Historical background and description

The term treasury (or thesauros) was first used in Classical Greece to indicate small, temple-like structures that were built as ancillary rooms to temples, to house donations made by private citizens to public sanctuaries.[352] Objects that could be donated included sculptures and paintings, objects of precious materials like gold, silver, and bronze, and objects valued because they were unusual in some way. Treasury objects were not only seen as offerings to the gods but also as a statement of power on the part of the local government and citizens, displaying their wealth and status. In times of emergency, however, the precious metals stored in treasuries could be used as a reserve to mint coinage.[353] In this sense, treasuries could act as financial back-up systems. The Jerusalem temple similarly had a treasury in which the main contributions were the half-shekels paid every year by male Israelites over the age of 21.[354] At the time of the initial construction of the temple, biblical law required every adult male Jew to make a one-time payment of a half shekel. This modest sum allowed Jews of all economic levels to participate in the construction. After the building was completed, however, the temple authorities continued to collect the tax for the purpose of purchasing the public sacrifices and renewing the furnishings of the temple. Delegations from communities around the Roman empire and beyond would come to Jerusalem with their donations, and the money was stored in the treasury-chambers or storerooms until needed.[355] It is conceivable that these donations were first kept in early synagogues, before a delegate would collect the money and bring it to Jerusalem.[356] After the destruction of the temple, the Romans imposed a new tax, the Fiscus Judaicus, which diverted this half-shekel donation to the temple of Capitoline Jupiter in Rome.[357] However, it is not inconceivable that local synagogues kept collecting donations, especially as their role in the local communities grew over the following centuries. The synagogue was an economic center in its local community.[358] It had personnel (see “Synagogue functions, leadership, and organization”), organized events and festivities, acted as a hostel for visitors,[359] and fulfilled many duties any modern community house would. All this required coinage. Rabbinic sources inform us that individuals would donate money not only for the construction of the building but also for its upkeep and use. Sometimes, a donation to the synagogue was made in the form of goods rather than money, and the synagogue would have to sell these goods to acquire their value in coins.[360] The synagogue could have also served as the community bank. Profits made by the community as a whole, inheritance money, or other sources of communal income could have been stored in the synagogue for safe-keeping until needed.[361] All this money needed to be stored somewhere in the building, and just as with the quppa, these deposits could have been kept in a stone or wooden box, a clay vessel, or any other receptable. We are familiar with similar kinds of movable and immovable treasury boxes (thesaur[o]i) from the Classical world.[362] For example, the lower part of a late fifth or fourth century BCE “offertory box” was found in situ at bedrock level in the area of the Temple of Apollo in Corinth, and in 2008 a treasury box was discovered at a sanctuary in Campo della Fiera, dated to the 3rd century BCE –or later.[363] These early examples from Corinth and Athens suggest that the use of boxes designed for the collection of coins was well understood and implemented in the sanctuaries even before the Hellenistic period. That this phenomenon spread to the eastern Mediterranean and continued to exist in the Roman period is indicated in Luke 21:1-4:

“As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

Thus, according to this text, there was “treasury” or γαζοφυλάκιον located in the temple. The Greek word γαζοφυλάκιον only appears three times in the New Testament, each time in the same episode.[364] Nowhere is the appearance of this “treasury” mentioned, but we do have a possible predecessor from 2 Kings 12:9-10:

“And Jehoiada the priest took one chest (‘aron, אֲר֣וֹן) and bore a hole in its lid (delet, בְּדַלְתּ֑וֹ); and he placed it near the altar on the right, where a person enters the house of the Lord: and the priests, the guards of the threshold, would put all the silver/money [כסף] that was brought into the house of the Lord, into there.”

In this story, set in the 9th century BCE, the collection box is a “box” with a “door” (or lid) with a hole in it through which silver pieces could be deposited.[365] Is this how we should imagine treasury boxes in Late Antiquity? Or did people from Late Antiquity switch to using oil lamps as coin containers, as archaeologists have found several examples of this phenomenon in Palestine?[366] Perhaps there could have also been containers made from perishable materials, like textiles or reed, in which case we would not be able to recognize the deposit as a treasury. In any case, I believe the treasury was an integral part of the synagogue building.

