Holy Land Highlights -- Sepphoris

 

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"
SO WHEN YOU GIVE TO THE NEEDY,
DON'T ANNOUNCE IT WITH TRUMPETS,
AS THE HYPOCRITES DO IN THE SYNAGOGUES"
  MATTHEW 6:2

                                                                           

Holy Sites -- Gila's Highlights

Let's consider whether Jesus ever visited Sepphoris


Seventeen times the word "hypocrites" appears in the Gospels, and three times in
the Sermon on the Mount.  Where would Jesus, growing up in the small village of Nazareth, have come into contact with “hypocrites,” a Greek word for actors? Perhaps five miles away in Sepphoris.

Perched like a bird (tzippor in Hebrew) on a Galilee hilltop, Sepphoris (Hebrew: Tzippori) is an hour’s walk from Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown.  During Jesus’ childhood, Sepphoris was the provincial capital of Galilee and the city where the villagers took care of their official business.  It had a theater which seated about 3,000 spectators.
 

Roman theater in Sepphoris

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Partially reconstructed Roman theater in Sepphoris

 
Bible scholar and archeologist Jerome Murphy O’Connor believes that after returning from Egypt, Joseph and Mary settled in Nazareth precisely because of its proximity to Sepphoris.  After 3 BC, Sepphoris was the center of a building boom, providing work opportunities for artisans such as Joseph.

Did Jesus have a hand building the theater of Sepphoris, just reconstructed for us? Perhaps.  Could he have been a spectator here to a tragedy, comedy or farce?  This
I doubt, for Jesus was an observant Jew and followed the precepts of the rabbis for whom the theater represented a way of life that was external, hedonistic and above all, pagan.

Rabbi Levi said: “There are six things which serve man; three are in his control, and three are not.  Eye, nose and ear are not.  He must see, smell and hear what he may not want to see, smell and hear.  A man may be passing through a street when they are burning incense to an idol, and he has no wish to smell the incense, but his nose forces him to do so.  So, too, his eye brings him sinful sights, and his ear blasphemous words, against his will, for they too are not under his control.

But mouth, hand and foot are in his power.  He need not desire with his mouth to labor in the Law. He need not wish to slander or curse or blaspheme.  He need not wish with his hand to fulfill the commandments.  He need not wish to steal or murder. With his foot he can visit theatres or circuses, or he can go to the synagogues or houses of study.” (Tanhuma edited by Martin Buber)

What we do know, is that when Jesus used the image of “hypocrite” to criticize the religious leaders for their exaggerated public display of piety, his message reverberated loudly and clearly throughout Galilee.
 

Adapted from Bible Mapper by itsGila

Map of Galilee -- towns and villages in Jesus' day

 
After visiting the theater at Sepphoris, we discover that the city was an artisan’s paradise, not only for carpenters and masons, but for mosaic designers as well. Walking through the ruins, we come across brilliantly preserved mosaic floors illustrating pagan themes of wine, women and the wheel of the zodiac.
 

Wheel of the Zodiac in the Sepphoris synagogue

Photo:  Mike Clark

The wheel of the Zodiac in the Sepphoris synagogue

 

Even the synagogue, discovered in 1993, had a floor mosaic picturing the chariot of Helios, Greek god of the sun, surrounded by the twelve astrological signs of the zodiac.  And this was no “new age” synagogue.  One of the congregants may have been none other than the Chief Rabbi himself.  (During the second and third century AD, Sepphoris was the center of Rabbinical Judaism.)

 
We make our way down a stone-paved street indented with grooves pounded by chariot wheels and come to the remains of a building, possibly City Hall.  Here we admire a mosaic depicting the Nile emerging from the mouth of a female personifying Egypt, along with the city gate of Alexandria and its lighthouse, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
 

Roman street in Sepphoris

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Roman street leading to City Hall with the Nile mosaic

 
Adjacent to the Nile mosaic is a floor decorated with Amazons, the first ever discovered in Israel.  The Amazons were mythical female warriors who cut off their right breasts so they could shoot their bows more accurately.  No one in his right mind would dare mess with an Amazon!

