Sepphoris - ancient Galileean town
Sepphoris is not named in the Bible, but it was a large town near Nazareth.
Above & below: Two of the 1st
century AD mosaics excavated at Sepphoris.
Sepphoris and all Galilee were ruled by Rome at that time, and it was a busy administrative center for the area. There were certainly a number of Roman officials and soldiers quartered in the city, and there is speculation that one of these may have been the natural father of Jesus of Nazareth.
When Herod Antipas took over, he decided to rebuild the city as a showcase of Greek architecture and culture - not a popular move with devout Jews who were clinging tenaciously to their Jewish culture.
Excavated streets in
Sepphoris; Joseph and the young Jesus,
Greek-style theater at Sepphoris. The front seats and stage have
been reconstructed so that performances can be put on, much as they were
Aerial view of
Flavius Josephus described the rebuilt Sepphoris as the "ornament of all Galilee," which suggests that this small city was beautifully designed. Josephus also claims that Sepphoris was the "strongest city in Galilee".
Excavations in Sepphoris confirm this praise. Sepphoris had the best of Roman design:
Everything in Sepphoris speaks of conspicuous consumption. The villas are richly decorated, the architecture was ultra-modern and fashionable, houses had mosaic floors, fresoed walls and fluted columns.
All this, remember, was within walking distance of Nazareth, conspicuously poor where Sepphoris was flamboyantly wealthy. The imbalance in wealth and the contrasting set of values must have made a profound impression on the young man Jesus.
Extra Information about Sepphoris
While a distinctly Jewish town, Sepphoris was
cosmopolitan and, unlike many of its neighbours, managed to forge a
working relationship with Rome even after participating in two wars
against the empire. Elaborate mosaics from synagogues, churches, and
palatial residences, and coins and intricate gold-and-pearl jewelry,
illustrate the extent to which the predominantly Jewish population
embraced a Roman life-style.
Then there is the famous Mona Lisa of Galilee. Discovered in l987 in a Roman residence on the site's eastern summit, the portrait of a young woman was one of l6 mosaic panels showing scenes from the life of Dionysos, the Greek god of wine.
The construction of buildings adorned with classic pagan motifs alongside other buildings with such quintessential Jewish elements as miqva’ot (ritual baths), found in the earliest Roman strata through the Byzantine layers, indicates that the local Jewish population saw no conﬂict between a traditional Hebrew way of life and the gentile culture of the Greco-Roman world.
Though the site remained a center for rabbinic scholarship for more than two centuries, its multiethnic population practiced a variety of religions. Included in the exhibition are fertility ﬁgures; small bronze votive statues of Dionysos, Prometheus, and Pan; and oil lamps bearing crosses and such familiar Jewish symbols as the menorah (candelabra) and shofar (ram’s horn).
The cosmopolitan nature of the city is also revealed in the many stone and mosaic inscriptions written in Aramaic, Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and Syriac. Different languages appear together in several of the texts, including a grave marker inscribed in Aramaic and Greek, suggesting that many of the city’s scribes were multilingual.
Sepphoris, Nazareth, Herod Antipas, Joseph and Jesus, the columned streets, Greek-style theater, mosaics