No interpretation of a phenomenon can be proposed without in-depth knowledge of all the information at hand, or “stating the facts.” Before interpreting, we must examine. The different interpretations raised by scholars in the past were proposed without knowledge or analysis of the full chronological or spatial context of the phenomenon, as well as without discussion of the cultural background of Judaism in Late Antiquity. This study fills this lacuna.
This project will for the first time offer a complete overview of all synagogue coin deposits found in Late Antique Palestine and two diaspora communities, with architectural information on each synagogue building, contextual and archaeological information on each deposit, and descriptive and interpretative information on each coin found within the deposits. The twenty-two synagogue buildings from Palestine that have been included in this survey are: Bar’am, Beth Alpha, Beth She’arim, Caesarea, Capernaum, Dabiyye, Deir ʿAziz, ‘En Gedi, ‘En Nashut, Gush Halav, Hammath Tiberias, Horvat Kanaf (Khirbet Kanaf, Mazra’at Kanef), Horvat Kur, Horvat Rimmon, Korazin (Chorazin, Korazim), Ma’oz Hayyim, Meroth (Khirbet Marus), Qasrin (Qazrin), Rehob (Rehov, H. Parwa), H. Shema’ (Khirbet Shemʿa), Horvat Sumaqa, and Wadi Hamam (Weradim), and the two diaspora synagogues are Ostia and Sardis. In total, archaeologists have discovered 57 separate coin deposits in these buildings.
Given the lack of information and insecurity of interpretation of these deposits, as described above, the first goal of this project must be to compile all known deposits into one corpus. This corpus will need to follow standard organization for all finds and includes written descriptions as well as images in order to be able to allow comparisons and offer the scholarly community a comprehensive, most up-to-date database on all synagogue coin deposits known at this time (2021). The corpus can be found as an appendix to this dissertation.
The second goal of this study is to interpret these 57 deposits and group them together in purposeful categories based on specific observations and characteristics. Each coin deposit had a certain function, and it is my hypothesis that there were at least seven different reasons for why coins were placed inside synagogue buildings: accidental losses, votive offerings or genizot, charity hoards or tzedakah, treasuries, emergency hoards, post-destruction offerings, and magico-religious deposits connected to tithing money. This goal fulfills the desideratum for a better understanding of the purpose(s) of synagogue coin deposits in Late Antiquity.
My last goal is to place the different categories in their specific historical context of Late Antique Judaism. By evaluating the primary sources, researching the cultural background of ancient Judaism, and examining parallel examples of coin deposits found in neighboring regions, I will explore the different roles coins and coin deposits could have played within the synagogues of Palestine and the diaspora.
My aim with this project is to set future discussions of these synagogue deposits and their interpretation on a firmer foot by providing detailed information about these coins, many of which have until now gone unpublished. My hope is that archaeologists encountering new deposits in ancient synagogues will be able to more easily determine the specific function(s) of their deposit based on the characteristics that I lay out. I am also hoping that this project will spark new conversations about the socio-economic and religious role of coinage in Late Antique Judaism in general.
Because this data-set of 24 buildings, 57 deposits, and 44,254 (10,549 legible) coins is so large, and images so abundant, the full project is here presented as a (downloadable) digital database and website (URL: www.ancientsynagoguecoins.com). Besides being a depository of images, plans, and graphs, all the textual parts of this project have also been copied and placed in a written dissertation, which can be found on the UNC digital library.
The dissertation in written form is structured as the following:
Chapter Two provides a general overview of synagogue buildings in Late Antique Palestine and their role as public institutions in the Jewish community. This chapter includes an historical overview of the synagogue as an architectural unit and its specific components, and an examination of the functions, leadership, and organization of synagogues in the Late Roman and Byzantine period. Special attention will be given to methodological challenges: the difficulty in recognizing a synagogue in the archaeological record, and the difficulty of dating the construction of a synagogue building.
Chapter Three describes numismatics as an archaeological field. Here, I begin with a brief historical overview of the role of numismatics in archaeology, followed by a methodological subchapter on how to read and analyze coins. Two more problems will be identified and discussed: the difficulty of interpreting coins, and the lack of publications and availability of materials for our study. Last, I outline the different groups, categories, and terminology for analyzing synagogue coin deposits.
