Wadi Hamam

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Dates Excavated:



Uzi Leibner

Archaeological Information: Area A, Stratum II

Date of Building Construction:

Phase I: first half 3rd century [844]
Phase II: end of the 3rd -beginning 4th century [845]

Place of Building in Settlement:
At the center of the site on a steep slope: the building sits partly on top of houses. [846]

Building Description:
Phase I: A basilica with two rows of four columns, in a northwest-southeast direction and a transverse row of three columns on the northwest side.[847] There was one entrance in the southeast wall, one door above the benches in the northwest wall, and one door in the southwest wall leading to a side room. There were two tiers of benches along the northwest, northeast, and southwest walls in white limestone (giving this building the nickname “the white synagogue”). There might have been a second-story gallery.[848] The synagogue was severely damaged in the late 3rd century when its entire eastern half collapsed. Phase II: The synagogue was renovated and partially rebuilt into a nearly square-shaped plan, and its floors were now covered with a mosaic floor with biblical scenes and Hebrew inscriptions. At some later point this floor was covered again by several plaster floors. A new set of benches was installed, made of basalt (giving this building the nickname “the black synagogue”). A bemah was added on top of the mosaic floor against the southeast wall during a renovation (Sub-Phase IIb).

Maps and Plans

Other Materials

First Deposit

Date Excavated: 2007-2009

Deposit Location:

In the east wall of the synagogue building.

Archaeological Information:

Area A, Phase I, Room A11N, wall W2A15a

Certain association with the building itself? Yes

Deposit Retrievable? Unknown

Deposit Type: II?3

Deposit Description:

To the north-east of the synagogue, two structures were discovered on top of each other, built against the east wall of the synagogue. On top of these structures lay the collapse of the upper east wall of the synagogue building (W2A15a). A few building stones were found sitting upright, left where they had fallen. Throughout this debris of building blocks, roof tiles, and rubble, concentrations of coins were exposed, predominantly in front of the face of eastern wall W2A15b.[849] The coins were dispersed along a vertical descent of 1.14 m in height (going gown from 95.90 to 94.76 meters), in successive loci from the middle of L 5A020 to L 5A038. Each coin was measured and their spatial distribution plotted on a GIS map. A total of 37 coins, mainly third century tetradrachms and denarii, were retrieved. The dispersal of the coins indicates that they fell through the stones when the eastern wall collapsed. According to the excavators, the most plausible origin of the hoard is that it had been hidden in the east wall of the synagogue, and that the hoard was assembled from coins circulating at the site, most probably reflecting the savings of the congregation.[850]

Container Present? No

Description of Coins:
The 37 coins found in a deposit in the synagogue at Khirbet Wadi Hamam were published in full by Gabriela Bijovsky in Uzi Leibner’s 2018 final excavation report.[851] Of the 37 coins, 29 are silver, including 15 Roman provincial tetradrachms from the 3rd century CE and 14 imperial denarii and their debased version, Antoniniani[852]. 8 coins are bronze. The coin deposit ranges from 103 BCE until 268 CE, with the earliest coins being two Hasmonean prutot (one of Alexander Jannaeus, both struck in Jerusalem).[853] The following coins are two denarii of Trajan (dated 103-111 CE and 112-117 CE, both minted in Rome), a small bronze coin of Antoninus Pius minted in Bostra (138-161 CE), and two denarii from Rome minted by Marcus Aurelius (163-164 CE) and Septimius Severus (200-202 CE). Four more coins, three denarii and a bronze coin, are too worn to be dated but their size and fabric suggest a second century CE date. Most coins of the deposit, however, can be dated to the first half of the 3rd century CE (62%): seven coins minted by Caracalla (four imperial denarii minted in Rome and three Syrian tetradrachms struck in Tyre and Damascus),[854] eleven coins minted by Elagabalus (all Syrian tetradrachms minted in Antioch. Possibly, there are two more Elagabalus coins: two bronze coins minted in Capitolias[855] and Neapolis), two bronze coins of Severus Alexander (struck in Bostra), and a Syrian tetradrachm of Gordian III (struck in Antioch in 240 CE). After this, there is a gap of about 15 years and then a group of three Antoniniani of Gallienus minted in Rome (253-268 CE). Interestingly, this deposit does not contain any coins of the 4th century, nor any coins minted in Constantinople, Alexandria, or Cyzicus.[856]


Other Images

Conspectus Table:

