Sites - Israel: Khirbet Suseya
Susya in Wikipedia
Susya (Hebrew: סוּסְיָא) refers to the site of an ancient village of the biblical Judea, in the southern Hebron Hills of the
West Bank that has come to light in recent archeological investigations, to a Palestinian village settled in the 1830s, and
to a religious communal Israeli settlement, under the jurisdiction of Har Hebron Regional Council, established in 1983.
Susya, whether it refers to the site of the synagogue or the ruins of the contiguous ancient and large settlement of some 60
dunams, is not mentioned in any ancient text, and Jewish literature failed to register an ancient Jewish town on that site.
 It is thought by some to correspond to the Biblical Carmel (Josh 15.5), a proposal made by Avraham Negev. Others
argue that, in the wake of the Second Revolt (AD 132-5), when the Romans garrisoned Khirbet el-Karmil, identified as the
biblical Carmel, religious Jews uncomfortable with pagan symbols moved 2 km south-west to the present Susya, which they
perhaps already farmed, and that, while they still regarded their new community as Carmel, the name was lost when the
village's fortunes declined in the early Arab period, perhaps because the new Muslim overlords would not have tolerated its
economy, which was based on wine.
The site, in Arabic Khirbet Susiya/Susiyeh, "Ruin of the Liquorice Plant" was first described by V. Guérin in 1869, who first
recognized its importance. The spelling Susya represents the Hebrew name, as determined by the Israeli Naming
committee. In the Survey of Western Palestine, based on an observation in 1875 on the area of the southeastern slope of a
hill west of Susya, Charles Warren and Claude Conder labeled Susya as an 'Important public structure'. German accounts later
stated that it was a remnant of an ancient church. In 1937, the building to the north was identified by L. A. Meyer and A.
Reifenberg as the site of a synagogue.
The site was examined by Shemarya Gutman in 1969, who uncovered it during a trial dig the narthex of a synagogue. He,
together with Ze'ev Yeivin and Ehud Netzer, then conducted the Israeli excavations at Khirbet Suseya, (subsequently named by
a Hebrew calque as Horvat Susya) over 1971-1972, by the Palestinian village of Susiya Al-Qadime.
Such remains are intriguing because so far no excavations have uncovered undisputed evidence for synagogues before the 2nd
century CE in Judea. The excavated synagogue dates from the 4th to the 7th century CE and was in continuous use until the 9th
century CE. It is one of four of an architecturally unique group in the Southern Judean Hills, of the six
synagogues identified in Judea as a whole, the lower number probably reflecting a shift in the Jewish population from Judah
to Galilee in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. The other three of this distinctive group are those of Eshtemoa, Horvat Maon, and
'Anim. Three outstanding characteristics of the Susya-Eshtemoa group, group are their width, entrances at the short
eastern wall, and the absence of columns to support the roof 
According to David Amit, the architectural design, particularly the eastern entrance and axis of prayer, which differ from
the majority of Galilean synagogues, exhibits the ramifications of the earliest halakhic law conserved in southern Judea for
generations after the destruction of the Temple. This was forgotten in Galilee, but in Judea there was a closer adherence to
older traditions reflecting closer proximity to Jerusalem. The eastern orientation may be also related to the idea of
dissuading heretics and Christians in the same area, who bowed to the east, in the belief that the Shekinah lay in that
The synagogue was built as a broadhouse, rather than along basilica lines,, measuring 9 by 16 metres (27 by 48
feet built in well-wrought ashlar construction, with triple doorway façade in an eastward orientation, and the bema and
niche at the centre of the northern wall. There was a secondary bema in the eastern section. Unlike other synagogues in Judea
this had a gallery, made while reinforcing the western wall. East of the synagogue was an open courtyard surrounded on three
sides by a roofed portico. The western side opened to the synagogue’s narthex, and floor of narthex composed of coloured
mosaics set in an interlaced pattern. This model was of short duration, yielding in the late Byzantine phase (6th/7th) to the
basilica form, already elsewhere dominant in synagogue architecture.
In contrast to most Galilean synagogues with their façade and Torah shrine on the same Jerusalem-oriented wall, the Judean
synagogue at Susya, (as well as Esthtemoa and Maon) has the niche on the northern Jerusalem-oriented wall and entrances on
the east side wall. The synagogue floor of white tesserae has three mosaic panels, the eastern one a Torah Shrine, two
menorahs, one on a screen relief showing two lamps  suspended from a bar between the menorah’s upper branches,,
perhaps, since the Torah shrine flanked by lampstands, symbolizing both a connection between the synagogue and the Temple
for spotlighting the bema and giving light for scriptural readings, were by the reverse mirroring of the menorah pattern in
the mosaics, heightened the central significance of the Torah shrine in the hall a lulav, and an etrog with columns on
each side. Next to the columns is a landscape with deers ands rams. The central panel composed of geometric and floral
patterns. A spoke-wheel design before the central bema, has led Gutman to believed it is the remnant of a zodiac wheel.
Zodaic mosaics are important witness to the time, since they were systematically suppressed by the Church, and, their
frequent construction in Palestinian synagogue floors may be an index of 'the "inculturation" of non-Jewish imagery and its
resulting Judaization' . The fragmentary state of the wheel mosaic is due to its replacement by a much cruder geometric
pavement pattern, indicative of a desire to erase what later came to be thought of as objectionable imagery.
A motif that probably represented Daniel in the lion's den, as in the mosaics discovered at Naaran near Jericho and Ein
Samsam in the Golan was also tesselated, surviving only most fragmentarily. The figure, in an orans stance, flanked
by lions, was scrubbed from the mosaics in line with later trends, in what Fine calls a ‘new aesthetic’ at Khirbet Susiya,
one that refurbished the designs to suppress iconographic forms thought by later generations to be objectionable. We can only
reconstruct the allusion to Daniel from the remaining final Hebrew letters remaining, namely -el, אל.
Another unique feature is number of inscriptions. Four were laid in mosaics: two in Hebrew, attesting perhaps to its
conservation as a spoken language in this region and two in Aramaic. Nineteen fragmentary inscriptions, some of which
were in Greek, were etched into the marble of the building. From these dedicatory inscriptions the impression is given
that the synagogue was run by donors  rather than by priests (kōhen).
The abandoned synagogue, or its atrium or courtyard, was converted to a mosque around the 10th century. A niche on the
northern wall used as a mihrab/mahrab dates to Saladin's time, according to local tradition. In the 12th–13th
centuries Crusaders garrisoned at nearby Chermala and Eshtemoa, and, in their wake, a few families, moved into the ruins to
exploit the rich agricultural land.
The settlement on the hill contiguous to the synagogue seems to have once had a thriving economy. A fine store has been
excavated from its ruins. It seems to have undergone a decline in the second half of the fourth century, and again in the
sixth century. Some speak of abandonment though the evidence from the synagogue suggests continuity into the medieval period.
If you notice a broken link or any error PLEASE report it by clicking HERE
© 1995-2016 Bible History Online