<tr class="mergedrow"> <td colspan="2" align="center">
Israel outline south wb
Red pog.svg

</td> </tr>

Founded 1983
Council Har Hebron
Affiliation Amana
Coordinates 31°23′30.67″N 35°6′44.45″E / 31.3918528°N 35.1123472°E / 31.3918528; 35.1123472Coordinates: 31°23′30.67″N 35°6′44.45″E / 31.3918528°N 35.1123472°E / 31.3918528; 35.1123472

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 Israeli communal settlement, under the jurisdiction of Har Hebron Regional Council, established in 1983.


Susiya, 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.[1] It is thought by some to correspond to the Biblical Carmel (Josh 15.5), a proposal made by Avraham Negev.[2][3] 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 Susiya, 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.[4] [5]

Susia synagoque

View of the synagogue

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.[6][7] The spelling Susya represents the Hebrew name, as determined by the Israeli Naming committee.[8] In the Survey of Western Palestine, based on an observation in 1875 on the area of the southeastern slope of a hill west of Susiya, Charles Warren and Claude Conder labeled Susieh as an 'Important public structure'. German accounts later stated that it was a remnant of an ancient church.[9] In 1937, the building to the north was identified by L. A. Meyer and A. Reifenberg as the site of a synagogue.[7]

The site was examined by Shemarya Gutman in 1969, who uncovered in 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,[7][10][11] by the Palestinian village of Susiya Al-Qadime.


Roller Stone in the synagogue of Susiya

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,[12][13] and was in continuous use until the 9th century CE.[14] It is one of four of an architecturally unique group in the Southern Judean Hills,[15] 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.[16] The other three of this distinctive group are those of Eshtemoa, Horvat Maon, and 'Anim.[15] Three outstanding characteristics of the Susiya-Eshtemoa group, group are their width, entrances at the short eastern wall, and the absence of columns to support the roof [17]

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, while it forgotten in Galilee, an adherence to older traditions reflecting closer proximity to Jerusalem.[18] 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 direction.[19]


Interior of the synagogue

The synagogue was built as a broadhouse, rather than along basilica lines,[20][21], measuring 9 by 16 metres (27 by 48 feet[22] 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.[23] This model was of short duration, yielding in the late Byzantine phase (6th/7th) to the basilica form, already elsewhere dominant in synagogue architecture. [24]

In contrast to most Galilean synagogues with their façade and Torah shrine on the same Jerusalem-oriented wall, the Judean synagogue at Susiya, as Esthtemoa and Maon has the niche on the northern Jerusalem-oriented wall and entrances on the east side wall.[25] 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 [26] suspended from a bar between the menorah’s upper branches,[27], perhaps, since the Torah shrine flanked by lampstands, symbolizing both a connection between the synagogue and the Temple[28] 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[29] 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' [30]. 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.[31][32]

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[33][34] 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, Template:Rtl-lang.[35]

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[36] and two in Aramaic. Nineteen fragmentary inscriptions, some of which were in Greek,[37] were etched into the marble of the building.[38] From these dedicatory inscriptions the impression is given that the synagogue was run by donors [39] rather than by priests (kōhen).[40]

The abandoned synagogue, or its atrium or courtyard, was converted to a mosque around the 10th century.[7][41] A niche on the northern wall used as a mihrab/mahrab dates to Saladin's time, [42] according to local tradition.[43] In the 12th–13th centuries Crusaders garrisoned nearby Chermala and Eshtemoa, and, in their wake, a few families moved into the ruins to exploit the rich agricultural land.[44]

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[45]. 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. [46]

Modern era: Resettlement and conflict

The Israeli settlement, which as of 2006 has a population of 737, was established between May and September 1983, on 1,800 dunams of land.[47][48][49]

According to the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem, this land was confiscated from the village of Yatta next to the Palestinian village of Susya, from which a dozen local families had been expelled to make way for the archeological park.[48] A major expansion of the new settlement began on 18th of September 1999, when its boundaries expanded northwards and eastwards, with the Palestinian Shreiteh family allegedly losing roughly 150 more dunams.[48]

