Gush Halav

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Dates Excavated:



Eric Meyers, Carol Meyers, and James strange (The Meiron Excavation Project)

Archaeological Information: /

Date of Building Construction:

Phase I: 250-360 CE [714]
Phase II: 360-363 CE
Phase III: 363-460 CE
Phase IV: 460-551 CE

Place of Building in Settlement:
Within the lower city: A bit further away from the main village and below the other synagogue also identified at the site. [715]

Building Description:
According to the excavators, this synagogue had four phases.[716]
Phase I: This basilical synagogue had two rows of four columns dividing the hall into a nave and aisles. There was one main entrance in the south wall and two interior entrances in the east and west walls. Possibly, there was also a door in the west wall that led to a western side room. This door might have been blocked by debris after the 363 CE earthquake and was put out of use in Phase III-IV. Benches were built along the west wall and at the northern end of the nave. A large platform stood on the west side of the main entrance. The floor was partially plastered.
Phase II: Extensive renovations: the walls, stylobate, and other architectural members were recut and reset. Possibly, a mezzanine was added to the structure. This structure could have had a simple, mostly white, mosaic floor[717]or a plaster floor.[718]
Phase III: The synagogue was renovated after damage, possibly related to earthquakes. The platform on the inner part of the south wall, west of the main entrance, was renovated, raised, and reduced in size.
Phase IV: Nothing changed in the ground plan. The floor was renewed in the “western corridor.”
The floor plan for the different phases is nearly identical: a rectangular basilica with eastern, western, and northern side rooms.

Maps and Plans

Other Materials

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First Deposit

Date Excavated: July 6, 1977

Deposit Location:

Near the doorway to the synagogue hall in the western corridor. [719]

Archaeological Information:

Phase IV, Area I.4 (south western quadrant), layer L4009.1=4004=1046.

Certain association with the building itself? Yes

Deposit Retrievable? Yes

Deposit Type: IIA4

Deposit Description:

 1943 badly worn minimi found in a cooking pot on July 6, 1977.[720] The cooking pot was discovered broken because of the pressure of the debris above it (the pot was probably complete when the deposit was made/in use). The find-spot of the deposit itself was a washed-in layer of yellowish soil.[721] Although the archaeologists found the pot some centimeters above a plaster floor beneath it, fragments of additional plaster pieces immediately below the pot indicate that it might have rested on another plaster floor. That floor had been eroded over time by flowing water, as rain washed the area regularly from uphill to the west, swirling around the corner of the building. The layer on which the pot rested was yellowish soil.[722] The excavators note that no pit could be detected around the pot: according to them, nobody had dug a small hole into which the pot was placed to conceal the deposit. In other words, the pot was meant to sit on top of the floor during the last phase of use of the building. Around the pot, fragments of lamps, whole and broken roof tiles, bronze pieces, iron nails, part of a bronze chandelier, and glass were also uncovered: according to the excavators, this is evidence that the corridor was used as a storage space.[723] Immediately above all of this was a tumble layer; the final collapse of the building.

Container Present? Yes: a cooking pot

Description of Coins:
The deposit was preliminary published by Richard S. Hanson in 1979 and later by Joyce Raynor in 1990.[724] According to Hanson, the deposit consisted entirely of coins “of the lowest possible value” and span a range of 188 years (330-518 CE), not including two Hasmonean coins dated earlier than 330 CE. Only 417 coins could be cleaned enough for identification, and the quantity of the coins increases as one approaches the terminus ad quem of the deposit. Raynor affirms this analysis in her later publication, in which she reprints Hanson’s coin table. In 1998 while working at the IAA, Gabriela Bijovsky re-examined the deposit. She notes that 418 coins were cleaned and could be read, of which 400 could be dated. According to her, the deposit included a few coins from the second century BCE which were similar in size and shape to the rest of the coins, which could be dated to 3rd to 6th century CE.[725] 60% of the coins fall between 425 and 498 CE, from Theodosius II to Anastasius I.
At the IAA, 426 coins could be found in the database associated with this deposit (so 1517 coins were presumably illegible). It is unclear why ten to eleven more coins were identified by IAA staff but were not included in the publications. Of the 426 coins, 406 could be dated. These coins include the two specimens dated to 104-76 BCE, minted by Alexander Jannaeus in Jerusalem, as mentioned by Bijovsky, and a nummus dated to 140 BCE to 200 CE of an unknown emperor and minting place. The remaining coins range from 268 CE to 565 CE, with the numbers increasing over time and decreasing after 498 CE.[726] The deposit did not end at 518 CE however, as Raynor and Hanson claim, as three later specimens especially stand out: a coin attributed to Thrasamund, king of the Vandals and Alans, dated to 496-523 CE, a coin of Baduila, king of the Ostrogoths, dated 549-552 CE, and a minimus of Justinian I, dated 548-565 CE. Most of the coins are general types, but a couple of them are rather unusual. Besides the issues of ThrasamundBaduila and Justinian I, eight more Vandalic, Ostrogothic, and Axumite coins were part of the deposit.[727] Of these ten coins, eight were minted in Carthage, one in Rome, and two in Egypt.

