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Bible Encyclopedias

1911 Encyclopedia Britannica


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a town on the western shore of the sea of Galilee (to which it gives its modern Arabic name, Bahr Tubariya, i.e. Sea of Tiberias). It has a population of about 4000, more than half of whom are Jews (principally Polish immigrants). It stands in a fertile but fever-stricken strip of plain between the Galilee hills and the sea-shore. It is the seat of a l aimmakam or sub-governor, subordinate to the governor of 'Akka. There are Latin and Greek hospices here, as well as an important mission, with hospital and schools, under the United Free Church of Scotland. The pre-Herodian history of the city is not certain. There is a rabbinical tradition that it stands on the site of a city called Rakka, but this is wholly imaginary. Josephus (Ant. xviii. 2, 3) describes the building of Tiberias by Herod Antipas near a village called Emmaus, where are hot springs. This is probably the Hammath of Jos. xix. 35. The probability is that Herod built an entirely new city; in fact, the circumstance that it was necessary to disturb an ancient graveyard proves that there were here no buildings previously. The graveyard was probably the cemetery of Hammath. Owing to this necessity Herod had a difficulty in peopling his city, and, indeed, was compelled to use force (Jos. Ant., loc. cit.) to cause any but the dregs of the populace to incur defilement by living in a place thus unclean. On this account Tiberias was long regarded with aversion by Jews, but after the fall of Jerusalem it was settled by them and rose to be the chief centre of rabbinic learning.

The building of the city falls between A.D. 16 and A.D. 22. It was named in honour of the emperor Tiberius, and rapidly increased in luxury and art, on entirely Greek models. Probably because it was so completely exotic in character it is passed over in almost total silence in the Gospels - the city (as opposed to the lake) is mentioned but once, as the place from which came boats with sight-seers to the scene of the feeding the five thousand, John vi. 23. There is no reason to suppose that Christ ever visited it. The city surrendered to Vespasian, who restored it to Agrippa. It now became a famous rabbinic school. Here lived Rabbi Judah ha k-I adosh, editor of the Mishnah; here was edited the Jerusalem Talmud, and here are the tombs of Rabbi Aqiba and Maimonides. Christianity never succeeded in establishing itself here in the Byzantine period, though there was a bishopric of Tiberias, and a church built by Constantine. In 637 the Arabs captured the town. The crusaders under Tancred retook it, but lost it to Saladin in 1187. In the 16th century the city was rebuilt by Joseph ben Ardut, subvented by Dona Gracia and Sultan Suleiman. An attempt was made to introduce the silk industry. In the 18th century it was fortified and occupied by the famous independent sheikh Dhahir el-Amir.

Tiberias is notoriously dirty and proverbial for its fleas, whose king is said by the Arabs to hold his court here. Most of the town was ruined by the earthquake of 1837. The most interesting buildings are the ruins of a fortress, perhaps Herodian, south of the town, and an ancient synagogue on the sea-coast. The hot springs mentioned by Josephus (and also by Pliny) are about half an hour's journey to the south. (R. A. S. M.)

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Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Tiberias'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. 1910.

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