The Palestinians that remain in the area live in tents on a small rocky hill between the settlement and the archeological park which is located within walking distance.[50][51][52] Ten caves inhabited by Susya Palestinian families were blown up by the IDF in 1996, and some 113 tents were destroyed in 1998. It is alleged that official documents asking them to leave the area address them generically as 'intruders' (polesh/intruder).[53] Most of the rain-catching water cisterns used by the local Palestinian farmers of Susya were demolished by the Israeli army in 1999 and 2001. A local Susya resident told Amnesty International,

'Water is life ; without water we can’t live; not us, not the animals, or the plants. Before we had some water, but after the army destroyed everything we have to bring water from far away ; it’s very difficult and expensive. They make our life very difficult, to make us leave.'[54]

In 2001, a shepherd and resident of the Israeli settlement of Susya, Yair Har Sinai, was murdered by local Palestinians.[55] The murderers were later arrested and one was sentenced to life imprisonment. The IDF then evicted the 300 Palestinians in the area, demolishing some of their makeshift homes. They have sought redress in an Israeli court.[56] The settlers regularly harass their Palestinian neighbours, uprooting their olive trees, shooting their sheep and threatening the citizens. They are often supported in this by the Israeli army.[57][58]

While the Israeli settlement has mains power and piped water from Israel, the Palestinians depend on solar panels and wind turbine energy made possible by a Palestinian/Israeli NGO – Comet - and on wells.[59] This project has been shortlisted for the BBC World Challenge which highlighted the involvement of two Israeli physicists, Elad Orian and Noam Dotan.[60]