Other Images

Conspectus Table:

Conspectus table Gush Halav, 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: 1977-1978

Deposit Location:

Just in front of the doorway to the synagogue hall, in the western corridor.

Archaeological Information:

Phase III, Area I.4 (south western quadrant), layer L4021=4010.1=4048.1=1058.1

Certain association with the building itself? Yes

Deposit Retrievable? Yes in Phase III, no in Phase IV

Deposit Type: IA2

Deposit Description:

131 coins were found in Area I.4 or layer L4021=4010.1=4048.1=1058.1. This layer formed the make-up for a plaster floor above it (upon which coin Deposit 1 was found) but originated as an accumulation upon the plaster floor of synagogue III.[728] In this soil layer, an assortment of artifacts was discovered: lamp fragments, iron implements, bronze, glass, wheel-turned hanging lamps, and 146 coins. Of these, 42 coins were found in Locus 4010.1 and 62 in Locus 4048.1, indicating some sort of cohesion.[729]

Container Present? No, but according to Hanson, the large numbers of coins found lends credence to the view that money pouches were stored here.[730]

Description of Coins:
127 of the 131 coins from this deposit were published preliminarily by Hanson in 1979 and Raynor in 1990, but no distinction was made between the coins found in Area I.4, layer L4021=4010.1=4048.1=1058.1 and coins from other areas and strata in the building. Furthermore, tables only indicate historical periods and minting places of these coins, making the publications not very useful for our research.[731] These coins were also not easy to trace at the IAA depot. In the end, 108 coins could be found from Loci 4048 and 4010. It is unclear what happened to the other 19 coins that were published: perhaps they were stored under another locus number, but they could not be located in the database system.[732] Of the 108 identified coins, 98 could be dated.[733] Three coins are from an earlier period: an illegible coin dated to 103-76 BCE, a coin minted by Claudius in 51-52 CE in Nysa-Scythopolis, and an autonomous coin from Tyre dated to 153-154 CE. The other 95 coins range from 307 to 491 CE, with an even distribution throughout this period. Unfortunately, due to poor preservation, the minting places of only 14 coins could be determined.

Conspectus Table:

