H. Shema’

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Dates Excavated:



Eric Meyers, Thomas Kraabel, and James Strange

Archaeological Information: Fields NE VII-NW VII

Date of Building Construction:

Phase I: 284 CE
Phase II: 306 CE [761]

Place of Building in Settlement:
On the first terrace below the ancient village. [762]

Building Description:
Phase I: An east-west broadhouse synagogue with two rows of four columns. There was a grand entrance at the south end of the west wall, and a second entrance in the western half of the north wall at the top of two-meter-wide stairs. Remains of single benches were found along the north and south walls. [763] Huge quantities of loose tesserae suggest a mosaic floor. An upper gallery was located on the west side of the building, with a room underneath decorated with colorful frescoes (the “Frescoed Room”). At the south end of the hall is an entrance to a small hewn room beneath the monumental staircase, identified by the excavators as a genizah. Phase II: The layout of the building stayed the same but a bemah was added on top of the benches along the south wall. The form of the columns, pedestals, and capitals in the main hall changed as well.

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First Deposit

Date Excavated: 1971-1972

Deposit Location:


Archaeological Information:

Area Northwest I:32, Locus 28 and 30

Certain association with the building itself? Yes

Deposit Retrievable? Yes

Deposit Type: IIA2

Deposit Description:

A chamber was discovered under stairs from the western side room leading into the synagogue proper.[764] The floor level of the chamber is only slightly below that of the synagogue floor, so that the chamber is not under the main room of the synagogue but next to it. Its entrance at the time of discovery was on the north side of the chamber: a square opening of 55 cm wide, 56 cm high, and 38 cm above the floor of the side room (or, the “Frescoed Room”) of the hall of the synagogue. However, the chamber was previously oriented towards the east. The original opening was a square, horizontal shaft measuring 61 cm in height and width. The bottom surface, which is still preserved, was 37 cm above the chamber floor and 104 cm below the ceiling. The bedrock above the northern part of this entrance was broken through at a later date, making a much larger, irregular opening which at the time of discovery was blocked on the inside with rough ashlars, and on the east side, by stairs which led into the main hall from the western side room. The bedrock dips down on the northern and eastern sides of the chamber and becomes relatively thin over the eastern and later northern entrances; according to the excavators, it is likely that the damage to the eastern opening was caused during the construction of the stairway and that the rough ashlars had to be laid in the opening to provide support for the staircase. There are no indications that this originally was a natural cave; it appears to have been cut out of solid bedrock and to have had some function from the beginning. The excavators suggest it was part of the industrial installations that were found here and which were used before the synagogue was constructed. Once the synagogue was built, the chamber was integrated into the complex and became an integral part of it. With its low ceiling and awkward entrance, the excavators believe that it was suitable only for “dead storage,” or a genizah. The access to the chamber could be carefully controlled; the small opening could have been covered with something to restrict access to it. It was probably in use during the first phase, as well as the second phase of the synagogue’s history (Strata II-IV).
Inside the chamber, five large pieces of glass were discovered as well as some smaller fragments, an oil lamp fragment, and 13 coins. Because the chamber had been sealed, it is likely that all these pieces were placed there intentionally. When the chamber was discovered, a fault that developed in the bedrock after the site was abandoned caused the room to flood with water.[765] More than 150 buckets of water had to be removed from the chamber during excavations, and most of the fill consisted of mud that had to be dried first before it could be broken up and sifted for materials. These conditions unfortunately caused all organic materials that might have been there (e.g. documents, wooden objects, mats, even some coins), to be destroyed. Furthermore, the room had been used by squatters long after the synagogue had gone out of use: pieces of Islamic pottery attest to this use at a later stage.

