I find it fascinating that in all the material that I read or was taught about Jesus of Nazareth growing up, not once did I come across or was made aware of the one event that perhaps best offers some historical depth and perspective surrounding his crucifixion — the burning of the city of Sepphoris by the Romans in 4 BCE, right about the time Jesus was born. Sepphoris, a haven for political activistism against Roman rule, was located only three and a half miles (an easy walking distance) of the hillside village of Nazareth in the Judean province of Galilee. Nazareth was almost like a suburb of Sepphoris, and so it is reasonable to assume that destruction had a powerful financial, social, and pyschological impact on the people of Nazareth, including Jesus’ family and Jesus himself as he was growing up. Smoke from the burning metropolis could easily have been seen from Nazareth.
The Romans either killed or sold into slavery an estimated 30,000 inhabitants of Sepphoris. Some 2,000 of Jesus’ fellow Galileans were taken to Jerusalem (about 100 miles to the south) and crucified in a single day by order of the Roman military commander, Quintilus Varus.
The destruction of Sepphoris followed a rebellion led by Judath the Galilean in response to the death of Herod the Great, who was Rome’s client king in Judea. Judath and his followers had seized control of Herod’s armory in Sepphories, provoking the expected response from Rome.
The rebellion in Sepphoris no doubt fanned an already existing mistrust of Galileans by the Romans, who viewed them as them as troublemakers, revolutionaries, and probably terrorists. The mass slaughter and enslavement of the Sepphorans no doubt fueled an already existing hatred of the Romans by the Galileans. The setting was being prepared in advance for the crucifixion of Jesus.