SEPPHORIS (Heb. Ẓippori), ancient city located in the heart of Lower Galilee (map ref. 176/239). The site is situated some 18 mi. (29 km.) from Tiberias to the east and the same distance from the Mediterranean to the west. It lies approximately 4 mi. (6 km.) to the northwest of Nazareth, rising ca. 1,000 ft. (300 m.) from the surrounding valleys: the Netofa Valley to the north and the Nazareth basin to the south. Arab residents of a village called Safuriyye occupied the site until the 1948 war and a moshav was founded there in 1949. The ancient city, consisting of a summit and lower city, underlies much of the medieval ruins, which were associated with the citadel on the summit, a museum of the National Parks Authority since 1995. The Citadel served as a small castle in Crusader times when the site was known as Le Sepphorie; it was renovated in the mid-18th century by the Bedouin governor of Galilee and again in 1889 by the Turkish sultan, who added a second story; it served as a school until 1948.
The first mention of Sepphoris in a literary source occurs in Josephus in connection with the Hasmonean king Alexander *Yannai, who successfully repulsed the attack of Ptolemy Lathyrus of Egypt (Ant., 13:338). The site subsequently became the administrative capital of the Galilee ca. 57 b.c.e. when Gabinius, Pompey's legate to Syria, made it one of his five synedria, or councils (Ant., 14:91; War, 1:170). The city was taken by *Herod the Great in 37 b.c.e. (Ant., 17:271) and presumably served as his northern command post for the remainder of his reign. At the death of Herod in 4 b.c.e. a rebellion broke out at the site, the so-called War of Varus, which sought to remove Sepphoris from Herodian rule (War, 2:68; Ant., 17:289). The rebellion was supposedly crushed and the city burned, and many of its inhabitants were taken as slaves. Recent archaeological work at the site has not substantiated Josephus' report on this event.
In the first century c.e., *Herod Antipas, who inherited the site as part of the tetrarchy of Galilee and Peraea (Transjordan), fortified the city and made it the "ornament of all Galilee, and called in Autocratoris" (Ant., 18:27). The precise nature of Antipas' fortification and building and renovation are still not adequately understood, even after considerable work at the site. The city enjoyed autonomous rule under Antipas and served as the capital of Galilee, before he moved it to Tiberias. The role of Sepphoris during the Great Revolt against Rome was pro-Roman, with many of the residents exhibiting "pacific sentiments" (War, 2:30–31); coins minted there under Emperor Nero (66–67 c.e.) refer to the city as Eirenopolis or "City of Peace." After the revolt the city experienced great growth as a result of the many newcomers from the south, and it became the foremost city in Galilee. At the beginning of the reign of Antoninus Pius (138–61) the city became known as Diocaesarea in honor of Zeus and Casear, precisely the time when members of the Sixth Legion were stationed at nearby Leggio. What happened at Sepphoris or nearby during the Second Revolt is unclear. Sepphoris reached its zenith as a Jewish seat of learning and cultural center during the reign of Caracalla (198–217), when the Sanhedrin was moved there and Rabbi *Judah the ha-Nasi lived in the city. Under Rabbi Judah's leadership, the Mishnah was edited and published there and Sepphoris remained a major seat of learning throughout the rabbinic period. Though it suffered greatly from the earthquake of 363 c.e., it was rebuilt soon after and by the sixth century a bishop was head of a major Christian community there. By the Umayyad period the city was identified as Saffuriyya in written sources.
The first major archaeological work was undertaken at Sepphoris in 1931 under the direction of Leroy Waterman of the University of Michigan. His team identified the theater and what they believed to be a church on the western summit along with numerous domestic installations. Eric Meyers and James Strange surveyed the site in the 1970s with the view of excavating there. Meyers subsequently codirected the Duke-Hebrew University Excavations there with Ehud Netzer and Carol Meyers from 1985 to 1989 and Strange directing the South Florida Excavations during that time and into the 1990s. Meyers' new team was reorganized in 1993 after the Hebrew University team went independent under the leadership of Zev Weiss. Another project headed by Z. Tsuk focused on the water system and was sponsored by Tel Aviv University and the National Parks Authority. Sepphoris became "Zippori National Park" in 1992. Major restoration work and numerous historic buildings and structures have since been incorporated into the National Park, including the Citadel Museum, the Dionysos Mansion, the Nile Mosaic Building, and the Synagogue with the zodiac mosaic.
Major discoveries that have illuminated the history of the city include the following: the theater, probably dated to the period after 70 c.e.; a series of private domiciles on the western summit that include more the 20 ritual baths that date to the Roman period; a fort on the western summit dated to the late Hellenistic period; the great Dionysos Villa or Mansion with peristyle courtyard and a mosaic with scenes from the life of Dionysos with Greek labels, dated to the third century c.e.; the lower city with its two great streets intersecting, the east-west decumanus and north-south cardo, dating from the early Roman period and lasting until the Byzantine period, flanked by colonnaded sidewalks and a series of shops and small houses; a Byzantine church in the lower city; the Nile mosaic building with exquisite mosaics dating to the Byzantine period; the Byzantine-period synagogue with a zodiac mosaic; and the incredible water system with aqueducts, dated to the end of the first century c.e. and operational until the Byzantine era. Lying outside the city and in the moshav Ẓippori are a series of tombs that have been accidentally discovered through the years and the great Crusader Church of St. Anne, which lies within the compound of the Franciscan property to the west of the Citadel.
The recovery of the material culture of Sepphoris from the Hellenistic to the medieval periods has led to an unprecedented reevaluation of the role of the city in the history of the Land of Israel and of Galilee in particular. Its rich heritage of mosaic art and building styles places it squarely in the mainstream of Greco-Roman culture and suggests that its incredible importance as a city of Jewish learning was not unrelated to the fact that by the time of Rabbi Judah's presence there Jewish life was completely at home in the world of Hellenistic culture.
C.L. Meyers and E.M. Meyers, "Sepphoris," in: The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East (1997), 4:527–36; E.M. Meyers, "Aspects of Roman Sepphoris in the Light of Recent Archaeology," in: F. Manns and E. Alliata (eds.), Early Christianity in Context (1993), 29–36; E.M. Meyers, E. Netzer, and C.L Meyers, Sepphoris (1992); R.M. Nagy, C.L. Meyers, E.M. Meyers, and Z. Weiss (eds.), Sepphoris in Galilee: Crosscurrents of Culture (1996); E. Netzer and Z. Weiss, Zippori (1992); Z. Weiss, The Sepphoris Synagogue (2005); R. Talgam and Z. Weiss, "The Mosaics of the House of Dionysos at Sepphoris," in: Qedem, 44 (2004).
[Eric M. Meyers (2nd ed.)]
"Sepphoris." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 18, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/sepphoris
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