Horvat Sumaqa

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Dates Excavated:



Shimon Dar

Archaeological Information: Area 1, Phase V and IV

Date of Building Construction:

Phase I: 3rd century[951]
Phase II: 5th-7th century[952]

Place of Building in Settlement:
At about two-thirds of the way up the south slope of the Sumaqa hill, not noticeable above its surroundings. [953]

Building Description:
Phase I (=Phase V on the excavation site): A basilica building with two rows of five columns. There were three entrances in the eastern façade wall. The floor was covered in coarse chalk and plaster. Phase II (=Phase IV on the excavation site): The hall was made smaller by “thickening” the south and north walls. Part of the north entrance in the east wall was blocked by a new bench along the north wall. Some changes were also made to the western side of the building, including creating a courtyard surrounded by small rooms, but the exact plan is unclear. At some point, a narthex was added to the east of the main hall, with a bench and a platform identified as a bemah by the northern wall.[954] According to the excavators, it is unclear if this building was still used as a synagogue, although two menorah inscriptions found elsewhere in the settlement suggest a continuous Jewish settlement.[955] The floor was covered with stone slabs.

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First Deposit

Date Excavated: 1983-1990

Deposit Location:

Between the stone paving slabs in the narthex

Archaeological Information:

Phase II, Locus 1 and Locus 151

Certain association with the building itself? Yes

Deposit Retrievable? No

Deposit Type: IB6

Deposit Description:

Based on the different publications on the Sumaqa synagogue and the coins discovered, determining the number of coins found in the eastern narthex as well as their exact locus can be very confusing. In his first preliminary reports, Shimon Dar mentions that “between the stone paving slabs in Locus 151 a hoard of six interfused coins was found.”[956] In the final report published in 1999, however, he describes Locus 151 as a “thick layer of remains dating to the medieval period” on top of the floor.[957] On page 22, Dar mentions that a deposit of six coins was found between the paving slabs of the flagstone floor in the northern area of the eastern narthex of the synagogue belonging to Locus 286. But on page 28 Dar mentions that there were thirty 5th-, six 6th– and one 7th– century coins found between the cracks of the paving stones in the narthex of the synagogue in Locus 286.
To make things even more confusing, in the coin catalogue by Arie Kindler, in Appendix 6 of the excavation report, no coins are mentioned from Locus 286. Instead, he mentions three coins from Locus 151 (No. 11, 17, and 22, dated to the 4th century). However, the description of the coins in the 1999 report according to which “The earliest coin was one of Justin II (565-578 CE) and the latest of Heraclius I (610-641 CE), minted in Nicomedia in 618/619 CE” were found between the cracks of the narthex floor, corresponds best to the coins attributed to Locus 1 in the final numismatic report: Nos. 56, 57, 58, and 59. This locus is described as another layer of remains dated to the medieval period on top of the floor. It is thus unclear which coins were found between the pavement stones of the synagogue, and which came from a layer on top of the floor.

After personal communications, things became a bit clearer. The thirty coins mentioned in the 1999 publication were erroneously attributed Locus 286: this is an incorrect translation from Hebrew to English and should be three coins. Furthermore, Locus 286 contained a small hoard of 7 coins, but this group is not associated with the synagogue but with a later phase: the medieval layer on top of the floor. Finally, Loci 1, 151, and 286 were indeed the same area of the building, but each number indicates a different season of work. Only Locus 1 and Locus 151 indicate the same context: the pavement of the northern area of the eastern narthex. Here, a total of 11 coins was discovered between the stones. This is the coin deposit that is described as “the hoard coming from in between the paving slabs of the Byzantine synagogue of Horvat Sumaqa.”

