The village known as Susya is found a few miles south of the city of Hebron. The site was excavated first after the six-days war and an ancient synagogue was found. Between the years of 1984-1987 more thorough excavations were held and many interesting facts were discovered in the village and in the synagogue.
We know that the synagogue of Susya is one of four that were found in the area, all dated to the Byzantine period and early Arab period: from 3rd century to 9th century AD.
We know of many synagogues from that period in the north of Israel, mostly in the Galilee and Golan Heights. But the one in Susya is so unique, that it raises many questions about the people that were living in that village.
The findings of Susya
The synagogue of Susya and the other three synagogues in the area are very distinct.
First the plan of the building: Almost all synagogues in the north of the country have a rectangle shape with a Basilica plan. They are built on a North-South axis, and the people were praying to the south toward the direction of Jerusalem.
In the four synagogues in the area of Susya, the people were praying toward the north, which is the direction of Jerusalem, but the Synagogue of Susya itself is built as a rectangle with East-West axis. Although it has a basilica plan, it does not have two rows of columns that are very typical to synagogues or churches built in the Byzantine period.
As this is very unique, we cannot tell for sure what is the reason for this different plan. Some scholars believe that this is due to the different culture among the Jews in south of Judea that were remote from the Jews of the Galilee.
In almost all synagogues in the country from the Byzantine period, there are dedication inscriptions that mention the name of people that contributed the to building. The inscriptions are generally written in Aramaic or Greek. In Susya we see some inscriptions that are written in Hebrew, which is rare.
More than 40 Mikva’s (Jewish ritual baths) were found in the small village of Susya. This is very unique in the Byzantine period: In the Second Temple period we know of many Mikva’s in Jerusalem and also in Qumran. But in the Byzantine period there is no other example of so many Mikva’s as in Susya.
Menorahs were found in Susya in many forms: Engraved on stones, on mosaic in the floor of the Synagogue and one very special: a real Menorah that was probably used for ritual ceremonies in the Synagogue and that imitates the menorah of the Temple that was already destroyed at that time.
What do scholars say about the people of Susya
What can we tell about the people of Susya?
We know that at the time they lived there, the center of the Jewish life in the country was in the north – The Galilee. So they were probably separated, not completely, but far enough to have their own customs. This can explain the writing in Hebrew, and the different plan of the synagogue.
So what is the issue of the Mikvahs? more than 40 of them? and the Menorahs?
So this may have been a community of very devoted people.
Some scholars suggest that they saw themselves as priests, and maybe referred to the Cohen and the Zadok families of priests.
We cannot be really sure. When you find a unique archeological finding that is not known in any other locations, it is really hard to conclude about the meaning of it.
Yet another theory
There was another inscription that was found on the floor of the synagogue of Susya that may suggest another solution.
The inscription is a short Aramaic verse that look like a simple dedication inscription.
The translation to English is:
… be mentioned for good the comforter Yeshua the witness …
There are several interesting things about this short sentence:
One, the name Yeshua. This was probably a common name in that time, but it is also the name of Jesus from Nazareth.
Second: The adjectives “Comforter”. It is not common to call a person that contributed to a building “comforter”. We do not see this in other places.
And third, the word “witness” that can be better translated to “the one who testifies”. Again, not a word you expect to describe a person that gave money.
One idea that some people came with is that the people living in Susya were in fact Jews that believed that Yeshua was the Messiah of Israel.
It is not unlikely that there were Jews believing in Yeshua living in the country in that period, as those were Jews from Israel that started the movement of Christianity in the first place.
We probably will not be able to prove one or the other theories about the people of ancient Susya, but we can come to the place and enjoy its beauty and the remarkable findings there.