The City on the Hill
It is a place not everyone goes. Seated high on a hill in Galilee the city of Sepphoris for many years was believed to be an outpost on the trade ways through the north. But then in 1993, while building a parking lot, the most beautiful floor mosaic was revealed in an ancient synagogue. A renewed interest in the archaeological work of Sepphoris began.
Before our trip to Israel in 2009, I had read about the new expedition and findings in Sepphoris and wondered if our tour leader could take us there as it was not even four miles from Nazareth.
Sepphoris was founded by Herod the Great and built by his son Antipas, (4 BCE – 38 CE) at one point serving as the capital of the Galilee. The city, his provincial capital sat strategically near two major highways (Via Maris and Acre-Tiberias). This construction would have taken place in the early childhood years of Jesus of Nazareth. As Sepphoris is four miles from Nazareth there is a reasonable theory that Joseph may have found work there, bringing his young son along as a helper.
To gain Roman favor Herod Antipas moved his capital and residence to the city of Tiberias on the shores of the Sea of Galilee in 19 CE and slowly the population left Sepphoris for a time. It found renewed life after the Roman victory and the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE, yet the earthquake of 363 CE would eventually bring the once opulent and prosperous city to a pile of sand and stone.
It was the third day of our trip and our tour guide, Sam, arranged for us to go to Sepphoris and seemed pleased that I even knew about the place. Sadly, we arrived just as the gate keeper was beginning to close for the day. Sam was able to “convince” him to open for just an extra hour so that we could walk around. There was no one there but us. The wind moved through the ancient stones telling the story of grandeur and loss.
Where was the vista, I kept asking myself? Where would Jesus have stood, here on the edge of the city and looked back at his home of Nazareth and upon returning home would look back to that vista point and declare, “a city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” Matthew 5:14
At last at the far end of the cardo of the city, off to the distance, there was Nazareth slowly turning on the lights as the day began to fade. As we rode down the hill back toward Tiberias for the night, I could imagine him looking at the magnificent city on the hill to guide his way home. Did the sight stir something within his young heart, to awaken in him his destiny to the world?