  1. Zeev Safrai, The Missing Century: Palestine in the fifth century:growth and decline, Peeters Publishers 1998 p. 101
  2. Günter Stemberger, Jews and Christians in the Holy Land: Palestine in the fourth century, tr. Ruth Tuschling, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2000 p. 151
  3. Avraham Negev, Shimon Gibson, Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land, rev. ed. Continuum International Publishing Group, 2005 p.484
  4. 1 Samuel:25
  5. Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, The Holy Land: an Oxford archaeological guide from earliest times to 1700,5th ed. Oxford University Press US, 2008 pp.351-354, p.351
  6. Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, The Holy Land: an Oxford archaeological guide from earliest times to 1700, 5th ed. Oxford University Press US, 2008 p. 351
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Avraham Negev, Shimon Gibson Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land, ibid. p. 482
  8. 'A unique case is Susya. The existence of the ancient Jewish town was unknown in Jewish sources, but was discovered in archaeological excavations . . . the settlers are not free to decide on the names chosen: the National naming Committee of the Prime Minister's Office has that responsibility and considers various factors. The settlers, however, being well acquainted with the territory and its history, play a significant role in the decision.' Michael Feige, Settling in the Hearts: Fundamentalism, Time, and Space in Judea and Samaria, Wayne State University Press, 2009, pp. 75–76
  9. Vilnai, Ze'ev (1978). "Susiya—Judea". Ariel Encyclopedia. Volume 6. Tel Aviv, Israel: Am Oved. pp. 5352–5353.  (Hebrew)
  10. David Amit, 'Architectural plans of Synagogues in the Southern Judean Hills and the 'Halakah'.' In Dan Urman, Paul Virgil McCracken Flesher, Ancient Synagogues: historical analysis and archaeological discovery, Brill, 1998 pp. 129–156 p.132.
  11. David Milson, Art and architecture of the synagogue in late antique Palestine: in the shadow of the church,Brill, 2007 p.56
  12. Post-byzantine according to the language of an inscription. See Zeev Safrai, The Missing Century: Palestine in the fifth century : growth and decline, Peeters Publishers 1998 p.149
  13. ‘The synagogue is tentatively dated to the end of the 4th-beginning of the 7th.century AD, and was used as a Jewish prayer house until the 9th century.’ Avraham Negev, Shimon Gibson Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land, ibid. p.482
  14. Miriam Schmitt, Linda Kulzer, Mary Michael Kaliher Medieval women monastics: wisdom's wellsprings, Liturgical Press, 1996 p. 47, p. 49
  15. 15.0 15.1 David Amit, 'Architectural plans of Synagogues in the Southern Judean Hills and the 'Halakah'.' ibid p. 129.
  16. Miriam Schmitt, Linda Kulzer, Mary Michael Kaliher, Medieval women monastics: wisdom's wellsprings,ibid. pp. 48–49
  17. David Amit, 'Architectural plans of Synagogues in the Southern Judean Hills and the 'Halakah'.' Ibid. p. 138
  18. David Amit, ibid pp. 148–155, pp. 148, 152
  19. p. 146
  20. ‘Uniquely Jewish adaptations of Christian architecture did . .occur. The synagogues at Khirbet Shema, in the Upper Galilee,, Horvat Rimmon 1 in the southern Shephelah, at Eshtemoa, and Khirbet Susiya . .were built as broadhouses and not as longhouse basilicas. In these buildings, the basilica form is turned on its side, and the focal point of the synagogue is the wide wall of the hall. Benches were built round the interior walls of these synagogues, focusing attention on the centre of the room. This architecture is a continuation of the house-synagogues that literary sources suggests existed from the second and third centuries.’ Steven Fine, Art and Judaism in the Greco-Roman world: toward a new Jewish archaeology, Cambridge University Press, 2005 p.88
  21. Eric M. Meyers, Galilee through the centuries: cultures in conflict, Eisenbrauns 1999 p.233
  22. Avraham Negev, Shimon Gibson,Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land, ibid.p.482
  23. Medieval women monastics, p.48
  24. David Amit, ‘Architectural plans of Synagogues in the Southern Judean Hills and the ‘Halakah’.’ p.156
  25. Rachel Hachlili, ‘Jewish Art and Iconography in the Land of Israel,’ in Suzanne Richard (ed.), Near Eastern Archeology: A Reader, Eisenbrauns, 2003 pp.445-454 p.449
  26. or incense censers. See Steven Fine, ibid. p.195
  27. Rachel Hachlili, The menorah, the ancient seven-armed candelabrum: origin, form, and significance, Brill 2001, pp.67,228. For its reconstruction see p.53.
  28. Steven Fine, p.195
  29. Eric M. Meyers Galilee through the centuries: confluence of cultures, Eisenbrauns, 1999 p.231
  30. Steven Fine, Art and Judaism in the Greco-Roman world, pp.196-7
  31. Steven Fine, ibid.p.95
  32. John Brian Harley, David Woodward, The History of Cartography: Cartography in prehistoric, ancient, and medieval Europe and the Mediterranean, Humana Press, 1987 p.266. ‘since mosaics were disapproved of by the Jews as graven images, they were both removed. In other mosaics of the Byzantine period from the Holy Land, the zodiac is represented only by the names of its signs rather than by their graphic representations’.