I suggest there are six qualities an excavated synagogue coin deposit should have to make it a candidate for a treasury deposit:

1) the coins are found together as a group,

2) the deposit is found in an open, accessible place (so that coins could have been easily added to and taken from it),

3) besides small bronze coins, coins of a higher value in silver and gold may be represented (large amounts of lower currency that was changed into higher currency, so that it would take up less space, kept in case of an emergency),

4) the quantity of the coins can be high (money could have been saved up over a long period, for example, for planned renovations),

5) the coins can have a broad date range (because the money could have been stored for a long time, and only now and then was a small number of coins removed as needed),

6) and the deposit was stored in a secure place such as in a closed-off annex room or in the bemah to prevent it from being stolen.[367]

Deposits categorized as treasuries

Based on the criteria above, I believe the following seven deposits in our database could have been treasuries: Deir ‘Aziz (Deposit 1), Deir ‘Aziz (Deposit 2), Gush Halav (Deposit 1), ‘En Gedi (Deposit 1), Caesarea (Deposit 1), Meroth (Deposit 2), and Rehob (Deposit 1). A map can be found at .

At Deir ‘Aziz, excavators found two deposits that could be categorized as treasuries. In a small, hewn pit about 95 cm deep, they found 2027 bronze coins as a group, covered by stone slabs. This pit might have belonged to an earlier Phase/floor of the synagogue. Another 14 gold coins were found in a juglet in a gap area between the floor and a row of stones (also called by the excavators “a foundation” or “wall-bemah”) parallel to the east side of the south wall of the synagogue building. The excavators suggest that this unpaved area might have been the locus for a portable bemah. There were also broken molded and decorated architectural fragments as well as fragments of a decorated arch with Greek inscription. [368] The coin deposit at Gush Halav was discovered in a side room of the synagogue building. This deposit consists of 1943 bronze coins stored in a cooking pot, originally placed on top of the plaster floor of the room.[369] At ‘En Gedi, archaeologists found about 3000 bronze coins in the debris of the Torah shrine of the synagogue building. Unfortunately, only 175 were in a good enough condition to be identified. At Caesarea, excavators discovered 3700 bronze coins “in the plastering of a projection which might have contained the Ark.” No other objects have been indicated as found together with this deposit. At Meroth, 236 gold and 238 bronze coins were recovered from a hollowed-out stone laid in the northeastern corner of a western side room. The coins, lying at the bottom of this niche, could only be accessed through a circa 60 cm long tunnel pierced through the stone. In the vicinity of the niche, eight more gold coins were found scattered, together with a pair of bronze scales. Last, at Rehob, a clay box was discovered during modern agricultural work around the ancient synagogue, which contained 28 gold coins dating to the 7th century. Together with this box were fragments of a chancel screen with the depiction of a seven-branched menorah, indicating that the box and its content can be associated with the synagogue. Where in the building the box would have been originally placed is not known.

Like charity and votive deposits, treasuries are found in retrievable places. However, the large quantity of coins and their high value (three deposits contain a large number of gold coins) sets them apart. The Caesarea deposit has a time span of 108 years,[370] the Deir ‘Aziz (Deposit 1) 198 years, the Gush Halav deposit 295 years (or even 800 years if we take the earliest coin and latest coins as not intrusive), the Meroth deposit (minus intrusives) 468 years, the ‘En Gedi deposit 627 years, and the gold Rehob deposit 71 years ( As for the terminus post quem of each deposit, the latest datable coin from Caesarea dates to 423 CE; Deir ‘Aziz to 498 CE and 565 CE; ‘En Gedi to 527 CE; Gush Halav to 565 CE; Meroth to 611 CE;[371] and Rehob to 687 CE.

Map of all sites where Treasury Deposits have been found. Hover over a triangle to see the name of the site.

Table of all Treasury Coins broken up per deposit. Toggle the parameter to show the emperor under which each coin was minted, the minting place, or the end date (final terminus post quem) of each coin.

Table of all Synagogue Treasury Coins. Toggle the parameter to choose between exact dates or quarter centuries.

Table of all Synagogue Treasury Coins. Toggle the parameter to show the emperor under which each coin was minted, the minting place, or the end date (final terminus post quem) of each coin; or choose between absolute numbers or percentage of total.


[352] Simmons 2016, p. 29.

[353] Von Reden 2010, p. 30.

[354] See for example Mishnah Shekalim 6.

[355] It is unclear where or what this treasury was in Herod’s temple. The Gospels seem to refer only to 13 trumpet-shaped boxes that were placed in the court of the Women in front of the Temple for the reception of the offerings. This court is expressly named the “treasury” in John 8:20: “These words spoke he in the treasury, as he taught in the temple.”

