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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

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Tiberias, Lake
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Founded by Herod Antipas.

City founded by Herod Antipas in the year 26 C.E., and named in honor of the emperor Tiberius; situated on the western shore of Lake Gennesaret, near certain hot springs, in the most beautiful region of Galilee. The population of the city was very heterogeneous, thus giving rise to various stories. For example, one legend was to the effect that after the building of the city had been begun human bones were found, whence the conclusion was drawn that the site must once have been a burial-place; so that the whole city was declared unclean. The pious were accordingly forbidden to dwell there, since the merest contact with graves made one unclean for seven days (Numbers 19:16; Oh. , ). Herod, being determined to people the city at all hazards, was, therefore, obliged to induce beggars, adventurers, and foreigners to come there; and in some cases he had even to use violence to carry out his will. The majority of the inhabitants, nevertheless, were Jews.


The city had its own government, with a council (βουλή) of 500 members at the head, the archon (ἄρχων) being the presiding officer. From this council was chosen a board of ten members called "the ten elders" (δέκρ πρῶτοι), their chief function being the punctual levying of the taxes, for which their own means were security. There were also hyparchs and an "agronomos" at the head (comp. Pauly-Wissowa, "Real-Encyc." s.). Since Tiberias was the capital of Galilee, it was ruled by Herod until he was exiled to Lyons (France) in 39. It then came under Agrippa I., in whose possessionit remained until his death in 44, after which it was subject directly to Rome. It was the capital of Galilee until 61, when Nero gave it to Agrippa II., and thus detached it from Galilee, since that province did not belong to him.

When, in 66, the great revolution raged through the whole of Palestine, the inhabitants were divided into three factions: (1) the party on the side of Agrippa and the Romans; (2) the great mass of the poor, who were partizans of the rebellion; and (3) the neutrals, including the historian Justus of Tiberias, who were neither friendly to Rome nor eager for the revolution. The revolutionists, headed by Jesus ben Zappha or Zopha, archon of the city, soon gained control; but the Roman faction would not give way. When, therefore, John of Giscala lodged a complaint in the Sanhedrin at Jerusalem against Josephus, who was then at Tiberias, the council sent to the city an embassy of four men with 2,500 troops. Josephus at first sought to annul the decision of the Sanhedrin; but his efforts proved unsuccessful, and, compelling the embassy to return to Jerusalem, he subdued the revolutionary party, whereupon the Roman sympathizers appealed to Agrippa for aid, which he refused to grant. After Vespasian had conquered the greater part of Galilee, however, Tiberias voluntarily opened its gates to him, and favor was shown the inhabitants for Agrippa's sake.


Of the famous buildings in Tiberias the most prominent were the royal palace (which was stormed and destroyed in the Jewish war on account of its pictures), the stadium, a synagogue (προσευχή), and a great assembly hall (μέγιστον οἴκημα), while after the close of the war pagan temples, including the Adrianeum (Ἀδριανεῖον), were built there as well as in other cities. The baths of Tiberias, called "demosin" or "demosin de-Ṭebarya" (δνμόσια), were famous as early as the third century (Yer. Ber. 2:5,3; 3:6,3). The synagogues of the city were the Kifra (Yer. Meg. 1:1) and the Kenishta 'Attiḳta de-Serongin (Yer. Kil. 9:5), while the "castle of Tiberias," mentioned in Yer. 'Ab. Zarah 3:1, appears to have been the building which Josephus fortified to defend the city. A saying of Raba or of Abaye, "I know this or that halakah as well as Ben 'Azzai [a tanna of the early part of the second century] knows the streets of Tiberias" ('Er. 29a; Ḳid. 20a; Soṭah 45a; 'Ar. 30b), shows that Jewish scholars lived in the city, at least temporarily, very soon after its foundation, although there is no mention of a definite Jewish settlement there until the second half of the second century.

After Simeon ben Yoḥai had fled from the persecutions of the Romans, and had lived in hiding for many years, thus injuring his health, he bathed in the springs of Tiberias and recovered. He seems, in his gratitude, to have declared either a part or the whole of Tiberias to be clean (Yer. Sheb. 9:38d; Gen. R.; Eccl. R. on 10:8; Esther R. 1:9; Shab. 35b; 'Ab. Zarah 10a; Grätz, "Gesch." 4:208,473). Judah ha-Nasi also resided there (R. H. 31b; comp. Rashi, s. "Bet She'arim"); and from the time when Johanan b. Nappaḥa settled in Tiberias (Yer. Sheb. 9:1; Beẓah 1:1) the city became the center of scholarship, so that other academies could not compare with it. Even R. Abbahu sent his son from Cæsarea to Tiberias to study (Yer. Pes. 3:7). It was, moreover, the last city in which a Sanhedrin held sittings (R. H. 51b; Yer. Pes. 4:2).

