Jesus apparently did not think well of the theater, for he was fond of using the term “hypocrite,” originally denoting an actor, as an analogy to chastise those whose religion is a pretense. He uses some form of “hypocrite” 17 times; by contrast, it never appears in Paul’s letters. In the Sermon on the Mount, for example, Jesus warns, “Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them…you must not be like the hypocrites…“ (Matthew 6:1, 5). Jesus’ use of this analogy suggests some firsthand familiarity with the theater. And what better place to gain that familiarity than at the theater in Sepphoris, a mere three miles from Jesus’ home in Nazareth?
The theater at Sepphoris was probably a part of the decades-long rebuilding program that Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee and Perea (4 B.C.-39 A.D.), launched in 3 B.C. The previous city on the site had been destroyed by the Romans as they put down rebellions following Herod the Great’s death in 4 B.C. Building on the foundations of the old city, Antipas turned Sepphoris into his capital. According to the first-century Jewish historian Josephus, Antipas made Sepphoris the largest and most beautiful city in the region. At some point during the reconstruction, Antipas probably installed the theater. Construction of the theater at that time would be consistent with the wave of first-century theater building that gripped the Roman world as the provinces tried to imitate the urban sophistication of Rome.