Conspectus table Gush Halav, 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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– Kohl H. & Watzinger C., 1975, Antike Synagogen in Galilaea, Reprint Osnabrück: Otto Zeller Verlag, pp. 107-111
– Meyers E., 1977a, “Meiron and Gush Halav 1977, : in: ASOR Newsletter 3, pp. 8-9
– Meyers E., 1977b, “Gush Halav (el-Jish),” in: Israel Exploration Journal, Vol. 27, No. 4, pp. 253-254
– Meyers E., 1978, “Gush Halav (1977),” in: Revue Biblique, Vol. 85, No. 1, pp. 112-113
– Meyers E. & Meyers C., 1978, “Gush Halav (el-Jish), 1978,: in: Israel Exploration Journal, Vol. 28, No. 4, pp. 276-279
– Meyers E., 1979, “Gush Halav 1978,” in: Revue Biblique, Vol. 86, No. 3, pp. 439-441
– Meyers E., Strange J., Meyers C. & Hanson R., 1979, “Preliminary Report on the 1977 and 1978 Seasons at Gush Halav (el-Jish),” in: Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, Vol. 223, winter, pp. 33-58
– Meyers E., 1980, “Gush Halav,” in: Qadmoniyot, Vol. 13, Nos. 1-2, pp. 41-43 (Hebrew)
– Meyers E.M., 1981, “Excavations at Gush Halav in Upper Galilee,” in: Levine L. (ed.), Ancient Synagogues Revealed, Jerusalem: The Israel Exploration Society, pp. 75-77
– Meyers E., Meyers C., Strange J., 1990, Excavations at the Ancient Synagogue of Gush Halav, Eisenbrauns: The American School of Oriental Research
– Ilan Z., 1991, Ancient Synagogues in Israel, Tel Aviv: Ministry of Defence, p. 22 (Hebrew)
– Meyers E., 1993, “Gush Halav,” in: The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, Vol. 2, Jerusalem: The Israel Exploration Society, pp. 546-549
– Netzer E., 1996, “Review of the synagogue at Gush Halav and Khirbet Shem’a,” in: Eretz Israel, vol. 25, pp. 450-455 (Hebrew, English summary p. 106)
– Bijovsky G., 1998, “The Gush Halav Hoard reconsidered,” in: ‘Atiqot, Vol. 35, pp. 77-106
– Meyers E., 1998, “Postscript to the Gush Halav Hoard,” in: ‘Atiqot, Vol. XXXV, pp. 107-108
– Frankel R. et al., 2001, Settlement Dynamics and Regional Diversity in Ancient Upper Galilee, Jerusalem: Israel Antiquities Authority, p. 42
– Magness J., 2001, “The Question of the Synagogue: The Problem of Typology,” in: Avery-Peck A.J. & Neusner J. (eds.) Judaism in Late Antiquity, Part Three, Volume 4: Where We Stand: Issues and Debates in Ancient Judaism, the Special Problem of the Synagogue, Leiden: Brill, pp. 1-49
– Magness J., 2001b, “A Response to Eric M. Meyers and James F. Strange,” in: Avery-Peck A.J. & Neusner J. (eds.) Judaism in Late Antiquity, Part Three, Volume 4: Where We Stand: Issues and Debates in Ancient Judaism, the Special Problem of the Synagogue, Leiden: Brill, pp. 79-91
– Ariel D.T., 2002, “The Coins from the Surveys and Excavations of Caves in the Northern Judean Desert,” in: ‘Atiqot, Vol. 41, No. 2, pp. 298-299
– Bijovsky G., 2007, “Numismatic Evidence for the Gallus Revolt: The Hoard from Lod, “ in: Israel Exploration Journal, vol. 57, No. 2, pp. 187-203
– Bijovsky G., 2009, “Numismatic Report,” in: Meyers E. & Meyers C., Excavations at Ancient Nabratein: Synagogue and Environs, Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, pp. 374-395
– Spigel C., 2012, Ancient Synagogue Seating Capacities: Methodology, Analysis and Limits, Mohr Siebeck, pp. 119-130 and 211
– Hachlili R., 2013, Ancient Synagogues: Archaeology and Art: New Discoveries and Current Research, Leiden: Brill, pp. 57, 63-64, 128, 153, 177-179, 546-547, 588


– The Bornblum Eretz Israel Synagogues Website:
– Virtual World Project:


[713] Meyers, Meyers, and Strange 1990, p. 22: Two synagogue buildings have been identified in the ancient village of Gush Halav. The building discussed here is located about 100m below and 700m horizontally away from the other synagogue. It is often referred to as “the lower synagogue”. The site of Gush Halav is sometimes referred to as the city of Ed-Dschîsch or Gis Chala in older sources.

[714] These dates are based on excavated coins and pottery in foundations and fills, as well as on historical earthquake events and on historical and architectural similarities with other synagogues in the area, like Meiron and Nabratein, also excavated by Meyers (Meyers et al. 1990, pp. 10-13). Not everybody agrees with this phasing, however, and multiple scholars have pointed out that the synagogue might have been built as a single unit in the 4th or 5th century (see below). The excavators believe that the final phase of the building collapsed in the earthquake of 551 CE, and this consequently provides the latest date possible for the deposition of the coin hoard (Meyers 1998, p. 107).

