In Sepphoris, finding a voice

A year ago today, I was in Sepphoris, Israel, with those^^ guys in a UNC-sponsored course to report on the excavation of a 5th century Judaic temple in Huqoq. I’ve written about why here.

But Sepphoris was our first stop, before we even began reporting on the dig in Huqoq. As the Wikipedia entry about Sepphoris says, “In Late Antiquity, it was believed to be the birthplace of Mary, mother of Jesus, and the village where Saints Anna and Joachim are often said to have resided, where today a 5th-century basilica is excavated at the site honoring the birth of Mary.”

Our guide told us that it was only about six kilometers from Nazareth where Jesus grew up and lived as a craftsman. He pointed into the distance and said that, while it isn’t known for sure, it’s likely that Jesus walked over that hill and cut the stone at the very site where we were standing. That idea – that I stood where he worked – took my breath away.

By AVRAMGR – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Today, I finished reading “The Book of Longings” by Sue Monk Kidd. It’s a novel about Ana, fictional wife of Jesus, who grew up in Sepphoris. She was a writer at a time when only men were worthy of writing. Once she and Jesus married, she moved in with him in his home in Nazareth. Monk writes: “He was still traveling to Sepphoris to work on the theater and it seemed he should’ve been on his way by now, but he appeared to be in no hurry.”

The theater is to the left foreground in the photo above. We sat there.

And later: “He would leave tomorrow as a journeyman, traveling from village to village as a stonemason and woodworker. The theater in Sepphoris was finished and jobs there had disappeared as Herod Antipas erected a new capital to the notrh, name Tiberias for the Roman emperor.”

In one room in Sepphoris is a mosaic of a beautiful woman known as the Mona LIsa of the Galilee.

In “The Book of Longings” the model is Ana. Monk’s description: “I could barely bring myself to look at it. The tiny tiles replicated my face with near perfection. They shimmered in the dimness of the frigidarium, the lips seeming to part, the eyes blinking, a deception, a trick of light.”

Alas, in the author’s note, Monk writes that the amphitheater was built decades after Jesus’ death, and the mosaic dates to the third century. She did what all great writers do: she imagined it and made it real in my mind’s eye. That is one of the things that I try to teach writers to do: take what they know to be true and communicate it so that readers can see it.

Monk ends her author’s note this way: “If Jesus actually did have a wife, and history unfolded exactly the way it has, then she would be the most silenced woman in history and the woman most in need of a voice. I’ve tried to give her one.”

Monk tells a compelling, enthralling story. These days, it seems as if a lot of people need to find their voices and break their silence.