SEPPHORIS (Greek, Σέπφωρις; Hebrew, , ; lit. "bird"):
City in Palestine which derived its name from the fact that it was perched like a bird on a high mountain. It is first mentioned by Josephus, who records ("Ant." xiii. 12, § 5) that Ptolemy Lathyrus vainly endeavored to conquer it in the early part of the reign of Alexander Jannæus. When the country was redivided by the Romans under Gabinius (57-55
Sepphoris then entered upon a new phase of its history; for the influence of the Greek element of thecity increased while that of the Jewish population declined, since the place now had Hellenic institutions and was friendly to the Romans. Herod Antipas, like all his dynasty, was a founder of cities, and rebuilt Sepphoris, which he transformed into one of the most beautiful towns of Galilee, also granting it an autonomy which seems to have resembled that given the Greek cities of the Decapolis ("Ant." xviii. 2, § 1). Its coins, on which the inhabitants call themselves Σεπφωρηνοί, date probably from this period. It was not until the time of Felix, however, that Sepphoris rose to the rank of capital of Galilee (Josephus, "Vita," § 9) and became a rival of Tiberias, which theretofore had claimed that distinction. The younger Agrippa removed the royal treasury (τράπεζα) and the "archive" (ἀρχεῖα, which denotes probably the court of justice) from Tiberias, and it is to be assumed that he transferred them to Sepphoris. Tiberias subsequently reassumed the hegemony; but under Agrippa the archive was again taken to Sepphoris. The Mishnah (Ḳid. iv. 5) accordingly alludes to an "earlier" archive at Sepphoris (); and noble Jewish families kept their family records there (Schürer ["Gesch." 3d ed., ii. 164], who translates by "government," draws incorrect inferences from the passage). The Mishnah, moreover, refers to the ancient fortress of Sepphoris ('Ar. ix. 6; comp. Tos. Shab. xiii. 9), probably meaning the one which existed until the time of Varus, when the Romans doubtless built a new acropolis.During the Rebellion.
Sepphoris is described sometimes as the largest city of Galilee ("Vita," §§ 45, 65; "B. J." iii. 2, §, 4), and sometimes as one of the two or three largest, the others being Tiberias ("Vita," § 65) and Gabara (ib. § 25); and it was furthermore considered the most strongly fortified city of the province ("B. J." ii. 18, § 11), its citadel being especially mentioned ("Vita," § 67). That this large city sided with the Romans was, therefore, a disaster for the Jews. The beginning of the war proved advantageous for Sepphoris, for Cestius Gallus entered it peaceably while the neighboring cities were ravaged ("B. J." ii. 18, § 11). But the Romans were obliged to depart; and the inhabitants of Sepphoris, fearing for their city, had to submit to the domination of the rebellious Jews. Josephus, as governor of Galilee, ordered the fortification of Sepphoris, among other cities ("Vita," § 37), entrusting this task to its citizens; for he knew that they desired the war ("B. J." ii. 20, § 6), although this may have been a mere ruse on their part to keep the Jewish governor at a distance. John of Giscala, however, endeavored to alienate the city from Josephus ("Vita," § 25), and Sepphoris, Gabara, and Tiberias actually became hostile to the latter ("B. J." ii. 21, § 7), although their action was due not to loyalty to the national cause, but doubtless to the conviction of the inhabitants of Sepphoris that John, who was acting on his own initiative, would be less dangerous to them than Josephus, who was subject to the central government at Jerusalem. Josephus was then obliged to storm the city, which was plundered by his troops despite his efforts to restrain them ("Vita," § 67). Sepphoris was soon to be relieved, however, from the horrors of war. Cestius Gallus sent a garrison thither; and when Josephus again entered the place, he was repulsed (ib. § 71; comp. § 15). The inhabitants, moreover, being dissatisfied with the aid they had received, also requested Vespasian to send them a Roman detachment for their protection, which they received in due time (ib. § 74; "B. J." iii. 4, § 1).
There are two other important events in the history of the city. From the time of Antoninus Pius it was called "Diocæsarea" on its coins. This change of name implies that the city had become Hellenized; and since there must have been some cause for this, it has been assumed by Schlatter ("Zur Topographie und Gesch. Palästinas," p. 164) that Sepphoris was involved in the insurrection of the Jews during the reign of Antoninus. The city must have taken part in still another insurrection; for it was destroyed by Gallus (Sozomen," Hist. Eccl." iv. 10; see, also, Patricius). The importance of the city was now at an end: the name "Diocæsarea," frequently found also in the Greek and Roman writers of the earlier centuries, disappeared; and the old native name was restored.In Rabbinical Literature.
