Sepphoris (Tsipori, Zippori) Overview
Places of Interest
1. Sepphoris is located about 4 miles (6 km.) northwest of Nazareth, about 14 miles (23 km.) from the Mediterranean Sea, and about 15 miles (25 km.) from the Sea of Galilee.
2. Because of its close proximity to Nazareth, it was easily accessible by Jesus and His father, Joseph.
1. The city started to grow during the 2nd Century BC under Greek rule.
2. Later, under Roman rule during the time of Christ, Herod Antipas (the son of Herod the Great) invested in it significantly and made it “the ornament of Galilee.” It was a sophisticated Roman city with all the luxuries of modern life at that time. It included a network of colonnaded paved streets, markets, residential houses, public buildings, bathhouses, theater, and synagogues.
3. Sepphoris rose to recognized status during the century before Christ because it was located right on one of the main trade routes linking Africa with Europe and Asia called "The Via Maris" (way of the sea). Therefore, it was a wealthy city.
4. It was also a military city guarded well by Roman troops.
5. Sepphoris was the capital of the Galilee area during the time of Christ.
6. In order to rebuild the city, Herod Antipas used a massive workforce.
7. Because Nazareth was so close to Sepphoris, and because Jesus was a Tekton (Greek for a construction worker of various types), Jesus and His father undoubtedly worked here.
8. So, in part, it’s also where Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man (Luke 2:52).
9. Because it was mainly a Jewish city, it was given its Hebrew name, Zippori, because it sits on a hilltop like a bird (Zippor).
10. Sepphoris is also known as the Mosaic City as some of the best mosaics in all of Israel are found here. More than 40 mosaic floors reveal the bustling life of a Roman city and the luxury it afforded.
11. After Herod’s death in 4 BC, the Roman army put down a rebellion of Jewish rebels led by a man named Judas. These rebels numbering several thousand were killed; however, according to Josephus, 2,000 of them were kept alive to be crucified on its streets and close-by roads in the area. These mass crucifixions were carried out to instill fear in others who might consider rebelling against Roman rule.
12. Sepphoris did not join the Jewish rebellion in 66-70 AD and was therefore spared destruction.
13. After the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, Sepphoris became a center of Jewish learning and seat of the Sanhedrin supreme court. The Mishnah, the first authoritative collection of Jewish oral law, was compiled here.
14. Sepphoris witnessed Byzantine, Crusader, and Ottoman rule in the centuries following.
Places of Interest (Please See Maps Above)
1. Park Entrance
2. Water source
3. Decumanus Street
4. Nile House with many mosaics
6. Public building
7. Dionysus (god of wine) Building with mosaics
9. Residential area
Sepphoris in the Bible
While Sepphoris is not mentioned in the Bible, it is significant for several reasons:
1. It was close-by to Nazareth and employed many carpenters. Because Jesus was a construction worker, it's extremely likely Jesus worked here before starting His earthly ministry.
2. After the death of Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph, Christ became the chief financial provider for His family. Christ was very responsible in caring for His family and expects us to do the same.
2 Thessalonians 3:10–11: For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies
John 19:26–27: When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.
3. It appears Jesus used references about this city in His teachings.
Matthew 5:14–15: You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.
Sepphoris was certainly a city on a hill. In fact, that’s exactly what the name of this city means.
Matthew 6:2–4: Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you; they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
The word for actor in Greek is “hypocrite.” Because these actors would walk the streets sounding their horns to advertise an upcoming event at the city theater, Jesus used them as an example of what not to do when we give to others and serve God.
4. It’s very likely Jesus used the example of the mass crucifixion carried out by the Romans against the Jewish revolt that took place here to teach about the cost of being His disciple.
Mark 8:34–38: And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
Christ taught about the cost of following him in several places during His ministry. In this account in Mark, He was teaching in the upper Galilee area at Caesarea Philippi which is not far from Sepphoris.
It's very likely Christ’s audience would have personally witnessed the crucifixions here in Sepphoris or seen others.
To the Jewish mind, Christ’s teaching would have sent a powerful and sober message of what Christ was asking of His followers. He was calling for total commitment, even commitment to death.
Christ also used the imagery of crucifixion to teach us how we should daily crucify our personal desires which are contrary to God’s desires.
Sepphoris was certainly an adulterous and sinful city that Christ probably referred to in verse 38.
Faith Lesson from Sepphoris
1. Jesus was a hard worker. Are we hard workers as well?
2. Jesus provided for His family after the death of His father. He also took care of His mother’s future needs as He was being crucified. Do we provide and take care of our family members?
3. Jesus was undoubtedly good at what He did as a construction worker. Do we develop our skills to be good at what we do as well?
4. We should emulate Jesus in not only His spiritual side, but also in His work ethic, work skills, and family responsibilities.
5. Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man prior to His earthly ministry. Are we doing the same?
6. Jesus likely used Sepphoris as an example of how we should be lights on a hill. Are we letting our lights shine brightly or are we dim lights to those who know and see us?
7. Jesus likely used the actors in Sepphoris who blew their loud trumpets as an example of what we should not do when we give and serve God. Do we serve for God’s glory alone, or do we serve for the praise and esteem of others?