Conspectus table Wadi Hamam, 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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– Ilan Z., 1991, Ancient Synagogues in Israel, Tel Aviv: Ministry of Defence, pp. 128-129 (Hebrew)
– Leibner U., 2009, Settlement and History in Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine Galilee: An Archaeological Survey of the Eastern Galilee, Mohr Siebeck, pp. 71-74, 205-212
– Leibner U., 2010, “Excavations at Khirbet Wadi Hamam (Lower Galilee): The Synagogue and the Settlement,” in: Journal of Roman Archaeology, Vol. 23, No. 1, pp. 220-237
– Leibner U. & Miller S., 2010, “A figural Mosaic in the Synagogue at Khirbet Wadi Hamam,”in: Journal of Roman Archaeology, vol. 23, No. 1, pp. 238-264
– Magness J., 2012, “The Pottery from the Village of Capernaum and the Chronology of Galilean Synagogues,” in: Tel Aviv, Vol. 39, No. 2, pp. 110-122
– Spigel C., 2012, Ancient Synagogue Seating Capacities: Methodology, Analysis and Limits, Mohr Siebeck, pp. 320-323
– Hachlili R., 2013, Ancient Synagogues: Archaeology and Art: New Discoveries and Current Research, Leiden: Brill, pp. 57, 64-66, 150, 177, 178, 332, 407-412, 493-494, 547, 594
– Leibner U., 2015, “Khirbet Wadi Hamam in the Early and Middle Roman Periods,” in: Fiensy D. & Strange J. (eds.), Galilee in the Late Second Temple and Mishnaic Periods: Volume 2: The Archaeological Record from Cities, Towns, and Villages, Fortress Press, pp. 343-361
– Leibner U., 2018, Khirbet Wadi Hamam, A Roman-Period Village and Synagogue in the Lower Galilee, Jerusalem: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
– Leibner U., 2020, “The Dating of the “Galilean”-Type Synagogues: Khirbet Wadi Hamam as a Case-Study,” in: Doerig L. and Krause A.R. (eds.), Synagogues in the Hellenistic and Roman Periods. Archaeological Finds, New Methods, New Theories, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, pp. 43-69


– The Bornblum Eretz Israel Synagogues Website:
– The Hebrew University of Jerusalem:


[844] This date is based on the middle Roman pottery, oil lamps, and coins from below the floor (Leibner 2018, p. 94; 2020, pp. 52-54) However, Jodi Magness believes that the entire building was constructed during the 4th century: she bases her assessment on the appearance of Galilean bowls (form 1C-1E) and Kefar Hananya ware at the site, which she argues give a terminus post quem of the 4th century, as well as on a coin (cat. No. 335) found in building A11N (see below), which is dated to 383-385 CE (Magness 2012a, p. 113; Magness 2019a, pp. 428-430; Magness and Schindler, forthcoming).

[845] Based on finds discovered in a drainage channel under the floor, in the mosaic foundations, and in the foundation trenches of the new walls (Leibner 2018, p. 96). However, coins found embedded inside the bemah and the plaster floor provide, according to Magness, a terminus post quem at the end of the 4th century for the addition of the bemah and the building’s renovation, or the second phase of the building (Magness 2012a, p. 113; Magness and Schindler, forthcoming).

[846] The ruins were first identified in the 19th century by the Survey of Western Palestine. In 1925, Joseph Braslavsky was the first to identify architectural elements at the site that might point towards a “Galiliean”-type synagogue. The architectural remains were surveyed in 1946 by Na’im Makhouly, in the 1970s and 1980s by Gideon Avni and Zvi Ilan, and in the 1980s by Yuval Shahar and Yigal Tepper. In 2007, excavations were started by Uzi Leibner under the auspices of the Hebrew University (Leibner 2018, pp. 7-8).

[847] This was the second public building built on this spot. The first synagogue was presumably constructed in the first half of the first century, but only parts of this buildings have been preserved (Leibner 2015, pp. 348-350, Stratum III).

[848] Leibner 2018, pp. 94-95.

[849] Leibner 2018, p. 86.

[850] Bijovsky 2018, p. 527. According to the excavators, there was no bemah yet during the first phase of the synagogue and perhaps this was the location of a niche in the wall which contained the synagogue’s savings deposit or treasury. In my opinion, however, this was a charity hoard. See chapter 4.3.2.

[851] Leibner 2018, pp. 527-530. This overview is based on her analysis.

[852] Also sometimes called “radiate,” see Bland 2012.

[853] Bijovsky notes that they seem “intrusive or residual in character”.

[854] Bijvovsky notes that unlike the Roman provincial bronzes that were primarily intended for circulation in the immediate geographical vicinity, Syrian tetradrachms were issued for wide distribution for fiscal and military needs. Based on numismatic evidence, Antioch and Tyre were the main mints to supply Syrian tetradrachms to Palestine from the first to mid-third centuries CE (Leibner 2018, p. 529).

[855] Coins from the Capitolias mint in Jordan are very rare in Palestine. Bijovsky mentions only four other coins registered in the database: one found at Hammath Gader, one at Hammath Tiberias, and two of unknown provenance (Leibner 2018, p. 578, note 41).

[856] It is hard to say how much the silver coin deposit was worth: numismatists debate the value of bronze and silver coins under different emperors in Late Antiquity. Theoretically, a tetradrachm would be roughly four times a denarius, but because of rapid debasement in the third century CE, it likely did not have as much buying power as that (by 270 CE, a silver coin was basically a small billion coin with only 1 per cent silver). In fact, this is the reason why silver coins of earlier periods were still around: they had a higher percentage of silver than the contemporaneous ones and hence were saved.