Tiberias

Tiberias is a city on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, Lower Galilee, Israel. Established in 20 CE, it was named in honor of the emperor Tiberius. Since the sixteenth century, Tiberias has been considered one of Judaism`s Four Holy Cities, along with Jerusalem, Hebron and Safed. in the 2nd-10th centuries, Tiberias was the largest Jewish city in the Galilee, and the political and religious hub of the Jews of Palestine. According to Christian tradition, Jesus performed several miracles in the Tiberias district, making it an important pilgrimage site for devout Christians. Tiberias has historically been known for its hot springs, believed to cure skin and other ailments, for thousands of years. There is a legend that Tiberias was built on the site of the biblical village of Rakkat, mentioned in the Book of Joshua. A discussion of Tiberias as Rakkat appears in the Jewish “Talmud”. In The Antiquities of the Jews, the Roman Jewish historian Josephus states that Tiberias was near Emmaus. This location is repeated in The Wars of the Jews.


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Under the Roman Empire, the city was known by its Greek name “Tiberiás”, an adaptation of the taw-suffixed Semitic form that preserved its feminine grammatical gender.
In the days of Antipas, the Jews refused to settle there; the presence of a cemetery rendered the site ritually unclean. Antipas settled predominantly non-Jews there from rural Galilee and other parts of his domains in order to populate his new capital, and Antipas furthermore built a palace on the acropolis. The prestige of Tiberias was so great that the sea of Galilee soon came to be called the sea of “Tiberias”. The city was governed by a city council of 600 with a committee of 10 until 44 CE when a Roman Procurator was set over the city after the death of Agrippa I. In 61 CE Agrippa II annexed the city to his kingdom whose capital was Caesarea Philippi. During the First Jewish–Roman War Josephus Flavius took control of the city and destroyed Herod`s palace but was able to stop the city being pillaged by his Jewish army. Where most other cities in Palestine were razed, Tiberias was spared because its inhabitants remained loyal to Rome after Josephus Flavius had surrendered the city to the Roman emperor Vespasian. It became a mixed city after the fall of Jerusalem; with Judea subdued, the southern Jewish population migrated to Galilee.

In 145 CE, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai "cleansed the city of ritual impurity allowing Jews to settle in the city in numbers." The Sanhedrin, the Jewish court, also fled from Jerusalem during the Great Jewish Revolt against the Roman Empire, and after several moves eventually settled in Tiberias in about 150 CE. It was to be its final meeting place before disbanding in the early Byzantine period. Following the expulsion of all Jews from Jerusalem after 135, Tiberias and its neighbor Sepphoris became the major Jewish centers. From the time when Yochanan bar Nafcha (d. 279) settled in Tiberias, the city became the focus of Jewish religious scholarship in the land. The Mishnah along with the Jerusalem Talmud, (the written discussions of generations of rabbis in the Land of Israel – primarily in the academies of Tiberias and Caesarea), was probably compiled in Tiberias by Rabbi Judah haNasi in around 200 CE. The 13 synagogues served the spiritual needs of a growing Jewish population.
In the sixth century Tiberias was still the seat of Jewish religious learning. In light of this, Bishop Simeon of Beth 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.

In 614, Tiberias was the site where during the final Jewish revolt against the Byzantine Empire, the Jewish population supported the Persian invaders; the Christians were massacred and the churches destroyed. In 628 the Byzantium army retook Tiberias and the slaughter of the Christians was reciprocated with a slaughter of the Jews.

Ancient and medieval Tiberias was destroyed by a series of devastating earthquakes, and much of what was built after the major earthquake of 1837 was destroyed or badly damaged in the great flood of 1934. Houses in the newer parts of town, uphill from the waterfront, survived. Urban renewal of the old occupied area along the lakefront in the 1960s removed most of the residential buildings in the area. In their place stand a waterfront promenade, open parkland, shopping streets, restaurants, and modern hotels. Carefully preserved were several churches, including one with foundations dating from the Crusader period, the city`s two Ottoman-era mosques, and the several Ancient synagogues of Tiberias. All of the town`s characteristic old houses, masonry-built of the local black basalt with white limestone windows and trim, are officially protected from demolition. They stand on the rising ground uphill from the flat land of the old center city on the waterfront. Also preserved are parts of the ancient wall, the Ottoman-era citadel, and several nineteenth century hotels, and Christian pilgrim hostels, convents, and schools.

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