Sepphoris is frequently mentioned in rabbinical works, and is identified, although no attempt is made to prove the identification, with Kitron (Judges i. 30; Meg. 6a), the name being derived, as stated above, from the fact that the city was perched like a bird on a mountain, although, according to another passage, it was situated on several hills (Pesiḳ. R. 8). R. Jose, writing in the second century, refers to it, in the florid style of the Talmud, as follows: "I saw Sepphoris in its time of prosperity; and it contained 180,000 booths of sellers of spices" (B. B. 75b). The catastrophe which R. Jose implies had since that time overtaken the city was probably one which occurred during the reign of Antoninus Pius. Situated on a high mountain, Sepphoris was said to have a cold climate, so that its inhabitants were predisposed to catarrh (Yer. Shab. 14c); yet Judah I., the patriarch, lived there for seventeen years (Yer. Kil. 32b; Gen. R. xcvi.), and made it, in a certain sense, the center of Judaism. According to tradition, he was buried at Sepphoris, although his tomb is really in Beth-she'arim (Ket. 103b), in the vicinity of the city. In the Middle Ages his tomb was thought to be in a certain cave which was closed by a stone door (Estori Farḥi, "Kaftor wa-Feraḥ," xi., in Luncz, "Jerusalem," i. 99). Several other rabbis, besides the patriarch, lived at Sepphoris in the Talmudic period (see Frankel, "Mebo," pp. 3-4).
A special form of the Roman coin "tressis," which was probably minted there, is a proof of the importance of the city as a commercial center (Tos. Ma'as. Sh. iv. 3); and the upper and the lower market are expressly mentioned ('Er. 54b). In view of the importance of the place as an emporium, many foreign Jews settled there; so that allusions both to the synagogue of the people of Guphna (Yer. Naz. 56a) and to a synagogue of the Babylonians at Sepphoris are met with (Yer. Sanh. 28a; comp. Yer. Soṭah 22a). Millers of Sepphoris who did not work on the semiholy days are mentioned in approvingterms (Yer. Pes. 30d); and a tailor named Justus was once governor of the place (Reland, "Palæstina," ii. 1001). Joseph b. Simai, a pious and prominent man, who lived in olden times at Siḥin in the immediate vicinity of Sepphoris, is said to have been "the governor of the king," this term probably denoting some prince of the house of Herod ("epitropos" perhaps = "procurator"; Shab. 121a; Tos. Shab. xiii. 9).
Despite the fact that Sepphoris was the seat of prominent Talmudic scholars and of great academies, and thus owed its importance in later times to the Rabbis, its inhabitants were by no means friendly to them. Although the people showed their sympathy on the death of R. Judah I. (Yer. Ket. 32b; Bab. Ket. 103b), and although the city had a school of its own, which was termed simply the "Sepphorian" (Yer. Shab. 7a; Yer. M. Ḳ. 82d), nevertheless the people were likened to "desert, obscurity, and darkness" (Yer. Ḥag. 77a); and it was said of them: "The people of Sepphoris have a hard heart: they hear the words of the Law; but they do not bow down before it" (Yer. Ta'an. 66c). R. Ḥama b. Ḥanina was even refused ordination as a teacher solely because he was a native of the place (Yer. Ta'an. 68a).Exact Site.
The exact site of this important city may be determined through several references. A series of caves and military outposts extended from Tiberias to Sepphoris (Yer. 'Er. 22b); and it was situated in upper Galilee (Tos. Pe'ah iv. 10; Ket. 67b). According to the Talmudic references, the city lay eighteen Roman miles from Tiberias; but, according to Eusebius and Jerome, only ten, thus being west of Mt. Tabor; still another passage of the Talmud locates it half-way between Kefar 'Utni and Kefar Ḥananyah (Bek. 55a). All these data justify an identification with the modern Ṣaffuriyah, a village northwest of Nazareth.
The fact that Benjamin of Tudela refers to the city, but says nothing of any Jews there, shows that Sepphoris had no Jewish population in the twelfth century, probably in consequence of the Crusades. R. Moses Israel, who flourished in the early part of the eighteenth century, refers to its Jewish community; but no Jews now (1905) live in the city (Grünhut, "Benjamin von Tudela," ii. 15, Jerusalem, 1903).
- Robinson, Researches, iii. 440;
- Sepp, Jerusalem und das Heilige Land, ii. 98;
- Boettger, Topographisch-Historisches Lexicon zu den Schriften des Flavius Josephus, p. 229;
- Neubauer, G. T. pp. 191-195;
- Hamburger, R. B. T. ii. 1115;
- Buhl, Geographie von Palästina, p. 220;
- Schürer, Gesch. 3d ed., ii. 162-167;
- Luncz, Hameammer, i. 252-260.