Ma’oz Hayyim

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Dates Excavated:



Vassilios Tzaferis

Archaeological Information: /

Date of Building Construction:

Phase I: late 3rd-early 4th century [915]
Phase II: end of the 4th – beginning 5th century [916]
Phase III: 6th century

Place of Building in Settlement:

Building Description:
Phase I (=Building A): This was an almost square hall with two rows of four columns. By the south wall was a raised, rectangular stone platform. The floor was covered with limestone slabs. The location of the entrance to the building is unknown, but it might have been in the east wall based on the entrances in the later phases.[918] Phase II (= Building B): The width of the hall remained the same, but the building was lengthened by 4 meters on the north side. There were now two rows of five columns. An apse was added in the south wall, with a marble chancel screen in front of it.[919] The floor was covered with mosaics up to the walls, leaving no space for benches. There were two entrances in the east wall. A courtyard surrounded the building on the east and north sides. Phase III (=Building C): A new mosaic floor was laid about 30 cm above the old floor. The east, west, and north walls probably had benches as the mosaics stop about 60 cm in front of these walls. A 10 cm high stone platform extended from the apse into the nave up to the first columns. No pavement was found inside the apse, but in its rear part was an installation built of stones and plaster with a tiled floor; perhaps a genizah.

Maps and Plans

Other Materials

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First Deposit

Date Excavated: 1974-1977

Deposit Location:

Just outside the south wall, close to the apse

Archaeological Information:


Certain association with the building itself? No [920]

Deposit Retrievable? Yes

Deposit Type: IIA5

Deposit Description:

A deposit of about 50 coins was found, carefully wrapped in cloth and with a broken roof-tile on top of it, near the apse on the outside of the south wall. [921]

Container Present? Yes: cloth

Description of Coins:
The excavations of the synagogue at Ma’oz Hayyim never received a final publication and the preliminary reports are scarce and limited in their analysis of the building and its artifacts. A full catalogue of the coins found at the site, including the deposit, was never published. A group of 48 coins from this site is in storage at the IAA and is presumably the coin deposit.[922] They form a very limited typology group, all attributed to emperors between Anastasius I (498-518 CE) and Maurice Tiberius (582-602 CE), giving a range of only one century. 34 coins are 40 nummi, eleven are 20 nummi, one is a 16 nummi, one a decannumium, and one unknown. All coins were minted in eastern mints.

Other Images

Conspectus Table:

Conspectus table Ma'oz Hayyim, 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: 1974-1977

Deposit Location:

In the apse of the synagogue

Archaeological Information:

Building C

Certain association with the building itself? Yes

Deposit Retrievable? Yes

Deposit Type: IIA2

Deposit Description:

 The area of the bemahincluding the apse, was raised ten centimeters above the floor of the hall and paved with stone slabs.[923] Beneath this floor, a post and fragments of marble slabs were found: indications that this area was set off with a chancel screen. Behind the bemahnear the inner wall of the apse, a rectangular installation was found, built of stones and plaster and sunk into the floor. This “chamber” contained several ceramic lamps, fragments of a glass lamp, and coins. The installation was paved with two roof-tiles in secondary use.

Container Present? No

Description of Coins:
No catalogue was ever published on the coins found at Ma’oz Hayyim and the preliminary publications do not mention how many coins were found in the apse, nor what its locus number(s) or basket numbers are, so more information on these coins could not be found at the IAA. The coins were presumably bronze (gold coins would have been explicitly mentioned), but unfortunately this is all the information we have on these coins.[924]

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– Chiat M., 1982, Handbook of Synagogue Architecture, Chico: Scholars Press, pp. 136-138
– Tzaferis V., 1982a, “The Ancient Synagogue at Ma’oz Hayyim,” in: Israel Exploration Journal, Vol. 32, pp. 215-244
– Tzaferis V., 1982b, “The Synagogue at Ma’oz Hayim,” in: Ancient Synagogues Revealed, Jerusalem: The Israel Exploration Society, pp. 86-89
– Ilan Z., 1991, Ancient Synagogues in Israel, Tel Aviv: Ministry of Defence, pp. 171-172 (Hebrew)
– Tzaferis V., 1993, “Ma’oz Hayyim,” in: NEAEHL, pp. 946-948
– Milson D., 2007, Art and Architecture of the Synagogue in Late Antique Palestine: in the Shadow of the Church, Leiden/Boston, pp. 426-431
– Spigel C., 2012, Ancient Synagogue Seating Capacities: Methodology, Analysis and Limits, Mohr Siebeck, pp. 272-276
– Hachlili R., 2013, Ancient Synagogues: Archaeology and Art: New Discoveries and Current Research, Leiden: Brill, pp. 177, 181, 187, 188, 191, 548, 562


-The Bornblum Eretz Israel Synagogues Website:


[915] The basis for this date is unclear, as Vassilios Tzaferis states that there is “no ceramic or numismatic evidence that date it [the synagogue] precisely” (Tzaferis 1982a, p. 243).

[916] This date is based on the artistic style of the mosaics of Building B, which Tzaferis places sometime between the introduction of the “rainbow style” at the beginning of the 4th century, and the “single element filling an entire area-style” at the beginning of the sixth century (Tzaferis 1982a, pp. 226-227). Of course, we have since long stepped away from dating synagogues based on art-historical styles. Unfortunately, Tzaferis notes that the fill layers in between the floor levels were sterile, so we cannot date the floors based on pottery or coin evidence. He eventually dates the buildings B and C based on ceramic materials found just outside the building.

[917] Fragments of a mosaic floor were discovered at Kibbutz Ma’oz Hayyim during the construction of security fences in February of 1974, and three seasons of excavations followed. The synagogue was located west of the kibbutz, on a low hill called “the hill of the dwarfs” (Tzaferis 1982a, p. 215). Since no ancient village was ever excavated, however, it is unclear what the relationship was between the synagogue and the town.

[918] Tzaferis 1982a, p. 218.

[919] Tzaferis believes that the chancel screen was already in place in the earliest stage of the synagogue. However, Joan Branham believes the chancel screen in this building was only put there in in the 5th century (Branham 1992, pp. 384-385)

[920] 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 (see chapter 4.5.2).

[921] Tzaferis 1982b, pp. 88-89.

[922] Personal communication Donald Ariel: “This kind of discrepancy [between 48 and 50 coins] can exist because the IAA only has the data on the identified coins, and in those years [the 1970s] the unidentified material might have been ignored. So, it may very much have been that the deposit was fifty coins and that there were two unidentified coins that were not noted, and maybe even displaced. Today, of course, we do track those unidentified coins, but even between thirty and forty years ago, in the transmission of the 1970s coins to the IAA, then to me in 1989, I can no longer be certain of how many unidentifiable coins there were.”

[923] Tzaferis 1982a, p. 222; Tzaferis 1982b, p. 86. Although Tzaferis calls the podium in front of the apse a bemah, no evidence was found to determine whether this was a bemah or a Torah shrine, or both.

[924] Vassilios Tzaferis passed away in 2015 and it is unlikely that more information on these coins will ever be known.