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date: 23 November 2017

Summary and Keywords

In the heart of the Lower Galilee lie the remains of Sepphoris, capital of the Galilee during long periods of antiquity. Both literary sources and archaeological finds indicate that the city’s population included pagans, heretics, and Christians living alongside the Jewish population. Many sages lived in the city, which, according to rabbinic literature, boasted numerous synagogues and academies (batei midrash). When Rabbi Judah ha-Nasi (the Patriarch of Judaea) moved to Sepphoris at the beginning of the 3rd century, the Jews gained a significant presence on the city council. With the growth of the Christian community came the construction of churches and the involvement of the episcopus (head of the Christian community) in municipal affairs. Economically, Sepphoris had become a well-established city due to the fertile soil in the nearby valleys and its active trade with the immediate surroundings and distant markets.

Hellenistic Sepphoris was built on its hill and slopes. Early in the 2nd century ce, the city spread considerably eastward, boasting an impressive grid of streets with a colonnaded cardo and decumanus running through its centre. Various public buildings were built in the city, including a temple, a forum, bathhouses, a theatre, a monumental building identified as a library or archive, as well as churches, synagogues, and some other structures dating to the early Byzantine period. Most of the common people lived in simple houses, while the wealthy lived in spacious, well-planned dwellings. The architectural layout of these large structures is impressive, as are the more than sixty colourful mosaics from the 3rd to 6th centuries ce uncovered in its private and public buildings. The various depictions in the mosaics have parallels in other cities of the Roman and Byzantine East, not only enhancing the ancient ruins of Sepphoris but also providing invaluable information about the city and its population. The wealth of evidence emerging from Sepphoris offers perhaps the greatest insight into Jewish society and its changing attitudes towards the Graeco-Roman culture to which it was exposed. This new outlook did not occur overnight or in all strata of Jewish society; rather, it was an ongoing process that intensified in the Roman period and reached a peak in the 5th and 6th centuries ce.

Keywords: Galilee, urban planning, dwellings, public buildings, synagogues, churches, Jewish art, mosaics, Jewish society, Christians, Graeco-Roman culture, rabbi, patriarch, Diocaesarea

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