Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

November 20, 2012

Now cometh the season

Ben Morris
Greensburg Daily News

Greensburg — Probably like many of you, I’ve been thinking about the holiday season which is rapidly approaching.

I thought about a trip I made a few years ago to Israel to see some of the major archaeological sites. Here are some things I found most interesting. Archaeological excavations in and around the Galilee indicates that the average Jewish male of Jesus’ day stood 5’ 6” inches tall and weighed about 140 pounds.

Joseph’s hometown was Nazareth. Archaeological excavations a few years ago revealed that Nazareth in Jesus’ day was an agricultural settlement with numerous wine presses, olive presses, caves for storing grain and cisterns for storing water and wine. None are mentioned in the Old Testament, the writings of Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, or the Talmud.

Nazareth in Jesus’ day had a population of less than 500. It is located about five miles south of the little picturesque village of Cana in the southern end of the hills of Galilee where Jesus performed his first miracle: turning water to wine during a wedding feast. Nathaniel’s remark in John’s Gospel, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” is an indication of Nazareth’s comparative unimportance.

Joseph, Mary’s husband, was about 30-years-old when he met the virgin Mary. Mary was about 13. Most biblical scholars believe that Mary called Sepphoris her home town. The ancient city was home to Anna and Joachim, Mary’s parents. Sepphoris was located about three miles northwest of Nazareth. Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, called Sepphoris “the ornament of all Galilee.”

Sepphoris was the largest city in Galilee. Herod the Great took the city during a blinding snowstorm in 37 B.C.

After his death in 4 B.C., the brutal Roman general Varus burned Sepphoris and sold its inhabitants into slavery. At the time Sepphoris was virtually entirely Jewish. Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great, made it the capital of his government. Following his father’s death. Antipas immediately sent out word that he was rebuilding the city.

Most likely Joseph and Jesus, living in nearby Nazareth, found work in Sepphoris, perhaps working on a theater during the building boom. Archaeologists from the University of Michigan as well as later archaeologists from the University of South Florida, unearthed Hasmonian coins while digging around the stage, leading them to date the theater’s construction to the time of Antipas.

Jesus was certainly familiar with, and used, theatrical terms such as “hypocrite” (someone like a stage actor who puts on a false appearance by using masks), for example.   

Until the eviction of its inhabitants by Israeli forces in 1948-1949 Sepphoris was an Arab village. In 2002 Sepphoris had a population of 616.

Ben Morris, MA, RPA is an archaeological and historical columnist for the Daily News. He can be reached at 812-932-0298 or bjmorris1935@gmail.com.