Silver bulges from cracked jars, seen in the photo above in situ after they were uncovered by archaeologists in a room that adjoined the synagogue. Over 60 pounds of silver had been crammed into these five jars, making the discovery the largest silver hoard ever found in Israel.

The jars appear to be ordinary Iron Age pottery dating possibly to the late tenth century B.C. or to the ninth–eighth centuries B.C. Three jars are similar: Each has a ball-shaped body, a long thin neck, a ring base and one handle.

When the jars were first discovered, excited archaeologists thought the silver might be the famous Amalekite booty sent to Eshtemoa by David (1 Samuel 30:26–28, 30). But the pottery dating voids this possibility; David’s reign began about 1000 B.C.

On two jars (above) the same Hebrew word, H|MSð (meaning five or fifth) was clearly written. It probably also appears on a third jar. The inscriptions can be easily read in the photos and in drawings of the two clear inscriptions. The style of the script and the shape of the vessels date the jars to the late 10th–8th centuries B.C.—after the reign of David. Some scholars interpret the inscription to refer to the weight of the silver. Author Yeivin, however, agrees with his colleague Ephraim Stern that H|MSð probably refers to a tax that would have been known in antiquity as “fifth,” for fifth part. Perhaps Eshtemoa was an administrative center where such taxes were collected.