Chapters Four and Five are my attempt to re-evaluate the synagogue coin deposits from Late Antiquity. When discussing the phenomenon of “ancient synagogue hoards”, most scholars only mean the coins found scattered under the floor (“foundation deposits”). However, I believe that there are multiple phenomena going on at the same time, and that we cannot form one overarching theory that would explain all coin deposits. Thus, based on specific qualifications that I will lay out, I have established seven different interpretative categories based on sociohistorical, halakhic, and numismatic research conducted on the Late Roman and Byzantine Jewish landscape. Chapter Four contains an in-depth overview of the first six categories while Chapter Five is entirely dedicated to the final category, coin deposits connected to magico-religious practices, seeing that this is the theory that contains the floor deposits that have been most discussed in scholarly works. In these chapters, I will explore each possible category in-depth, lay out the specific characteristics a deposit needs to have to belong to this category, and ultimately, will organize all known coin deposits under one of the seven options. Finally, some statistical analyses will be applied to each category in order to explore the specific attributes of the coins found within each group. Ultimately, I hope that these chapters will put the research on the “ancient synagogue coin deposits” phenomenon on much firmer ground and will spark a new debate on the issue among archaeologists, historians, and numismatists.
Chapter Six offers a conclusion to the entire project.
The appendix contains the coin deposit corpus on which this project is based, also called the catalogue. It discusses in detail the twenty-four synagogue buildings in which one or multiple coin deposits have been found and is meant to be read next to the website (www.ancientsynagoguecoins.com). The catalogue is compiled from hundreds of individual field reports, hoard lists, websites, archival materials, and personal communications, and canvasses all the corpora and studies of the published and unpublished synagogue coin deposits. The website then provides further itemized information on each deposit and individual coin, as well as photographs, maps, plans, and other archival material to better understand the context of the deposits. Tables and graphs accompany the written material and give synopses of the excavated coin assemblages.
 The designation for the region of Palestine/Israel covered in this dissertation is not easy (see Spigel 2008), especially considering the modern English names for Israel and Palestine/Palestinian territories, as well as the Jewish name, “Land of Israel,” “Eretz Yisrael” or the more general term Holy Land. On a map from the first century CE, this region is known as Judea, Galilee, and Gaulanitis. In the second century CE, as a consequence of the Bar Kokhba Revolt, the name of the region was changed to Syria-Palaestina. In 390 CE, the administration of the region changed again and Syria-Palaestina was split into several administrative units by the Byzantine rulers: Palaestina Prima, Palaestina Secunda, and Palaestina Tertia. The area from the Negev to Caesarea and Shechem was part of Palaestina Prima (or Palaestina I), and the area of the Galilee, the Bet She’an Valley and parts of the Golan were part of Palaestina Secunda (or Palaestina II). In 636 CE, both regions were conquered by the Muslims and from then on, the official name of the region was Jund Filastin. Throughout this dissertation, synagogues from this entire region and different time periods are studied. While synagogues of the pre-70 CE period in this region are referred to by different scholars as either being in Palestine, Judea, or Galilee, it is common to refer to the region in the post-70 CE period as Palestine. Thus, whenever I write “Palestine,” I am talking about the region that covers modern Israel, the Palestinian territories, the most western parts of Jordan (known as Transjordan, which was annexed by the state of Israel after the Six-Day War of 1968), and the most southern parts of Syria and Lebanon.
 As is known in 2021. During my research, I went through hundreds of excavation reports and I believe I was able to track down every single ancient synagogue building in which a coin deposit has been found. Of course, there might be other deposits that have not (yet) been published. See also chapter “The present study”.
 This part of the dissertation might be redundant to scholars already familiar with ancient synagogue buildings, but provides an introduction to those new to the field.
 This part of the dissertation may be redundant to numismatists and scholars already familiar with ancient coins. However, since this project will be available as an open-access resource to the general public, I found it important to provide as much information as possible to those new to the field, as I consider myself a public humanist and believe it is critical to share not just the output of a project, but every essential step along the way.