“The Ornament of All Galilee”
JUST four miles [6.5 km] northwest of Nazareth, the town where Jesus was brought up, was a city that is never mentioned in the Gospels. Yet, it was hailed as “the ornament of all Galilee” by the noted first-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. It was the city of Sepphoris. What do we know about this city?
After the death of Herod the Great, likely in 1 B.C.E., the citizens of Sepphoris revolted against Rome, resulting in the destruction of their city. Herod’s son Antipas inherited Galilee and Peraea and selected the ruins of Sepphoris as the location of his new capital. The city was rebuilt with a Greco-Roman architectural veneer, but the population was mainly Jewish. According to Professor Richard A. Batey, it became “the nerve center for the government’s control of Galilee and Perea,” until Antipas built Tiberias in about 21 C.E. to replace Sepphoris as the capital. This was the time Jesus was living in the proximity of the city.
Professor James Strange, who has excavated at Sepphoris, pictures the city having archives, a treasury, an armory, banks, public buildings, and markets selling ceramics, glass, metalwares, jewelry, and a variety of foods. There were weavers and clothing merchants and shops where baskets, furniture, perfumes, and the like could be bought. The population at that time is estimated to have been between 8,000 and 12,000.
Did Jesus ever visit this busy metropolis, an hour’s walk from Nazareth? The Gospels do not give us an answer. The Anchor Bible Dictionary notes, however, that “one logical route from Nazareth to Cana of Galilee ran through Sepphoris.” (John 2:1; 4:46) From Nazareth, the hill of Sepphoris can be seen, rising almost 400 feet [120 m] above the valley floor. Some believe that when Jesus gave the illustration that “a city cannot be hid when situated upon a mountain,” he possibly had this city in mind.
After the fall of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., Sepphoris became the principal Jewish city in Galilee and later the site of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high court. For a time, it flourished as a center of Jewish learning.
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Sea of Galilee
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Pottery: Excavated by Wohl Archaeological Museum, Herodian Quarter, Jewish Quarter. Owned by Company for the Reconstruction of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem, Ltd