From Galilee to Ann Arbor: It took 66 years

August 22, 1997

ANN ARBOR—In 1931 a scientific excavation of Sepphoris (Zippori in Hebrew) in Galilee was begun by a team led by University of Michigan Prof. Leroy Waterman. In 1997 the results of that excavation and those that followed will be on display at the U-M Museum of Art and the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology on the University’s Central Campus.

Rich in both history and artistry, “Sepphoris in Galilee: Crosscurrents of Culture” propels the viewer back in time and to a distant land where, for centuries, three distinct cultures coexisted in relative harmony.

Waterman’s account of the Sepphoris excavation as published in 1937 by the University of Michigan Press opens with his account of the city which he described as “only an hour’s walk from Nazareth” and “the city that at the beginning of the first Christian century reared its brilliant acropolis, Sepphoris, ‘the ornament of all Galilee,’ its capital and its largest and most ornate city, and at that time second only to Jerusalem in importance in all Palestine.” With a staff of four that “found fairly comfortable quarters in a rented Arab house on the edge of the village,” Waterman and a work force of locals under the direction of an Egyptian foreman went to work. What they found 66 years ago—and what is continuing to be found in the excavation that was home to Jews, pagans and Christians—is an insight into an extraordinary cultural milieu in which the Jewish academy flourished as Christianity took root throughout Galilee. Artifacts in the exhibit that reflect the multicultural nature of the city include coins minted in Sepphoris, architectural elements from synagogues and churches, oil lamps decorated with pagan symbols, a menorah and a cross. Throughout the exhibition, maps, videos, photomurals and three-dimensional models of buildings help viewers envision the artifacts in their original contexts.

Archival photographs, excavation notebooks and artifacts from the Waterman excavations are displayed at the Kelsey Museum. Photos, drawings from the excavation and accounts of the work there can also be seen in the Waterman collection at the Bentley Historical Library on the North Campus.

“The Scientific Test of the Spade: The 1931 University of Michigan Excavations at Sepphoris,” recently published by the Kelsey Museum, documents Waterman’s work, findings, and his contribution to the modern exploration of Sepphoris. It also discusses the archaeology of Palestine before 1948.

“Sepphoris in Galilee” was organized by the North Carolina Museum of Art in consultation with site archaeologists and the Israel Antiquities Authority and is brought to U-M through the sponsorship of the Kelsey Museum, the U-M Museum of Art, the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit’s Partnership 2000, the Nora Lee and Guy Barron Foundation, the Westman Foundation and the Chrysler Corp. Fund. Additional sponsors include U-M’s Office of the Vice President for University Relations; Office of the Vice President for Research; College of Literature, Science, and the Arts; International Institute; and Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies.

Gov. John Engler serves as Honorary Chair of the exhibition.

“Sepphoris in Galilee: Crosscurrents of Culture” opens Sept. 7 and runs through Dec. 14. Admission is free. Both museums are located on South State Street in Ann Arbor and are open Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.;. and Sunday, noon-5 p.m.


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