During Persecutions.

During the persecutions in the reigns of the emperors Constantius and Gallus the Tiberian scholars decided to intercalate a month in the calendar for the year 353; but fear of the Romans led to the substitution of "Rakkath" (Joshua 19:35) for "Tiberias" in the letter which conveyed the information to Raba at Maḥuza (Sanh. 12a). The sessions of the scholars were held in a grotto near Tiberias, and only by the flickering of torches was it possible to distinguish between night and day (Gen. R. ). In several places in the Talmud, e.g., in Meg. 6a, the identity of Tiberias with Rakkath is established.

Even in the sixth century Tiberias was still the seat of religious learning; so that Bishop Simeon of Bet-Arsham urged the Christians of Palestine to seize the leaders of Judaism in Tiberias, to put them to the rack, and to compel them to command the Jewish king, Dhu Nuwas, to desist from persecuting the Christians in Najran (Assemani, "Bibliotheca Orientalis Clementino-Vaticana," 1:379).

In 614 a monk of Mt. Sinai went to Tiberias to become a Jew. He received the name of Abraham, and married a Jewess of that city (Antiochius, "Homilia Octoginta-Quarta," in Migne, "Patrologia Græca," 12:265). In the ninth century the grammariansand Masorites Moses and Aaron ben Asher lived at Tiberias, which was then called Mu'izziyyah, in honor of the Fatimite calif Mu'izz. The system of Hebrew punctuation still in use originated in Tiberias and is accordingly called the Tiberian system (comp. Grätz, c. 3d ed., , note 23, , and the remarks of Halberstam).

At the beginning of the twelfth century the Jewish community in Tiberias numbered about fifty families; and at that time the best manuscripts of the Torah were said to be found there. According to some sources the grave of Moses Maimonides is at Tiberias; but this statement is of very doubtful accuracy (see Conforte, "Ḳore ha-Dorot," p. 13a; "Sefer Yuḥasin," ed. Filipowski, p. 131b).

Don Joseph Nasi.

In the sixteenth century Joseph ben Ardut, aided by the riches of Doña Gracia and by the daily remittances of 60 aspers sent him by order of Sultan Sulaiman, undertook to rebuild the city of Tiberias, and to allow only Jews to reside there. The old superstition was revived, however, that the Jewish religion would conquer all others when Tiberias was rebuilt, whereupon the workmen refused to work and had to be forced to do so. After a year the city was completed, and Joseph wished to introduce the breeding of silkworms and the manufacture of wool (Charière, "Négociation," 2:736; Gratiani, "De Bello Cypro," p. 492, note). The first Jewish immigrants to the new city went thither from the Pontifical States, as a result of a papal bull; and they were aided by Joseph Nasi. Their numbers and fortunes are alike unknown.

In 1837 an earthquake destroyed most of the city, while in 1865 and 1866 the ravages of the cholera forced the leaders of the community to apply to Europe for aid, appeals being printed in nearly all the Jewish weekly periodicals. Conditions have much improved, however; and since the year 1889 the community has had its own physician. The cemetery is situated on the ruins of the old city. The Jews of Tiberias number about 2,000 in a total population of 3,600.

  • Robinson, Researches, 3:500-525;
  • Sepp, Jerusalem und das Heilige Land, 2:188-209;
  • Z. D. P. V. 1886, 9:81-103;
  • Kaminka, Studien zur Geschichte Galiläas, Berlin, 1889;
  • Schürer, Gesch. 3d ed., Index, s.;
  • Grätz, Gesch. 3:269 et seq.; 4:181 et seq.; 6:169,242 9:398;
  • H. T. de Graaf, De Joodsche Wetgelurden in Tiberias van 70-400 n. C., Gröningen, 1902;
  • Neubauer, G. T. pp. 25, 35, 208 et seq.
E. C.
S. O.
Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Tiberias'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tje/​t/tiberias.html. 1901.
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