Sepphoris Inscriptions Reference Rabbis

Bible and archaeology news


An archaeologist cleans one of the Aramaic inscriptions recently found at Sepphoris.
Photo: Miki Peleg, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

A team of researchers from the Kinneret Institute for Galilean Archaeology of the Kinneret Academic College and the Israel Antiquities Authority have recently discovered three 1,700-year-old funerary inscriptions in northern Israel. The inscriptions were found in an ancient cemetery located in Moshav Zippori—ancient Sepphoris, which served as the capital of Galilee from the first century B.C.E. to the first century C.E.

Two of the inscriptions are written in Aramaic, and one is written in Greek. While Aramaic was the everyday language of Jews living in that time period, many of them also spoke and read Greek. The Aramaic inscriptions refer to two rabbis, whose names have not yet been translated, who were buried in the cemetery. Even though the Kinneret Institute scholars cannot be sure what exact role rabbis played during this period, this mention of rabbis is of particular interest because of Sepphoris’s connection to Rabbi Yehudah Ha-Nasi (Judah the Prince).

In Biblical Archaeology Review, Ehud Netzer and Zeev Weiss describe the importance of Sepphoris during the Roman period:

In the second century C.E., the city became a center of Jewish law and learning. At that time the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish court, sat here. In about 200 C.E. here in Sepphoris, [Yehudah Ha-Nasi] compiled the Mishnah, the earliest and most basic rabbinic text. According to the Talmud and the Mishnah many great sages lived here, teaching in the city’s numerous beth midrashim (houses of study). At this time, the city was also a commercial and agricultural center.


The Galilee is one of the most evocative locales in the New Testament—the area where Jesus was raised and where many of the Apostles came from. Our free eBook The Galilee Jesus Knew focuses on several aspects of Galilee: how Jewish the area was in Jesus’ time, the ports and the fishing industry that were so central to the region, and several sites where Jesus likely stayed and preached.

Another interesting discovery in the Sepphoris cemetery was the phrase “the Tiberian” on one of the inscriptions. This is the second time the nearby Galilean city of Tiberias has been referenced on a funerary inscription from Sepphoris. According to the researchers, this could reflect the desire for Jews from around Galilee to be buried in Sepphoris because of its connection to Rabbi Yehudah Ha-Nasi. On the other hand, the inscription may have belonged to someone who lived and died at Sepphoris, but wanted Tiberias, his place of origin, to be recorded.


A first-century C.E. residential area excavated at Sepphoris.
Photo: Duby Tal and Moni Haramati, Albatross.

In total, 17 funerary inscriptions have been found at Sepphoris. The team of researchers studying the inscriptions, which will continue to shed light on the inhabitants of Sepphoris, includes Dr. Motti Aviam, Aharoni Amitai and Dr. Jacob Ashkenazi of the Kinneret Institute for Galilean Archaeology and Miki Peleg of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Glafira Carr is an intern at the Biblical Archaeology Society.


More on Galilee in Bible History Daily:

Egyptian Scarab Amulet Unearthed at Sepphoris

Excavating in Jewish Galilee by James Riley Strange

A Samson Mosaic from Huqoq
An inside look at discovering ancient synagogues with Jodi Magness

2,200-Year-Old Duck-Shaped Shovel Unearthed in Ancient Galilee

An Ancient Jewish Lamp Workshop in the Galilee

Magnificent Menorah Mosaic Found in Galilee


More on Sepphoris in the BAS Library:

Mark Chancey and Eric M. Meyers, “Spotlight on Sepphoris: How Jewish Was Sepphoris in Jesus’ Time?” Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August 2000.

Tsvika Tsuk, “Spotlight on Sepphoris: Bringing Water to Sepphoris,” Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August 2000.

Richard A. Batey, “Sepphoris—An Urban Portrait of Jesus,” Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 1992.

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  • David says

    Flavius Josephus indicated in his 1st century writings that not many Jews would have learned Greek. He wrote: “For those of my own nation freely acknowledge that I far exceed them in the learning belonging to the Jews. I have also taken a great deal of pains to obtain the learning of the Greeks, and understand the elements of the Greek language, although I have so long accustomed myself to speak our own tongue, that I cannot pronounce Greek with sufficient exactness: for our nation does not encourage those that learn the languages of many nations… they look upon this sort of accomplishment as common [in other words, not worth much].”

    Is it possible there was a requirement at some point from the Greek authorities to have names on ossuaries only in the Greek language? A law, for example, to keep census records in their official language? Could older inscriptions have been exempt? Just curious. Maybe someone knows of some legal documents in the Greek showing a law enacted in this area.

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