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Bible Dictionaries

Fausset's Bible Dictionary


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John 6:1-23; John 21:1. Josephus (Ant. 18, B.J. 2:9, section 1) says it was built by Herod Antipas, and named in honour of the emperor Tiberius. Capital of Galilee until the time of Herod Agrippa II, who transferred the seat of power again to Sepphoris. Antipas built in Tiberias a Roman stadium and palace adorned with images of animals which offended the Jews, as did also its site on an ancient burial ground. Now Tubarieh, a filthy wretched place. On the western shore toward the southern end of the sea of Galilee or Tiberias, as John alone calls the sea. John is the only New Testament writer who mentions Tiberias. His notice of its many "boats" (John 6:23) agrees with Josephus' account of its traffic. Tiberias stood on the strip of land, two miles long and a quarter of a mile broad, between the water and the steep hills which elsewhere come down to the water's edge. It occupied all the ground of the parallelogram, including Tubarieh at the northern end, and reaching toward the warm baths at the southern end (reckoned by Roman naturalists as one of the wonders of the world: Pliny, H. N. 5:15).

A few palms still are to be seen, but the oleander abounds. The people, numbering 3,000 or 4,000, mostly live by fishing as of old. A strong wall guards the land side, but it is open toward the sea. The Jews, constituting one-fourth of the population, have their quarter in the middle of the town near the lake. Our Lord avoided Tiberias on account of the cunning and unscrupulous character of Herod Antipas whose headquarters were there (Luke 13:32); Herod never saw Him until just before the crucifixion (Luke 23:8). Christ chose the plain of Gennesaret at the head of the lake, where the population was at once dense and Jewish; and, as being sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, kept away from Tiberias. After Jerusalem's overthrow Tiberias was spared by the Romans because the people favored rather than opposed the conquerors' arms.

The Sanhedrin, after temporarily sojourning at Jamnia and Sepphoris, fixed its seat there in the second century. The Mishna was compiled in Tiberias by Rabbi Judah Haqodesh, A.D. 190. The Masorah body of traditions, which transmitted the Old Testament text readings and preserved the Hebrew pronunciation and interpretation, originated there. Jerusalem, Hebron, Safed, and Tiberias are the four holy places in which the Jews say if prayer without ceasing were not offered the world would fall into chaos. The Romans recognized the patriarch of Tiberias and empowered him to appoint his subordinate ministers who should visit all the distant colonies of Jews, and to receive contributions from the Jews of the whole Roman empire.

The colony round Tiberias flourished under the emperors Antoninus Plus, Alexander Severus, and Julian, in the second and third centuries. The patriarchate of Tiberias finally ceased in 414 A.D. (See SYNAGOGUE on the Roman character of the existing remains of synagogues in Palestine, due no doubt to the patronage of Antoninus Pius and Alexander Severus, the great builders and restorers of temples in Syria.) The eminent Maimonides laboured and was buried at Tiberias in 1204 A.D. The earthquake of 1837 shook the town mightily. A Jewish idea is that Messiah will emerge from the lake, proceed to Tiberias and Safed, then set His throne on the highest peak in Galilee.

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Bibliography Information
Fausset, Andrew R. Entry for 'Tiberias'. Fausset's Bible Dictionary. 1949.

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