Who was involved in the placement of these coins?

As we saw in chapter “Synagogue functions, leadership, and organization”, many officials could have been involved in the deposition of the magico-religious coins inside synagogue buildings, although no evidence exists for any official ritual. Unfortunately, almost no research has been done on the relationship between tithing and the rabbis, priests, or other synagogue officials in post-70 Judaism. This is a difficult task indeed, especially for the post-rabbinic period for which written sources are scarce.[557] So, aside from the community as a whole, who might have been involved?

According to Matthew Grey, one prominent aspect of priestly privilege that continued for at least several centuries after the temple’s destruction was the reception of heave offerings (terumah, תְּרוּמָה‎) and other consecrated gifts.[558] Both Josephus and early rabbinic literature indicate that the practice continued after 70 CE, and this is attested in archaeological remains at Masada and in the Bar Kokhba caves.[559] However, we do not know if this terumah money was to be spent on food and living expenses after receipt, or if some priests stored the coins as sacred money until the Temple would be rebuilt. Furthermore, most of our written and archaeological sources date to the first centuries CE; we do not know if this practice continued in Late Antiquity, long after the Temple was destroyed. We are also poorly informed about priestly involvement in synagogue activities; could they have been responsible for placing the coins under the synagogue floors at all? Was the ritual performed for the people by the people, or was it performed for them? For now, it is impossible to say.[560]

What about the rabbis? We already saw that over the last decades most scholars have argued that the involvement of the rabbis in the synagogue was minimal, at least until late Talmudic times.[561] Furthermore, literature written by the rabbis themselves states that there could be no additional holy places aside from the Jerusalem temple.[562] By so declaring, the rabbis were attempting to prevent the decentralization of holiness. Thus, they discouraged the Jews of Late Antiquity from seeing synagogues as sacred spaces.[563] Based on this interference, it seems unlikely that the rabbis were directly responsible for, or involved in, the deposition of the coins. As for the archisynagogoi, the archons, the hazzans, the elders, and other officials involved in the daily activities of the synagogue, we have no literary or archaeological evidence connecting them to the coin deposits. The only other option might be the phrontistes, who were responsible for overseeing the building of the synagogue structure. However, since the two inscriptions in which they are named come from Greece, it is impossible to say if this position (construction foreman? engineer?) existed in Palestine.

In conclusion, we do not know if someone oversaw the deposition of the tithing coins, and who it might have been, just as we also do not know if this practice was institutionalized or not, nor if any ritual acts accompanied these offerings. What we can say is that the practice must have been condoned, at least in places with examples of this phenomenon, since the building constructors left the coins in place. We can perhaps even say that the coins must have been seen as sacred or dedicated, as the (often low-paid) workers as well as the people living in the vicinity left them in place throughout the construction.[564] We also know that the synagogue became more and more sacred or “ideologically-articulated” over time and that it even started to adopt features that before 70 only the Jerusalem temple was allowed to have (“Templization”).[565] Could the synagogue have been a place where tithes were offered? And, as in the temple, was it the priests that received this money, but instead of using it, oversaw their deposition within the hagios topos?


[557] See for example Weistuch and Rosenfeld 2014.

[558] Grey 2012, pp. 171–182. Priests continued to live outside of Jerusalem through Late Antiquity (see below) and perhaps were still being clothed and fed by the general population.

[559] For example, Josephus Antiquities 4.68-74; Sifre Numbers 119; Sifrei Zuta Korah 18.21. For archaeological evidence, see Yadin and Naveh 1989, pp. 32–33 (Pl. 26.441), and Yadin et al. 2002.

[560] See, for example, Irshai 2003, 2004, and 2006; and Miller 1999, 2007.

[561] Levine 2009, Lapin 2010.

[562] Ben-Eliyahu 2019, pp. 126–127. Does this mean that they did not acknowledge the synagogue as an imitatio Templi?

[563] The fact that they discuss it, of course, means there were alternative attitudes towards the synagogues among the general population.

[564] Again, think about the low-value coins dropped in contemporary fountains or pools.

[565] Bloch and Parry 1989, p. 26; Fine 1996, p. 31. See also the article by Evyatar Marienberg on “temple-like” behavior in the synagogue by women in the Medieval and Early-Modern period (Marienberg 2004).