Container Present? No

Description of Coins:
No full analysis of these coins was published in the final excavation report (Meyers et al. 1976). Instead, Richard Hanson and Michael L. Bates picked out some noteworthy examples found in diverse loci around the site, organized by period.[766] In the written description of the genizah, the coins are described as dated to the middle or late 4th century, with the exception of R1550 (183-192 CE) and R1551 (98-117 CE). The catalogue in the back indicates 13 coins coming from Loci 29 and 30, indicating size, emperor, date, and where possible, type.[767] These seem to be the coins from the chamber, as they include R1550 and R1551. However, R1550 is identified as a SALVS REIPVBLICAE coin, possibly minted under Valentinian II and dated to 383-392 CE.[768] At the IAA, only one coin could be located from Locus 28: R1551, minted under Trajan. It is unclear what happened to the other 12 coins.[769]

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Conspectus Table:

Conspectus table H. Shema', 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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– Meyers E., 1972, “Horvat Shema’, the Settlement and the Synagogue,” in Qadmoniyot, Vol. 5, No. 2, pp. 58-61 (Hebrew)
– Meyers E., Kraabel A.T., and Strange J., 1972a, “Archaeology and Rabbinic Traditions at Khirbet Shema’: 1970 and 1971 Campaigns,” in: Biblical Archaeologist, Vol. 35, No. 1, pp. 1-31
– Meyers E., Kraabel A.T., and Strange J., 1972b, “Khirbet Shema’ and Meiron,” in: Israel Exploration Journal, Vol. 22, pp. 174-176
– Meyers E., Kraabel A.T., and Strange J., 1976, Ancient Synagogue Excavations at Khirbet Shema’, Upper Galilee, Israel 1970-1972, North Carolina: Duke University Press
– Meyers E.M., 1981, “The synagogue at Horvat Shema’,” in: Ancient Synagogues Revealed, Jerusalem: The Israel Exploration Society pp. 70-74
– Magness J., 1997, “Synagogue Typology and Earthquake chronology at Khirbet Shema’,” in: Journal of Field Archaeology, Vol. 24, No. 2, pp. 211-220
– Strange J., 2001, “Synagogue Typology and Khirbet Shema’: A Response to Jodi Magness,” in: Neusner J. & Avery-Peck A. (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. 71-78
– Bijovsky G., 2009, “Numismatic Report,” in: Meyers E. & Meyers C., Excavations at Ancient Nabratein: Synagogue and Environs, Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, pp. 384-386
– Spigel C., 2012, Ancient Synagogue Seating Capacities: Methodology, Analysis and Limits, Mohr Siebeck, pp. 101-119, 247-248
– Hachlili R., 2013, Ancient Synagogues: Archaeology and Art: New Discoveries and Current Research, Leiden: Brill, pp. 57, 73, 154, 177, 180, 553, 586, 588-589


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


[761] These two phases are based on the identification of materials associated with the first building that was buried and thus isolated by the rebuilding of the synagogue after the earthquake of 306 CE (Meyers et al. 1976, p. 33, p. 38). Magness, however, suggests that there was only one phase and that it was constructed not earlier than the late 4th century or even the early 5th century, based on the ceramics and coins found in sealed loci (Magness 1997, p. 215, 218; see also Netzer 1996). Meyers denies this (Meyers 1976, pp. 34-37), stating that the later material found in sealed loci under the floor, especially a coin dated to Gratian, is an indication of renovations to the floor in the late 4th century, probably necessitated because of rain erosion. Whatever the case, the coin deposit found in a chamber of the synagogue is associated with the second phase of the building when the synagogue was still in use in the late 4th century or early 5th century.

[762] Ancient literature talks about the site as “Teqo’a,” and Meyers has proposed that this site was a suburb or satellite settlement of ancient Meiron, whose synagogue inspired the one at Khirbet Shema’ (Meyers et al. 1976, pp. 12-16).

[763] The excavators suggest there were benches all around the room.

[764] A full description of this chamber can be found in Meyers et al. 1976, pp. 42-45.

[765] Meyers et al. 1976, p. 77.

[766] Hanson and Bates, in Meyers et al. 1976, pp. 146-169.

[767] Hanson, in Meyers et al. 1976, pp. 281-289.

[768] Thus, there seems to be a discrepancy between the written report and the catalogue. For this project, the analysis from the catalogue have been followed, but no weight, sizes, and axis were provided for any of the coins.

[769] When contacting Meyers, he told me he was under the impression the IAA had the coins and all the information, thus it is unclear where something went wrong. An original coin register list, as well as field notes of the Horvat Shema’ excavations are currently stored at the Duke Archives in the Rubenstein Library of Duke University. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this archive was closed all through 2020-21 and I was unable to make an appointment to see these notes and look for more details on the coins.