Container Present? No

Description of Coins:
Currently, the Sumaqa coins are held by one of the former field supervisors of the Sumaqa excavations, Yigal ben Ephraim, who lives on a kibbutz in the Golan. I was able to visit the kibbutz in the fall of 2019 and look at the coins myself. After going through hundreds of coins, I was able to find 6 from Locus 1 that seem to fit the descriptions given by Arie Kindler, and another 5 from Locus 151 or the pavement in the northern part of the eastern narthex. No envelopes were found that indicate coins from Locus 286. Thus, this database contains information on 11 coins from the Sumaqa narthex deposit.[958]
The eleven coins have a broad range in dates, from 318-320 CE to 610-613 CE, with five coins from the 4th century, three from the 6th century, and three from the 7th century (it did not contain any coins from the 5th century). However, there are clearly two clusters, with all the 4th century coins coming from Locus 151, and the 6th-7th century coins coming from Locus 1; perhaps these were separate groups after all? The coins from Locus 151 are of Constantine I, Constantius I and Constantius Gallus, while the coins of Locus 1 can be attributed to Justin II, Maurice (Tiberius), and Heraclius I. All the coins are from eastern mints, except for one Constantius II coin from Rome.


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Conspectus Table:

Conspectus table Horvat Sumaqa, Deposit 1. This table can be seen in full screen by clicking the icon on the bottom right. For more details on the specific coins in each row, please hover over the numbers.

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Second Deposit

Date Excavated: 1983-1990

Deposit Location:

In a small, natural cave underneath the northern part of the west wall

Archaeological Information:

Locus 171

Certain association with the building itself? No

Deposit Retrievable? Yes

Deposit Type: IA2

Deposit Description:

A small, natural cave measuring 2.10 X 2.40 meters and 1.70 meters high was discovered under the northern part of the west wall (W15) of the building.[959] Inside the cave stood a row of ashlars, five stones long and three stones high, of the same make-up as the other walls of the building. The cave was full of yellowish-grey chalk, typical of the region, together with a group of metal, bone, and stone vessels. These objects include a bronze cosmetics spoon, a bone cosmetic stick, a bronze pin, a spindle whorl of black stone, iron working tools, two large nails with a rectangular cross-section, and three coins dated to the first half of the 4th century. It seems that the entire assemblage is contemporary in date. According to the excavators, the workmen constructing the building could have filled the cave with rubble and blocked it, but they did not. Was the cave still in use at the same time as the synagogue?

Container Present? No

Description of Coins:
The three coins from Locus 171 appear in the coin catalogue of the final publication.[960] However, only limited data are provided: emperor, minting place, and reverse type. All three coins can be dated to the 4th century, including a coin of Licinius II (Antioch) and a coin of Constantius II.[961] According to the excavators, all the coins from the synagogue at Sumaqa are kept at the house of Yigal ben Ephraim, but after checking (and double-checking), there were no coin envelopes from Locus 171. It is unclear what happened to these coins.

Conspectus Table:

Conspectus table Horvat Sumaqa, Deposit 2. This table can be seen in full screen by clicking the icon on the bottom right. For more details on the specific coins in each row, please hover over the numbers.

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– Hüttenmeister F. & Reeg G., 1977, Die Antiken Synagogen in Israel, 2 vols., Wiesbaden: L. Reichert, pp. 419-420
– Chiat M., 1982, Handbook of Synagogue Architecture, Chico: Scholars Press, pp. 161-163
– Dar S., 1988, “Horvat Sumaqa: Settlement from the Roman and Byzantine Periods in the Carmel,” in: Bulletin of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society, Vol. 8, pp. 34-48
– Dar. S. & Mintzker Y., 1989, “The synagogue of Horvat Sumaqa,” in: Hachlili R. (ed.), Ancient Synagogues in Israel: Third-Seventh century C.E., BAR International Series 449, Oxford, pp. 17-20
– Ilan Z., 1991, Ancient Synagogues in Israel, Tel Aviv: Ministry of Defence, pp. 231-233 (Hebrew)
– Dar S., 1993, “Horvat Sumaqa,” in: NEAEHL, pp. 1412-1415
– Dar S. & Mintzker Y., 1995, “The Synagogue of Horvat Sumaqa, 1983-1993,” in: Urman D. & Flesher P. (eds.), Ancient Synagogues: Historical Analysis and Archaeological Discovery, Vol. 1, Leiden: Brill, pp. 157-165
– Dar S., 1998, Sumaqa: A Jewish Village on the Carmel, Tel Aviv (Hebrew)
– Dauphin C. 1998, La Palestine Byzantine: Peuplement et Population, Oxford, Vol. 3, pp. 690-691
– Dar S., 1999, Sumaqa: A Roman and Byzantine Village on Mount Carmel, BAR International Series 815, Israel: Archaeopress
– Turnheim Y., 1999, “The Design and the Architectural Ornaments of the Synagogue at Horvat Sumaqa,” in: Sumaqa: A Roman and Byzantine Village on Mount Carmel, BAR International Series 815, Israel: Archaeopress, pp. 233-261
– Milson D., 2007, Art and Architecture of the Synagogue in Late Antique Palestine: in the Shadow of the Church, Leiden/Boston, pp. 402-404
– Spigel C., 2012, Ancient Synagogue Seating Capacities: Methodology, Analysis and Limits, Mohr Siebeck, pp. 248-251
– Hachlili R., 2013, Ancient Synagogues: Archaeology and Art: New Discoveries and Current Research, Leiden: Brill, pp. 122-124, 442, 553-554


