A mosaic in one of the rich homes of Sepphoris that dates to Jesus’ era
Galilee was called “Galilee of the Gentiles” in Matthew 4:14-15 for a reason. This will be explained better in my documentary segment 4 weeks from now, about the Sea of Galilee. For now, I’m mentioning this in connection with the Hellenists. The Hellenists were worldly Jews that lived among the heathens in the numerous big, worldly, opulent cities of ancient Palestine. Archaeologists are discovering these cities now, built (or made fancier) by Herod. They were why he gained his famous title “the Great.” He wasn’t “great” for doing great things—he was in fact extremely oppressive. But he was a great builder and became famous for all the building projects he undertook.
Herod wanted his subjects to love and adore him. That was impossible to achieve with the majority of Jews because he wasn’t a Jew and he was oppressive. He strove to please them before he died by building them an elaborate temple, but if he pleased anyone, it would be only the worldly Jews and the rich.
Sepphoris was another worldly, opulent city 4 miles north of Nazareth. It was being built while Jesus grew up. Many scholars speculate Jesus and his father worked in Sepphoris since they were carpenters. In my documentary published today, I give the history of Sepphoris, which explains why I don’t believe Jesus and his family ever went there. Another reason I believe no one from Nazareth ever went there is the reaction of Christ’s neighbours and relatives to his sermon in Nazareth, recorded in Luke 4:14-30.
Jesus read from Isaiah 61:1-2 (Septuagint) and Isaiah 58:6. At first “all spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words…from his lips.” Why did they suddenly become enraged and want to stone Jesus? Because Jesus eventually added,
no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.
The very idea of their Messiah being sent to the heathens! Riotous self-righteous anger united them. Their indignation burned against the heathens so it wasn’t enough to wait until the end of Christ’s sermon to take him aside and reprove him in private. It wasn’t even enough to chastise him publicly or evict him from the town. They amassed to kill him on the spot, without even a trial.
Jesus was never bullied into doing anything he wasn’t called to do, but he did say to the Canaanite woman he was “sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” This was a test of her faith (cp. verse 28). But it also revealed a directive for his ministry in general. The Hellenists in Sepphoris had a remnant of religious rituals to tie them to their roots—mikvahs. These are explained in my documentary. But like so many who have unread Bibles in their homes today, or those who go to church twice a year to “do their part,” the Hellenists didn’t practice Judaism much beyond their ritual cleansing. Nor do I believe Jesus went out of his way to speak to them.
Is your religious practice like the Hellenists? Or do you have self-righteous anger at the thought of God possibly drawing any of your enemies to himself?
I took the above picture in Sepphoris (today called Zippori), 2004.