Eleazar Lipa Sukenik, Pioneer of Jewish Archeology, is Born, 1889
Updated: Oct 7, 2021
On This Day in Jewish History: August 12, 1889
Eleazar Lipa Sukenik was a pioneer of Jewish archaeology in the Land of Israel. He was a Polish-born Israeli archaeologist who identified the antiquity of the Dead Sea Scrolls, being one of the first academics to recognize the age and importance of these historical treasures. He also oversaw the uncovering of the Third Wall of ancient Jerusalem and was the first teacher of Jewish archaeology at the Hebrew University.
Sukenik was born on August 12, 1889, in the town of Belostok, Russian Empire (today Poland). In 1912, he immigrated to Ottoman-occupied Palestine where he worked as a school teacher and tour guide. He studied archaeology at the Hebrew Teachers Seminary in Jerusalem.
He served in the British army in World War I in the 40th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers, which became known as the Jewish Legion.
Sukenik’s numerous excavations and investigations led to extraordinary discoveries. He found remnants of an important Hyksos fortification at Tell Jerishe and he oversaw the uncovering of the Third Wall in Jerusalem (1925–27). Sukenik’s publication, The Ancient Synagogue of Beth Alpha (1932), made famous the mosaic pavement found there and from that moment Jewish art history started to flourish rapidly.
Sukenik long held interest in numismatics led to the identification of the oldest Jewish coins during the period of Persian domination. He was familiar with the script of the epitaphs of the Jewish necropolis in Jerusalem, dating from the last century (c. 30 BC-AD 70) of the Second Temple. In the last days of the British mandate over Palestine he was at the Qumran cave, in the Judean Hills where he immediately recognized the Dead Sea Scrolls, across a barbed wire separating the Jewish and Arab sectors. The three scrolls included the War Scroll, the Thanksgiving Psalms Scroll and the second of two Isaiah scrolls.
He dedicated more than 30 years to recovering treasures of the past hidden in the soil of Israel, especially in Jerusalem. As one of the scholars engaged in uncovering the past, Sukenik left behind numerous research into numismatics, epigraphy, synagogues, ossuaries and writings on Samaria. In 1950, he received the Solomon Bublick Award from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for this work. His book, The Dead Sea Scrolls of the Hebrew University was published posthumously in 1955. Blessed be his memory!
Both him and his wife, Chassia, were buried in the Sanhedria Cemetery near the Tombs of the Sanhedrin which he researched. Their gravestones were decorated in a unique way, with carvings and motifs of the Second Temple era.