The Bornblum Eretz Israel Synagogues Website:


[951] However, this date is mainly based on the synagogue’s architecture and its comparison to other synagogues in the Hellenistic-Roman world (Dar 1999, p. 31). The numismatic evidence suggests a later date. The coins found in cave Locus 171, for example, date to the 4th century and were found next to the foundation wall of the building (see below). If they were placed there before or at the same time as the construction of the first phase of the building, then the synagogue should date to middle of the 4th century or later.

[952] Dar 1999, p. 32: “It is reasonable to assign the second phase to a period extending between the fifth and the first half of the seventh centuries AD.” No further explanations for this construction date are given in the publication report. However, field supervisor Yigal Ben Ephraim believes that the first phase building was destroyed in a fire in 408 CE, based on the dates of coins from under a burnt destruction layer found around the site, perhaps connected to one of the Samaritan revolts (personal communication). This provides a possible terminus post quem for the second phase of the building, but would contradict the numismatic evidence from cave Locus 171.

[953] The site of Sumaqa has attracted visitors and researchers since Victor Guérin described the site, including the synagogue, in 1870. The building and surrounding areas was subsequently researched by the British Survey of Western Palestine in 1873, Laurence Oliphant in the 1880s, Kohl and Watzinger in 1905 and 1916, von Mülinen in 1908, the staff of the Mandatory Department of Antiquities in 1929, Frankel in 1954, Zaharoni and Weger in 1966, the Archaeological Survey of Israel in 1968, Gideon Foerster in 1972, Hüttenmeister and Reeg in 1977, and Kloner and Olami in 1980. Comprehensive excavations of the building, however, were only started by Shimon Dar in 1983 (Dar 1988, p. 34; Dar 1999, pp. 8-10, p. 17).

[954] I do not believe that this platform was used as a bemah as no other examples of bemot have been found in synagogues in Israel/Palestine in a narthex or side room of the building instead of in the main hall. Perhaps it was the location of a handwashing installation or a platform for a menorah?

[955] Dar 1999, p. 32 notes “perhaps only a part of the building was used as a synagogue, and the other parts, including the courtyard and the additional rooms, as residential areas. This is suggested by the mixture of common pottery with large quantities of bones of edible animals found there.” Field supervisor Yigal Ben Ephraim does not believe this second phase building was still a synagogue (personal communication).

[956] Dar and Mintzker 1989, p. 19.

[957] Dar 1999, p. 25. In Dar’s article from 1988 he mentions that “a small coin hoard was discovered in a gap between the poorly-laid paving stones close to the façade of the synagogue” (Dar 1988, p. 40).

[958] I would like to thank Yigal Ben Ephraim for opening his house to me, and Yaniv Sfez from the IAA for being my Hebrew translator during the meeting and for his help with the identification of these coins.

[959] Dar 1999, p. 23; p. 29.

[960] Dar 1998, p. 377 (Hebrew); Dar 1999, p. 350, coins analyzed by Arie Kindler.

[961] In this catalogue, the reign of these emperors is given as a minting date. Further analysis of these coins would probably give a more exact date.