Tiberias

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tī-bē´ri-as (Τιβεριάς, Tiberiás, John 6:23):

A city, the modern Tubarich, on the western shore of the Sea of Tiberias. It is said to have been founded by Herod Antipas (16 AD), on the site of the ruins of an older city called Rakkath, and to have been thus named by him after the Emperor Tiberius. It is mentioned only three times in the history of our Lord (John 6:1, John 6:23; John 21:1).

About the middle of the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, the mountains fall back from the coast, and leave a roughly crescent-shaped plain, about 2 miles in length. The modern city of Tiberias (Ṭabarīyeh) stands at the northern extremity, where the ground begins to rise; and the Hot Baths (Hammath) at the south end. On the southern part of this plain Herod Antipas built a city (circa 26 AD), calling it “Tiberias” in honor of the emperor who had befriended him. In clearing the ground and digging foundations certain tombs were disturbed (Ant., XVIII ii, 3). It may have been the graveyard of old Hammath. The palace, the famous “Golden House,” was built on the top of a rocky hill which rises on the West to a height of some 500 ft. The ruin is known today as Ḳasr bint el-Melek, “Palace of the King's Daughter” The strong walls of the city can be traced in almost their entire length on the landward side. Parts are also to be seen along the shore, with towers at intervals which guarded against attack by sea. The ruins cover a considerable area. There is nothing above ground older than Herod's city. Only excavation can show whether or not the Talmud is fight in saying that Tiberias was built on the site of Rakkath and Chinnereth (Neubauer, Geog. du Talmud, 208). The Jews were shy of settling in a city built over an old cemetery; and Herod had trouble in finding occupants for it. A strange company it was that he ultimately gathered of the “poorer people,” foreigners, and others “not quite freemen”; and these were drawn by the prospect of good houses and land which he freely promised them. With its stadium, its palace “with figures of living things” and its senate, it may be properly described as a Greek city, although it also contained a proseuchḗ, or place of prayer, for the Jews (BJ, II, xxi, 6; Vita, XII, 54, etc.). This accounts for it figuring so little in the Gospels. In his anxiety to win the favor of the Jews, Herod built for them “the finest synagogue in Galilee”; but many years were to elapse before it should become a really Jewish city.

Superseding Sepphoris, Tiberias was the capital of Galilee under Agrippa I and the Roman procurators. It surrendered to Vespasian, and was given by Nero to Agrippa II, Sepphoris again becoming the capital. During the Jewish war its inhabitants were mainly Jewish, somewhat turbulent and difficult to manage. In 100 AD, at Agrippa's death, the Romans assumed direct control. After the fall of Jerusalem, the Sanhedrin retreated to Galilee, first to Sepphoris, and then to Tiberias. Here, some time before 220 AD, under supervision of the famous Rabbi Jehuda ha-Nāsī', “Judah the Prince,” or, as he is also called ha-ḳādhōsh, “the Holy,” the civil and ritual laws, decrees, customs, etc., held to be of binding obligation, handed down by tradition, but not having Scriptural authority, were codified and written down, under the title of “Mishna.” Here also later was compiled the Jerusalem Talmud (Yerūshalmī), as distinguished from that compiled in Babylon (Babhlī). The city thus became a great center of Jewish learning. Maimonides' tomb is shown near the town, and that of Aqiba on the slope of the mountain, where it is said 24,000 of his disciples are buried with him.

After the fall of Jerusalem (70 AD), Tiberias became one of the chief residences of the Jews in Palestine. It was for more than three hundred years their metropolis. from about 150 AD the Sanhedrin settled here, and established rabbinical schools, which rose to great celebrity. Here the Jerusalem (or Palestinian) Talmud was compiled about the beginning of the fifth century. To this same rabbinical school also we are indebted for the Masora, a “body of traditions which transmitted the readings of the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, and preserved, by means of the vowel-system, the pronunciation of the Hebrew.” In its original form, and in all manuscripts, the Hebrew is written without vowels; hence, when it ceased to be a spoken language, the importance of knowing what vowels to insert between the consonants. This is supplied by the Masora, and hence these vowels are called the “Masoretic vowel-points.”

In Christian times Tiberias was the seat of a bishop. It fell to the Muslim invaders in 637 AD. It changed hands several times as between the Crusaders and the Saracens. It was finally taken by the Muslim invaders in 1247 AD.

The enclosing walls of the modern city, and the castle, now swiftly going to ruin, were built by Tancred and repaired by Daher el-'Omar in 1730. There are over 5,000 inhabitants, mostly Jews, in whose hands mainly is the trade of the place. The fishing in the lake, in which some 20 boats are occupied, is carried on by Muslims and Christians. Tiberias is the chief inhabited place on the lake, to which as in ancient days it gives its name, Baḥr Ṭabarīyeh, “Sea of Tiberias” (John 6:1; John 21:1). It is the market town for a wide district. The opening of the Haifa-Damascus Railway has quickened the pulse of life considerably. A steamer and motor boat ply between the town and the station at Semach, bringing the place into easy touch with the outside world. The water of the lake is largely used for all purposes, although there are cisterns for rain water under some of the houses.

After a residence of over five years in the city, the present writer can say that it does not deserve the evil reputation which casual travelers have given it. In matters of cleanliness and health it stands comparison very well with other oriental towns. Sometimes, in east wind; it is very hot, thermometer registering over 114 Degrees Fahrenheit in the shade. The worst time is just at the beginning of the rainy season, when the impurities that have gathered in the drought of summer are washed into the sea, contaminating the water.

In 1837 about one-half of the inhabitants perished by an earthquake. The population of the city is now about six thousand, nearly the one-half being Jews. “We do not read that our Lord ever entered this city. The reason of this is probably to be found in the fact that it was practically a heathen city, though standing upon Jewish soil. Herod, its founder, had brought together the arts of Greece, the idolatry of Rome, and the gross lewdness of Asia. There were in it a theatre for the performance of comedies, a forum, a stadium, a palace roofed with gold in imitation of those in Italy, statues of the Roman gods, and busts of the deified emperors. He who was not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel might well hold himself aloof from such scenes as these” (Manning's Those Holy Fields).

The United Free Church of Scotland has here a well-equipped mission to the Jews.

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