[715] Meyers, Meyers, and Strange 1990, p. 22: The excavators suggest that two synagogues indicate that there were two contemporaneous villages close by that each had their own synagogue; perhaps an Upper and Lower Gush Halav. Others, like Bagatti and Mancini, believe that the synagogues represent two religious communities within the same village: a Jewish, and a Jewish-Christian community (Mancini 1970; Bagatti 1971). For an overview of the surveys conducted at the site and a small excavation performed by Kohl and Watzinger before the Meiron Excavation Project, see Kohl and Watzinger 1916, pp. 107-108; Meyers et al. 1979, p. 34; Meyers et al. 1990, pp. 13-16.

[716] Netzer 1996, pp. 450–452, Figs. 1–3, summary by Hachlili 2013, p. 64: Netzer believes (contrary to the excavators) that the Gush Halav synagogue was erected as a singular architectural unit (in Phase II: 306–363 CE, rather than Phase I: 250–306 CE) in the first half of the 4th century CE, and that it was not destroyed in the earthquake of 363, but it continued to function until the mid-6th century. He also suggests a different plan and reconstruction and maintains that the many decorative parts of the building are spolia taken from earlier buildings. Magness also believes that there was only one phase, and that it was constructed no earlier than the second half of the 5th century based on the coins and pottery (Magness 2001a: pp. 3-18, 2001b: pp. 80-85). These different interpretations, however, do not have affect the dating of the coin deposits to the 6th century.

[717] Hachlili 2013, p. 63.

[718] Spigel 2012a, p. 121.

[719] Although the excavators refer to this space as a “corridor” or passageway, it is a long, narrow side room with only one entrance from the main hall. They also indicate that the space was used for storage during much of its history and that its floor was not swept clean, allowing debris to accumulate (Meyers et al, 1990, pp. 25-26).

[720] Hanson 1979, p. 53: this number is hard to determine because of the fragmentary condition of some of the coins. Meyers et al. 1990, p. 48 mention 1953 coins.

[721] Hanson 1979, p. 54.

[722] Hanson 1979, p. 54.

[723] According to Hanson, who analyzed the coins in the 1970s, the pot was “located in such a place that it might have served for some other purpose than that of concealing treasure” (Meyers et al. 1979, p. 53). More likely, according to him (and Raynor later), the deposit was a petty cache box, perhaps a depository for charity or operating monies.

[724] Meyers et al. 1979, pp. 52-55; Meyers et al. 1990, pp. 243-245 and catalogue in the back.

[725] Bijovsky 1998, p. 80: these coins were probably included in the deposit because their worn condition, and similar size and weight made them indistinguishable from worn coins of the 4-6th centuries CE.

[726] This correlates with Anastasius’ coin reform in 498 CE.

[727] They have been analyzed in detail by Bijovsky 1998, pp. 81-83.

[728] Meyers et al. 1979, p. 52; Meyers et al. 1990, pp. 50-51.

[729] Meyers et al. 1990, pp. 273-274 and 278-280. In his preliminary report of 1979, however, Hanson notes 44 coins from Locus 4010.1 and 68 coins from Locus 4048.1 (Hanson, 1979, p. 52). Is this an error? He also notes 7 coins of Locus 4020. In a preliminary Locus list in the IAA archives, Eric Meyers notes 40 coins from Locus 4010.1: Coins nos. 5-15 (4th and 5th century), nos. 21-28 (4th and 5th century), nos. 30-52 (4th-5th century), and no. 8 (?) (450-457 CE).

[730] Hanson 1979, p. 52.

[731] Meyers et al. 1979, pp. 49-52; Meyers et al. 1990, pp. 230-243 and catalogue in the back.

[732] No coins could also be found under Loci 4048.1, nor under Loci 4021 and 1058. It is unclear if these loci never contained coins or if they contained coins that were illegible and thus discarded. Perhaps the 19 “missing” coins were not actually found in this layer but were added to other loci in the vicinity, or they were lost when the coins moved to the IAA depot.

[733] I decided to follow the information given by the IAA for these coins, and not the information in Raynor.