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Sepphoris nestles in the lower Galilee Mountains, 5 miles north-northwest of Nazareth. It is strategically located on a significant road system, with an excellent view of the coast. Sepphoris was an urban center in the Roman and Byzantine periods, and its rich remains make it today a popular tourist attraction.


The History of Sepphoris

Humans settled in Sepphoris since the Iron Age, but only in the first century Herod Antipas developed it as a city. Aside from “Sepphoris,” the Romans also titled the city Autocratis (“The independent [City]”), Eirenopolis (“The City of Peace”), and Diocaesarea (“[city of] Zeus of Caesarea”).  During that time, Sepphoris was also an essential Jewish Rabbinical center. The Sanhedrin convened in Sepphoris for a while, and in Sepphoris, Rabbi Judah the Prince led the project of codifying the book of Jewish law (the Mishnah). The Crusaders made Sepphoris a road station and built a fort at its hilltop that can be seen today. They also developed a tradition that Sepphoris was the hometown of Anna and Joachim, parents of Mary, the mother of Jesus. However, this tradition needs to be better founded, as Sepphoris is not mentioned anywhere in the New Testament or Apocrypha.

Jesus and Sepphoris

Although Sepphoris is not mentioned anywhere in the Gospels, Jesus probably knew of this city. Being the son of a craftsman (“tekton” in Greek), whatever Joseph created in his workshop at Nazareth, he probably had to attend the market in Sepphoris to sell it. It is unlikely there were enough clients in his small village. Assuming Jesus escorted his father to the market, he would have known Sepphoris and perhaps attended some of its cultural and educational institutions. Unfortunately, the gospels do not record much of Jesus’ life before his baptism. So, although Sepphoris must have influenced Jesus’ acts, thoughts, and philosophies, it ended up being omitted from his canonical and apocryphal biographies.

Excavations of Sepphoris

sepphoris-acropolisIn 1985, a joint Israeli and American expedition began a large-scale excavation project at the site. They exposed a well-planned Byzantine city around a hilltop, with intersecting streets, numerous private, public, and religious buildings, and an elaborate water system. Many floors were ornamented with mosaics, most depicting Greco-Roman themes. Yet two churches, a synagogue, and ritual baths attest to the Christian and Jewish presence in the city.

Touring Sepphoris

Today, Sepphoris is a national park. Near its entrance, an impressive water reservoir demonstrates Roman aqueduct engineering. A stroll along its main streets from Byzantine times reveals a well-planned city with many ornamented mosaic floors. However, the most spectacular mosaic is at its citadel, depicting scenes of the life of Dionysus and the wildlife along the Nile in unusual detail. One detail describing a young female (Aphrodite?) is done with precision, and she was given the nickname The Mona Lisa of Galilee. Another unusual discovery at the site is a mosaic floor of a 5th-century synagogue, depicting Biblical subjects combined with the Zodiac and Helios. In the springtime, the hillside of Sepphoris blooms in a burst of flowers, and the view from its citadel provides some stunning panoramas of the Galilee.

A tour of Sepphoris (Tzippori) can be combined with a day tour in the north.

Bar-Mitzvah in Sepphoris

sepphoris-synagogue-bar-mitzvahToday, the ancient synagogue of Sepphoris is covered and air-conditioned. This makes the site comfortable for a Bar-Mitzvah event, especially in the hot summer months. Furthermore, its combined pagan scenes and figurative art demonstrate the liberal attitude of Rabbis in the past. This makes the site perfect for a Bar/Bat-Mitzvah event for Jews of all denominations. It connects the child’s festive event to Judaism in the past remarkably and tangibly. A celebratory meal can be held at Kitron Restaurant and Winery in the nearby village of Hoshaya.

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