History of the Site
Spanning the lifetime of Jesus, the ancient village of Shikhin perched on a low knoll in the lush hills and broad valleys of the Tuscany of Israel: the Lower Galilee. Travelers on the Roman highway that linked Acco/Ptolemais on the Mediterranean coast with Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee could turn south to the city of Sepphoris, gleaming atop its own hill. Just before reaching the city, they would cross the foot of Shikhin and could take the opportunity to refresh themselves before completing their journey.
Sepphoris and Shikhin had similar beginnings as new Jewish settlements in the Perisan period, and the population of both grew in the Hellenistic period. The fates of the two diverged, however, when some time in the early second century BCE Ptolemy Lathyrus successfully attacked Shikhin on a Sabbath but was fended off by Sepphoris’ militia. This suggests that Sepphoris was already fortified. Gabinius, the Roman proconsul of Syria, located one of the Sanhedrins at Sepphoris in around 57 BCE, and Sepphoris would receive further prestige when Herod made it his northern headquarters in 39/38 BCE. Shikhin did not join the city in revolt at the death of Herod, and so the village was probably spared when the Romans destroyed Sepphoris in 4 BCE and sold its inhabitants into slavery. Afterwards, Antipas, one of Herod’s sons, made Sepphoris his capital city: “the ornament of all Galilee,” according to the historian Josephus (he called the village Asochis). It was at Sepphoris that Rabbi Judah “the Prince” completed the compilation of the Mishnah in the first decade of the third century CE. That text would become the basis for Judaism’s two great Talmuds. The hill of Sepphoris supported continuous settlement up to the present day, while Shikhin’s population declined and eventually abandoned its hilltop in the seventh century, never to resettle it.
Yet Shikhin managed to distinguish itself on its own terms. Its potters gained a reputation for throwing vessels that were not likely to break. Consequently, throughout the Roman periods Shikhin probably became a supplier of bowls, cooking pots, storage jars, jugs, and oil lamps for many towns in the Galilee, perhaps even Sepphoris. Shikhin was ideally situated to distribute its wares because of its location near the highway. The village also gained some wealthy and influential residents. Several rabbinic sources recount a story of firemen at Sepphoris rushing to put out a conflagration at the house of Joseph Ben Simai, a “government official” who lived at Shikhin. The story suggests a close connection between the populations of the two towns, and that city officials thought it was important to protect the villagers—or at least this particular villager—from fire.
Despite that relationship, Shikhin may also have bypassed Sepphoris’ markets. In the Galilee, archaeologists are discovering some villages in which they find none of Sepphoris’ city coins, but, surprisingly, they do find Jewish coins minted centuries earlier in the Hellenistic period. One of the questions we will be asking is, "Did Shikhin participate in the same resistance economy?"