One sure sign that religiously observant Jews inhabited a site from the turn of the era is the presence of ritual immersion pools (mikva’ot; singular, mikveh).
More than a dozen stepped pools have been uncovered in excavations at the important Lower Galilee site of Sepphoris, just 4 miles northwest of Nazareth. They are generally regarded as mikva’ot, both by the excavators and by others.1 Because of its proximity to Nazareth Sepphoris has figured prominently in discussions of the cultural context in which Jesus of Nazareth grew up.a
I do not doubt that Sepphoris was an important city at the time of Jesus, with a significant Jewish as well as pagan population. In the late second to thirdcentury C.E., Sepphoris became the seat of the Sanhedrin under the leadership of the great Rabbi Judah ha-Nasi, compiler of the earliest rabbinic code (the Mishnah). The city remained a major center of Jewish learning for a considerable time.
But are these dozen or so stepped pools mikva’ot? I think not.