Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

November 27, 2012

Remembering Israel

Ben Morris
Greensburg Daily News

Greensburg — For some time now I have been concerned about the destruction of Israel’s archaeological sites by a conflict that no sane, rational Jew or Palestinian wants.

Already, several important archaeological sites have been destroyed or damaged by rockets launched from the Gaza strip. Gaza is a beautiful city of about 1.7 million people, most of whom are Sunni Muslims.  I am a Christian and a registered professional archaeologist (RPA). Although I did not visit the Gaza Strip, I have many fond memories of Israel and its people. I had gone to Israel by myself to see some of the major archaeological sites, and if possible, meet and talk with some of the archaeologists.

I met a small group of very friendly Australians that had been on a tour of the pyramids in Egypt who were kind enough to invite me to join them on their bus that was scheduled to visit major archaeological sites.

Here are some things I found most interesting. Excavations by Archaeologists from the University of Haifa and Tel Aviv have uncovered skeletal material and stone tools of a very ancient people who inhabited the area some 250,000 years ago!

Other excavations in and around the Galilee reveals that the average Jewish male of Jesus’ day stood 5’ 6” inches tall and weighed about 140 pounds, which gives us insight into the physical Jesus.

As most of us know, Joseph called Nazareth his hometown. Archaeological excavations have 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 somewhere between 400 and 500 people. It is located about five miles south of the little village of Cana in the southern end of Galilee. Cana, you will remember, is  where Jesus performed his first miracle —turning water into wine at the urging of his mother — during a wedding feast. Nathaniel’s remark in John’s Gospel, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” is an indication of what the general attitude was regarding the little community.

It is thought by many scholars that Joseph was about 30-years-old when met the innocent young Jewish teenager who would not only change his life, but the whole world as well. In Aramaic her name was Miriam. In other languages she was called Mary. She is belived to be from the tribe of Judah. Mary was believed to be no more than 13-years-old. Many biblical scholars believe that Mary called the ancient city of Sepphoris her home town. The city  was home to Anna and Joachim, Mary’s mother and father.

Sepphoris was located about three miles northwest of Nazareth. Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, called the beautiful city of Sepphoris, “the ornament of all Galilee.”

Sepphoris was the largest city in Galilee. Herod the Great, the ruthless client king of Rome, had been given the title “king of the Jews,” after he had taken the city during a blinding snowstorm in 37 B.C. After his death in 4 B.C., the brutal Roman general Varus, torched the city and sold its inhabitants into slavery. Archaeological research has indicated that Sepphoris had a population of some 40,000 people, predominately Jews.

The Romans partitioned Sepphoris following the king’s death. Herod Antipas, one of the king’s sons, was given all of Galilee including Sepphoris. Antipas made the city the capital of his government, and  immediately began a massive program to rebuild the city.

Antipas is best remembered as the king who beheaded John the Baptist. It is reasonable to believe that Joseph and Jesus, living in nearby Nazareth, where little work of any kind was to be had, found work in Sepphoris. during the building boom.

Some scholars are reluctant to call Jesus a carpenter. In Matthew 13:55 Jesus is called the “son of the carpenter.” A few years ago, the highly respected archaeologist, Shirley Jackson Case suggested the intriguing possibility that Jesus helped build a theater in Sepphoris. Archaeologists from the University of Michigan as well as later archaeologists from the University of South Florida, unearthed several Hasmonian coins while digging around the stage, leading them to date the theater’s construction to the time of Antipas.

It is not know for sure that Jesus attended the theater performances in Sepphoris, but, he was certainly familiar with theatrical terms such as “hypocrite” (someone like an actor who puts on a false appearance by using masks) which he used from time to time.    

Until the eviction of its inhabitants by Israeli forces in the six day war (1948-1949) Sepphoris was an Arab village.

In 2002 Aphorisms had a population of 616.

Remember the German born Henry Kissinger, our Secretary of State from 1973 until 1977?

He is quoted as saying that peace in Israel is just a matter of “cease fire.” I think Dr. Kissinger was correct.   

In Matthew 24:6 we read “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened for those things must take place.”

Ben Morris, MA, RPA, is an archaeological and historical columnist for the Daily News. He can be reached by phone at 812-932-0298.