Haluza (Arabic: الخلصة‎; Hebrew: חלוצה‎), also known as Al-Khalasa, Halasa, Chellous (Χελλοὺς in Greek, although in the 6th-century Madaba Map the town appears as ΕΛΟΥϹΑ), Elusa, al-Khalasa and al-Khalūṣ (Arabic), was a city in the Negev near present-day Kibbutz Mash'abei Sadeh that was once part of the Nabataean Incense Route. It lay on the route from Gaza to Petra.[1]

In the 5th century it was surrounded by vinyards and was famous for its wines.[1]

Due to its historic importance, UNESCO declared Haluza a World Heritage Site along with Mamshit, Avdat and Shivta.

In Saadia Gaon's Judeo-Arabic translation of the Pentateuch, the biblical town of Gerar is associated with Haluza (Judeo-Arabic: 'אלכ'לוץ‎ = al-Khalūṣ).[2]

The city is called 'Chellous' (Χελλοὺς) in the Greek text of Judith, i, 9. It is also mentioned by Ptolemy (as being in Idumaea),[3] Peutinger's Table, Stephanus Byzantius (as being formerly in the province of Arabia Petraea, but "now" in Palaestina Tertia), Jerome,[4] the pilgrim Theodosius, Antoninus of Piacenza, and Joannes Moschus.[5]

Jerome's life of St. Hilarion mentions a great temple of Aphrodite in Elusa in the 4th century.[6] Hilarion is supposed to have introduced Christianity to Elusa in the fourth century.[7]Early in the following century, a Bishop of Elusa, after redeeming the son of Nilus of Sinai, who had been carried off from Mount Sinai by the Arabs, ordained both him and his father.[8] Other bishops known are Theodulus, 431; Aretas, 451; Peter, 518; and Zenobius, 536.[9]

The ruins of Halusa are located in a large plain 20 km (12 mi) southwest of Beersheba, Israel. Many inscriptions have been found there.[10] In the vicinity, according to the Targums, was the desert of Sur with the well at which the angel found Hagar (Genesis 16:7). (See Revue Biblique, 1906, 597).

In 2014, two archaeological survey-excavations were conducted at Haluza on behalf of the University of Cologne in Germany and Haifa University.[11] Archaeological surveys of the area are partly hampered by the presence of shifting sands. However, Nabataean streets have been found, along with two churches, a theatre, wine press and tower.[12]

Isometric view of Elusa Cathedral (East Church), 1980 Dig, Mississippi State University - Hebrew University of Jerusalem

The bishopric of Elusa is included in the Catholic Church's list of titular sees.[13]

In March 2019, a team of German and Israeli archaeologists announced the discovery of a 1,700-year-old Greek inscription, bearing the name of the city of Elusa.[14]

By analysing rubbish removed from the city, it has been determined that it underwent a major decline around the middle of the sixth century, about a century before the Islamic conquest.[15] The excavators propose that their findings call for a reevaluation of the settlement history of the Negev region in the late Byzantine period.[15] One possible cause for the crisis is raised as the Late Antique Little Ice Age, a cold snap believed to have been caused by "volcanic winter".[16]