Why “magico-religious” coins?

If the floor deposits cannot be considered foundation deposits, then what should we call them? I propose the term “magico-religious” coins. The Oxford English Dictionary defines magic as: “The use of ritual activities or observances which are intended to influence the course of events or to manipulate the natural world, usually involving the use of an occult or secret body of knowledge.”[547] Recently, some scholars have chosen not to use the term “magic” in connection with religion-studies based on its derogatory history.[548] They argue that in the past, the term has been used as opposite to religion and/or science, heavily influenced by Eurocentrism, Christian superiority, and racism. Religion was understood as a higher expression of spirituality, while magic was disregarded as superstition or a form of expression of illogical, primitive societies. However, I use the term magic here only as a heuristic tool, a working definition to more easily facilitate our understanding of the coin deposits. Following the definition from the OED, I follow the opinion that magic is a part of religion. In this sense, when magic is understood as “the use of ritual activities or observances which are intended to influence the course of events,” every religion incorporates magical practices.[549] Thus, with the term “magico-religious,” I indicate that the coins were brought in not as utilitarian tools, but as otherworldly instruments to obtain a metaphysical outcome, as integral parts of Jewish religion. As Karen Stern also critiqued in her work on graffiti in the ancient synagogue, the divide made between magical devices and other common elements of the synagogue building is artificial. In her opinion, inscriptions and other apotropaic devices should not be isolated as “magical” but instead should be included in the list of (common) ancient prayer activities that were once conducted inside the synagogue building, whether they were recited, sung, inscribed, or deposited.[550] I believe the same can be said about the floor coins. Although the reasons behind their deposition may be multiple and diverse, they were a common part of the “magical aspects” of Jewish “religion.”


[547] “Magic, n.,” Oxford English Dictionary Online, OED Online (OUP), http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/112186.

[548] Guerra, 2017, p. 9.

[549] Guerra 2017, p. 10.

[550] Stern 2021, p. 231.