>  Top Tour Destinations in Northern Israel   >  Hippos-Sussita, the Decapolis and Jesus

Set on a hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee, the city of Hippos (from Greek: Horse) prospered in Greco-Roman times. The town thrived for over a millennium but declined after the Muslim conquest and finally abandoned after an earthquake in 749 CE. Known also as Sussita, today, Hippos is an archeological site rich in finds, yet rarely visited by tour groups.

History of Hippos Sussita

Apperently the Seleucid Greeks founded Hippos in the second century BCE. In Roman times, Hippos became a member of the Decapolis, a cultural treaty of ten cities affiliated with Greco-Roman culture. The town enjoyed unprecedented prosperity in the 2nd century AD after the Roman oppression of two Jewish revolts. A main street (Decumanus) ran across the city, with a water channel (aqueduct) running beneath it. It provided water to the city’s bathhouse and a water reservoir under the city’s central court (forum). An imperial shrine (kyble), a council hall (odeon), a central public hall (Basilica), and a theatre crowned the central court. From the 4th century AD Hippos became the seat of a bishop and had at least five churches. Despite its protected location and defenses, the Muslims conquered the city in 641 AD. The city gradually declined and abandoned after the 749 AD earthquake.

The Rediscovery of Hippos Sussita

In 1885, Gottlieb Schumacher mapped the site, yet he mistakenly identified it with Gamla. During the 1948 Israeli-Arab War, Syrian forces camped at hippos to bombard Kibbutz Ein-Gev. In return, on the night of June 17-18, 1948, the commander of Ein Gev, 25-year-old Meir Kothenski, devised a daring raid to conquer the mountain. In the 1950s, an Israeli expedition conducted the first excavations at the site. A joint Israeli-Polish-American expedition resumed the excavations at the turn of the 21st century and are carried out to this day.

Touring Hippos Sussita

The site is accessed by a path from it southeastern end, which passes between minefields. Aside from the wealth of archaeological finds, the site provides the most stunning panoramas of the Sea of Galilee and its surroundings.

Is Hippos-Sussita Referred to In the New Testament?

Like Sepphoris, Hippos is not named in the New Testament. However, several references in the Gospels seem to relate to the site.

A. After performing the Miracle of the Swine, the Gospel of Luke records that the healed man “went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.”  (Luke 8:39, cf. Mark 5:14, Matthew:34). The miracle of the Swine is identified at Kursi, 3 miles northwest of Hippos, which is also its nearest town. Being so, it is likely that Hippos is the “town” referred to in the Miracle of the Swine. If so, Sussita is also the first city where people proclaimed Jesus among Pagans.

B. Although not mentioned by name, Hippos might also be referred to in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Stating that “A city that is on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14), Jesus perhaps even pointed to Hippos to illustrate the message.

C. In 2019, the archaeological expedition unearthed a fifth Byzantine-era church in Hippos. Among others, its mosaic floor depicted a basket filled with rounded loaves. This imagery possibly alludes to another miracle of Jesus, in which he miraculously multiplied loaves and fish to feed the multitudes (Mark 8).

D. Hippos is also a member of the Decapolis, a cultural treaty of ten pagan cities mentioned several times in the New Testament.

Hippos-Sussita and the Decapolis

The term “Decapolis” described a group of ten cities in the southern Levant that served as centers of Greek and Roman culture, all supported by the Romans. Some of these cities still exist, and some have become archaeological sites. Six of these cities are today in Jordan (Gerasa, Gadara, Pella, Amman, Capitolias, and Raphana). Two are in Syria (Damascus and Canatha), and two are in Israel (Beit-Shean and Hippos-Sussita).

The Gospels record Jesus visiting the cities of the Decapolis (e.g., Mark 7:31), but none of them is mentioned by name.

Jesus probably visited Beit-Shean (then called Nysa Scythopolis) on the way from Galilee to Jerusalem. Gadara is mentioned in Matthew’s version of the story of the miracle of the swine (8:28). In contrast, Gerasa is mentioned in Mark’s version of the same story (5:1). In reality, the city of Hippos-Sussita is the closest to the Sea of Galilee, where the event took place.

Danny ‘the Digger’ Presenting Sussita on ‘The Watchman’ Show

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