being used at the time of the destruction of the synagogue. The scroll and its analysis and translation has been published as Segal et al 2016.

[999] Bijovsky remarks that the state of preservation of the coins found at ‘En Gedi is very poor. Due to the high concentration of salts in the soil around the Dead Sea, most of the coins turned into highly corroded coppers. Moreover, the lack of proper storage of the coins in humidity and temperature-controlled environments after their discovery in 1972 was not helpful for their preservation over the last decades. Hence, a majority of the coins are lumps of metal that are completely unidentifiable, even more so than at other sites. Only about 6% of this hoard could be read after being cleaned at the IAA laboratories.

[1000] Personal communication Yosef Porat at the end of 2019. By mid-2021, the publication had still not come out.

[1001] This report was written by Bijovsky in 2016 and is referred to here as Bijovsky, IAA unpublished paper 2016

[1002] These are the only coins of Mattathias Antigonus found in ancient synagogue deposits.

[1003] This is the only coin of Agrippa I found in ancient synagogue deposits.

[1004] See Bijovsky 2007, pp. 157-159.

[1005] Coins minted at Ashkelon have only been found in the synagogue deposit at ‘En Gedi.

[1006] The numismatic evidence from Hirschfeld’s excavations of the Byzantine village apparently shows a hiatus in settlement from the mid-second century until the second quarter of the third century (Bijovsky 2007, p. 160).

[1007] These are the only coins from Petra found in ancient synagogue deposits.

[1008] The only other coin from Neapolis in an ancient synagogue deposit was found at Wadi Hamam.

[1009] This is the only coin from Anthedon found in ancient synagogue deposits.

[1010] Barag et al. 1982, p. 119. Hachlili 2013, p. 544 mentions that the hoard was found plastered inside a wall of the house, but this information is incorrect (personal communication Gabriela Bijovsky).

[1011] Because of this reason, this deposit might not be connected to synagogue activities at all, and should possibly be dropped from future synagogue coin deposit lists. However, because Bijovsky IAA unpublished paper 2016 places this deposit under the subchapter “Coins from Excavations at the Synagogue of En-Gedi” (in contrast to the Coins from the Village), it has been included here.

[1012] Bijovsky, IAA unpublished paper 2016, pp. 2-4.

[1013] Bijovsky, IAA unpublished paper 2016, p. 3.

[1014] Bijovsky, IAA unpublished paper 2016, pp. 2-3. It is unclear why all the coins from this deposit were not published in her catalogue: perhaps they were all illegible? She identifies this group as “probably a foundation deposit.”