The final day of the pilgrimage dawned. We had to be up and off early because there was still one place to visit. If you have been following this blog you may remember that we were unable to visit Sepphoris as had been planned the other day. When we had arrived there there was no electricity, there had been a local power failure. So, with a sense of deja vu we retraced our steps, this time with all our luggage with us.
I’d never been to this ancient site before, but I had heard a lot about it. It was a significant Greco-Roman city which, following the Jewish Revolt became an important place for the continuation of Judaism. It was here that the Talmud was formalised as a text rather than being an oral tradition.
But there are also associations with Jesus. Tradition has it that the parents of Mary, Anna and Joachim lived here. Even more importantly, given that the city was a major building site when Jesus was growing up, and given that it is only 4 miles outside Nazareth where he was living with his family who were in the building industry, there is every likelihood that Jospeh and Jesus worked here.
It is amazing to think about this as you walk around. He would have known these streets, he would have become familiar with this melting pot of cultures. There are Roman bath houses, grand villas with amazing mosaic floors, a huge meeting hall and a beautiful synagogue. Yet even the synagogue has the most elaborate mosaic floor with depictions of people as well as animals and plants. In the middle of the floor are the twelve signs of the zodiac and at the centre of that a depiction of the Sun God, Helios! That work dates from after the time of Jesus but there must have been something of this openness and diversity in the air.
There is a great amphitheatre. Was it here that Jesus learnt about the word and concept of ‘hypocrite’? He used the term often enough when he was challenging those in authority. Was it here that the small-town boy learnt about the big world beyond? It is great to speculate in this place.
One of the wonders of the archaeological remains is the image of the ‘Mona Lisa of Galilee’ as people call her. Her face is in the beautiful mosaic floor of a domestic dwelling. It is hard to believe that the delicacy of the images is achieved by the technique of mosaic! And the sophistication! The ‘carpet’ is designed with blank spaces on three sides for the sofas – there are even marks to indicate where the furniture should be placed. This is more Beverley Hills than ancient Israel.
In the synogogue we read from St Matthew’s Gospel.
Jesus came to his home town and began to teach the people in their synagogue, so that they were astounded and said, ‘Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?’ (Matthew 13.54-56)
They knew he he was, they knew he was in the building trade. So where did he get all of this wisdom? Well, perhaps some of it was from Sepphoris.
It was a good place to end this pilgrimage. We have seen so much and so much that was new and fresh to us. It has given me a great deal to think about. So perhaps, after a day or two, there will be one more blog!
Lord, teach us to view our life as a pilgrim journey. Bless us as we continue to travel. Amen.