  33. Steven Fine, ‘Archeology and the Interpretation of Rabbinic Literature: Some Thoughts’ in Matthew Kraus (ed.) How should rabbinic literature be read in the modern world? , Gorgias Press LLC, 2006 pp.199-217 p.214
  34. Eric Meyers, Galilee through the centuries, ibid.p.232
  35. Steven Fine, ibid.p.96. Fine speculates whether reluctance to erase these letters reflects a religious reluctance among iconoclasts to delete letters that spell out the Divine name El, for, again highlighting the distinctiveness of the synagogue, 'in no instance does an explicit Divine name appear in any Jewish synagogue inscription.'
  36. David Amit, ibid.pp.152-3
  37. The Israel yearbook, Zionist Organization of America, Jewish Agency for Israel. Economic Dept. Israel Yearbook Publications, 1981 p.120
  38. Medieval women monastics: wisdom's wellsprings, p.48
  39. in Aramaicbenei qartah, in Hebrew benei ha’ir (sons of the town), especially of residents of a small agrarian village. See Stuart S. Miller, 'Sages and commoners in late antique ʼEreẓ Israel: a philological inquiry into local traditions' in Peter Schäfer, Catherine Hezser (eds.), The Talmud Yerushalmi and Graeco-Roman culture, Mohr Siebeck, 1998 p.65
  40. Meyers, Galilee throughout the centuries, ibid.p.265. The ‘rabbi’ in these epigraphs appears to be an honorific for ‘master’, and the role of such rabbis in the synagogue seems to have been that of being donors. For an early dating based on the rare ‘qedushat’ (to his holiness’) address used in amora’im correspondence (qedushat mari rabbi Issi ha-cohen ha-mehubad berabi) see Aharon Oppenheimer, ‘The Attempt of Hananiah, Son of Rabbi Joshua’s Brother, to Intercalate the Year in Babylonia’ in Peter Schäfer, Catherine Hezser (eds.), The Talmud Yerushalmi and Graeco-Roman culture, ibid. pp.255-264 p.260; A'haron Oppenheimer, Nili Oppenheimer, Between Rome and Babylon: studies in Jewish leadership and society, Mohr Siebeck, 2005 p.389, sets it in the amoraic period.
  41. ,Medieval Women monastics, ibid. p. 47
  42. Daniel Jacobs, Shirley Eber, Francesca Silvani, Israel and the Palestinian Territories. 2nd ed. Rough Guides, 1998 p. 414
  43. David Amit, 'Architectural plans of Synagogues in the Southern Judean Hills and the 'Halakah'.' p. 132
  44. Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, The Holy Land: an Oxford archaeological guide from earliest times to 1700, 5th ed. Oxford University Press US, 2008 p. 351
  45. See the drawing of the reconstruction and groundplan in Zeev Safrai, The economy of Roman Palestine, Routledge, 1994 p.127
  46. Zeev Safrai, The Missing Century,ibid. p.149
  47. 'Israeli Settlements in Gaza and the West Bank (Including Jerusalem) Their Nature and Purpose, Part II, United Nations, New York 1984
  48. 48.0 48.1 48.2 Applied Research Institute Jerusalem, (ARIJ), 18 September,1999
  49. אודות סוסיא
  50. Ehud Krinis, David Shulman and Neve Gordon‘Facing an Imminent Threat of Expulsion’, CounterPunch June 22, 2007
  51. David Dean Shulman,Dark hope: working for peace in Israel and Palestine, University of Chicago Press, 2007 pp.37f.
  52. 'Susya is one example of depopulating and repopulating areas. Susya was a village of permanent cave homes, one among numerous such villages in the area of al-Khalil (Hebron). Twenty years ago, the cave dwellers of Susya were evacuated from their original village on the pretext of archeological digs in the area. Some of the evacuees went to live on their lands close to the Israeli settlement which was founded a short time before. Five years ago the Israeli army destroyed the caves of these families, and since then they continued to live there in impermanent and improvised housing.(Krinis and Dunayevsky 2006)’, Deborah Cowen, Emily Gilbert, War, Citizenship, Territory, Routledge, London 2007 p.322
  53. Amnesty International. Israel-rapport 17.09.2001
  54. Amnesty International,’Wire’ Vol.39, Issue 001, February/March 2009 p.7
  55. 6 years later: Life sentence for Palestinian who murdered Israeli
  56. 'The state admitted the demolition was executed illegally. Justice Procaccia said that "the state did not establish a legal procedure which would allow for a building permit, hence the state is not carrying out its duties and is creating a situation under which a human's basic existence becomes impossible." Justice Hayut pointed to the absurdity of the situation, saying "the state admits an unauthorized action was carried out, which resulted in the demolition of structures that constituted the bare minimum in living conditions."Yuval Yoaz, Court: Palestinian homes in southern Hebron Hills can stay, Haaretz 08/09/2004
  57. Settlers attach Palestinians at Susya
  58. Shulman, 2007, pp. 57-63.
  59. Susya Sustainable Energy Project
  60. BBC World Challenge

External links


Ad blocker interference detected!

Wikia is a free-to-use site that makes money from advertising. We have a modified experience for viewers using ad blockers

Wikia is not accessible if you’ve made further modifications. Remove the custom ad blocker rule(s) and the page will load as expected.