[356] Binder 1999, p. 428–430; Runesson et al. 2010, p. 152. Philo Spec. 1-76-78 states that “practically in every city there are banking places (ταμεῖα) for the holy money (ίερῶν χρημάτων) where people regularly come and give their offerings. And at stated times there are appointed to carry the sacred tribute envoys selected on their merits, from every city those of the highest repute, under whose conduct the hope of each and all will travel safely.” See also the decree given by emperor Augustus stating that it is prohibited to steal sacred books or sacred money “from a Sabbath [building] or from a public school” (Josephus Ant. 16.164). Meshorer believes he found evidence of the private stashing of tithing coins in a house at En-Gedi. Here, 139 bronze quadrantes coins dated between 42 and 59 CE were found in an oil lamp hidden in the wall of a townhouse (Meshorer 1976, 2007). Half a Tyrian shekel (the amount that needed to be given to the Temple on a yearly basis) can be calculated to 128 quadrantes. The extra 11 coins were, according to him, added to pay the 8% exchange fee imposed by the money changers to change the bronze coins into the silver half Tyrian shekel. If this is true, then we have here a very early example of storing money that was meant for the Temple.

[357] The amount levied was two denarii, equivalent to the one-half of a shekel. The money now went to the temple of Capitoline Jupiter in Rome. And while the tax paid for the temple of Jerusalem only needed to be paid by adult men between the ages of 21 and 50, the Fiscus Iudaicus was imposed on all Jews, including women, children, and the elderly. In this dissertation, I am not taking into account these taxes and many others, like the land tax, the poll tax, etc. that people from Palestine had to pay to the occupying Roman or Byzantine rulers. These taxes, both in kind and in coin, were probably directly collected by state officials and were, presumably, not stored in synagogues. See, for example, Hamel 1990, pp. 142–163.

[358] Safrai 1987 (Hebrew); Rosenfeld and Menirav 1999.

[359] See the Theodotus inscription, footnote 145.

[360] Rosenfeld and Menirav 1999, p. 267: an inscription from Beth Alpha records a combined contribution from the members for the needs of the synagogue to the amount of “one hundreds seahs of wheat.” Another inscription from the synagogue of Na’aran states that contributions could be made “whether in gold, silver or anything else.”

[361] Again, this money could have been kept at the house of a rabbi, priest, archisynagogue, archon, or phrontistes, but here I am looking for possible examples of treasuries in the synagogue building.

[362] Crawford 2003; Pafford 2006; Lykke 2017.

[363] Lykke 2017, p. 213; Ranucci 2011. In these cases, the boxes were used to receive the fee that the worshipper had to pay the priests for animal sacrifices. In other words, they were used to collect the money needed for the daily operations of the sacred building.

[364] Luke 21:1, Mark 12:41, and Mark 12:43.

[365] It’s unclear what material this chest was made of. Presumably, it would have been made out of wood, but it could have also been made out of stone or other materials.

[366] For example, in the wall of a house at En-Gedi dated to the 1st century CE (Meshorer 1976, 2007), under the courtyard of a Galilean farmhouse dated to the 7th century CE (Syon 2000–2002), or the Bar Kohba hoard found “near Hebron” dated to the 2nd century CE (Hendin 2000–02). However, no such examples have been found in synagogue contexts.

[367] In this sense, the context of the treasury could be very similar to that of a genizah. The difference here is that the coins were meant to go back into circulation and were not set apart as sacred.

[368] This deposit is hard to determine. Because it was placed under a possible movable bemah and people thus had access to it whenever they wanted, and because the building was never destroyed but repurposed over time, I believe it to be a treasury and not a magico-religious deposit, emergency hoard, or post-destruction burial. If they were part of a genizah, the coins must have had some previous liturgical and/or votive function, which is possible, but 14 gold coins seems a very high sum to take out of circulation, even if the money was deemed sacred. If this is a second treasury, however, one must ask the question why this synagogue had two separate treasuries. Perhaps for different functions?

[369] Ahipaz and Leibner 2021, p. 222, note 35 remark that “it is tempting to suggest the hypothesis that these coins and construction materials uncovered in the storage room were placed as preparations for a future renovation and a ‘floor deposit’, but has not been realized due to the earthquake.” This is an interesting theory, suggesting that the magico-religious coins (and thus the tithing money? See below) were collected and stored in the synagogue building itself, waiting its final deposition under the floor. Archaeologically, however, there is no way to prove this. If this hypothesis is true, on the other hand, then the bronze deposits at Deir ‘Aziz, ‘En Gedi, Caesarea, and even Beth She’arim could also be interpreted this way (although Ahipaz and Leibner do not bring up this possibility in their own case-study of the synagogue at Deir ‘Aziz).

[370] This is a shorter time span than some of the charity hoards, but the large number of coins (3700) made me place this deposit under treasuries.

[371] Not taking into account the two later, possibly intrusive coins dated to 783 and 1198 CE.