The most provocative mosaic of all was dedicated to the patron of wine and merriment, Dionysus.  In the house of the wealthiest citizen of Sepphoris, -- he had even an indoor toilet -- we find the living room designed to accommodate a triclinium (three couches) as in the Upper Room mentioned in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 14.

 

Dionysus procession

Photo:  Mike Clark

Procession of Dionysus as he spreads fun and merriment around the world

 
We study what is considered to be the most beautiful execution of a woman’s face ever found on a mosaic.  The “Mona Lisa of Sepphoris” blushes as she peers at us coquettishly.  Nearby we see Dionysus himself has drunk Hercules “under the table” as he holds his wine cup upside down, boasting that he is capable of more.
 

"Mona Lisa of Sepphoris"

Photo:  Mike Clark

“Mona Lisa of Sepphoris”

 

Come with me to Sepphoris and let our eyes feast on the brilliant mosaics while we contemplate the total triumph of monotheism over its antithesis of hedonism and idolatry.

Copyright 2006, 2009 Gila Yudkin.  Permission needed for any reuse.

 

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Postscript

Reader George Maguire wrote in response to this 'highlight':
 

"Traditionally it is thought that Joachim and Anna were the parents of Mary and that they lived in Sepphoris.  If that were really the case, then there is a good chance that Joseph did work on the city as it was growing and perhaps even met Mary on one of those 'work trips'.

Following the birth of Jesus, Sepphoris would probably have been visited as both a place for Joseph and Jesus to practice their trade and to visit with 'grandparents'.  I fully agree with your thought that since it was only an hour away and it was a city with lots of work opportunities and with 'hypocrite' as part of the language of Jesus, more likely than not it was visited by Him as part of his apprenticeship and to visit with his bubbi."  (Yiddish for grandmother)

Lola Warren from Williamsburg Virginia commented:

"The probability of Jesus' having worked in Sepphoris is intriguing and makes so much sense.  Carpentry just for the Nazarenes doesn't seem to me like it was so much of a full-time profession.  Perhaps, with the opportunities in Sepphoris, he was able to stash away some profits, which allowed him to give it all up and travel -- maybe even to the Far East, as some think.

One could assume that being the elder son of Joseph, Jesus went with Joseph to work, wherever that might have been, and interacted with customers, fellow artisans, etc. from a very early age.  These interactions, in a place like Sepphoris, could have opened the doors to extensive theological/philosophical discussions among people of a variety of Middle Eastern persuasions, and contributed to New Testament ideas that we have been led to believe were revolutionary.

Thanks for adding to my brain-storming!"

More Galilee:

     
Let's renew wedding vows in Cana of Galilee

Let's gather by Bethsaida's city gate

Let's ramble through Hippos, a Decapolis city

Wedding in Cana   

Bethsaida

Hippos / Decapolis city

     
Pilgrims talk about the Mount of Beatitudes

Let's follow Abraham all the way to DAN

Let's look for the clay tablet treasure at Hazor

Mount of Beatitudes

Dan and Abraham

Hazor's Canaanite palace

 
Gila Yudkin, who calls herself a Connecticut-born Yankee living now in King David's Court, has been guiding pilgrims in the Holy Land for a quarter of a century.  Most of all, she enjoys showing "old-timers." new exciting sites.  It’s recommended to contact Gila while you are planning your pilgrimage to ensure that you allow enough time to see all of Sepphoris’ highlights.
 
"Let's consider whether Jesus visited Sepphoris" (as text without the photos) is one
in the series of free bimonthly e-letters sent on request to tour leaders, pastors, clergy, teachers, Bible students, colleagues and friends.  If you'd like to receive "Holy Sites: Gila's Highlights" every other month, please contact Gila.  The last highlight was: "Let's behold Gethsemane's sturdy old Olive Trees."  This month's highlight is:  "Let's sit in the Seat of Moses at Chorazin."  The next highlight will be:  "Let's imagine hungry lions in Beth Shean's amphitheater."
 

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GILA YUDKIN TCHERNIKOVSKI 64A JERUSALEM ISRAEL
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Holy Land Photography by Gila Yudkin