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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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TIBERIAS (Τιβεριάς).—A city situated on the W. shore of the Sea of Galilee, founded by Herod Antipas, and named by him in honour of the Emperor Tiberius. The original inhabitants were foreigners, whom Herod either forced to reside in the new city or to whom he gave special inducements if they would. Our Lord, so far as is known, never visited Tiberias, it being His custom to avoid Gentile cities. The only reference to the city in the NT is John 6:23, in which it is stated that ‘there came boats from Tiberias unto the place where they ate the bread after the Lord had given thanks’ (cf. John 6:1; John 21:1).

1. Location.—The ancient city was situated directly on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and therefore approximately 682 feet below the level of the Mediterranean, at the north end of a narrow rectangular plain about two miles long, which was bounded by a rather steep ridge of hills rising abruptly to the west. From the ruins still to be found in the vicinity it is probable that the ancient city extended considerably farther south of the modern town. Josephus (Ant. xviii. ii. 3; cf. BJ iv. i. 3) says that there were ‘warm baths a little distance from it in a village called Emmaus’ (Hammath?). According to the Talmud (Jerus. [Note: Jerusalem.] Megilla, i. 1), the city was built upon the ancient site of Rakkath of Naphtali; and it is further stated (Sanhed. 12a) that in the 4th cent. the Jews had actually dropped the name Tiberias and reverted to the ancient name Rakkath. On the other hand, in the Bab. [Note: Babylonian.] Talmud, Tiberias is sometimes identified with Rakkath, sometimes with Hammath, and sometimes with Chinnereth (cf. Joshua 19:35). Jerome (Onom. 112. 28 ff.) identifies it with Chinnereth.

2. History.—Herod Antipas is supposed to have completed the building of Tiberias about a.d. 22. Ancient sepulchres were removed to make room for the new foundations, and accordingly the Jews regarded the new city as legally unclean (cf. Numbers 19:11 ff.). Nevertheless the town grew with great rapidity, and, before the downfall of Jerusalem had become one of the chief cities of Palestine. Herod had made it the capital of Galilee, removing the seat of government from Sepphoris, the former capital. The city was fortified by Josephus when commander-in-chief of Galilee (c. [Note: circa, about.] a.d. 66). During the struggle of the Jews with Rome, its inhabitants remained loyal to the national cause. When, however, Vespasian appeared before its walls with three legions, the citizens yielded without resistance. Vespasian restored it to Herod Agrippa II., who stripped it of its political prestige by transferring the capital again to Sepphoris. When Agrippa died (a.d. 100), it fell directly under Roman rule. Shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem (a.d. 70), Tiberias became the chief seat of the Jews and of Jewish learning. According to Epiphanius, it was not long before the city was inhabited exclusively by Jews. In the 2nd cent. the Sanhedrin, which had been shifted from Jerusalem to Jamnia and then to Sepphoris, was established at Tiberias under the presidency of the celebrated Rabbi Judah the Holy.

3. Present condition.—The modern town is called by the Arabs Tâbarîyeh. Traces still remain of the ancient city along the Lake, especially to the south of the present town. Heaps of stones, columns of grey granite, foundations of buildings, and of a thick wall which extended almost to the famous baths, all confirm the supposition that the ancient city extended at one time farther south. The present town is defended on the land side by a wall furnished with towers. There are the ruins of a once imposing castle at the N.W. corner. But castle, walls, and houses were seriously damaged by the earthquakes of 30th Oct. 1759 and of 1st Jan. 1837. Among the famous tombs of Tiberias are those of Maimonides, and Rabbis ‘Akiba and Jochanan. To-day Tiberias has a population of approximately 4000 souls, of whom about two-thirds are Jews and the other third Mohammedans and Christians of different sects. The Protestants have a well-equipped hospital, and are doing a good religious work under the United Free Church of Scotland. The Jews occupy a squalid quarter in the middle of the town, adjacent to the Lake. The city as a whole is ‘a picture of disgusting filth and frightful wretchedness.’ Of late, however, the place is improving somewhat, having become the seat of a Turkish kaimakan, or governor.

Tiberias is hot and fever-haunted. The breezes from the Mediterranean are prevented from striking the city by the hills which bound the plain on the west. The winters are mild, snow being very rarely known. The Lake furnishes the only supply of water. The view from the city embraces the whole extent of the Sea of Galilee except the S.W. extremity. Schürer speaks of Tiberias as ‘the most beautiful spot in Galilee,’ which, however, is an exaggeration. At present it is one of the four sacred cities of the Jews in Palestine, the others being Jerusalem, Hebron, and Safed. The study of the Talmud still flourishes in Tiberias.

Literature.—Robinson, BRP [Note: RP Biblical Researches in Palestine.] iii. 254 ff.; Baedeker-Socin, Pal. [Note: Palestine, Palestinian.] 286 ff.; Guérin, Galilée, i. 250 ff.; Neubauer, Géog. du Talm. [Note: Talmud.] 208 ff.; Merrill, art. ‘Tiberias’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible : Buhl, GAP [Note: AP Geographic des alten Palästina.] 226 f.; Reland, Pal. [Note: Palestine, Palestinian.] ii. 1036; G. A. Smith, HGHL [Note: GHL Historical Geog. of Holy Land.] 447 ff.; Burckhardt, Travels, 320 ff.; Murray, Syria-Pal. [Note: Palestine, Palestinian.] 251; Schürer, HJP [Note: JP History of the Jewish People.] II. i. 143 ff.; Wilson, Lands of the Bible, ii. 116 ff.; Ritter, Geog. of Pal. [Note: Palestine, Palestinian.] ii. 256 ff.; art. ‘Tiberias’ in EBi [Note: Bi Encyclopaedia Biblica.] iv.

George L. Robinson.

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Tiberias'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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