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Notorious Tiberias-- Ancient Tiberius Biblical City of the Bible in Israel

Updated on August 19, 2014

Tiberias: City of Herod

Founded by the son of Herod the Great, named Herod Antipas, Tiberias was accorded it's name in honor of the Roman Emperor Augustus 'Tiberius'. The city was difficult to establish with a viable number of citizens, however, because of rumors it had been built on an ancient graveyard, and this fact, according to Jewish 'halacha' (law) would prevent any Jews living there from touching holy food or attending synagogue.

As a result, Herod, (the king who Jesus, in the New Testament, appropriately referred to as 'that fox') came up with the idea to import unwilling citizens to his new city forceably, thus solving his population problem.

Coins Minted by Herod

'Kennerit' or 'Sea of Gallilee'

Tiberias Oil on Canvas by Ben Yehuda

Tiberias: City by The Lake

Tiberias, like many locales in the land of Israel, is a place of extremes. It is a freshwater lake, and yet it is some some seven hundred feet below sea level. Also it is situated in the lowest valley on earth, namely the Jordan Valley.

In addition Lake Kennerit (also known as The Sea of Galilee) provides more than one half of all Israel's freshwater needs, and the areas' hot springs are among the hottest natural springs (140 degrees) in Israel.

This was well-noted by the Romans (never ones to overlook a chance to bathe and set up bathhouses) and they took advantage of this fact and built some seventeen spas in the city.

Finally, Tiberias is, like many cities of importance in Israel, found at the intersection of several ancient trade routes leading to such places as Africa,Asia,and Iraq.

Tiberias: City of the Scribes

After the fall of the Second Temple in 70 A.D., the 'Sanhedrin', which has been called “ the seed of Jewish learning and religious legal authority”, left Jerusalem after consistent persecution by the Romans, and found their way eventually to Tiberias. Although each city in Israel had it's own group of men who sat in debate and reviewed legal matters, the Supreme Sanhedrin was located in Jerusalem in or near the Temple and consisted of 71 sitting members. It's last place to assemble was in 192 A.D. In Tiberias.

The Art of Esther Pam Zibell
The Art of Esther Pam Zibell

Tomb of Rabbi Akiva

But the city of Tiberias is important for an even greater reason. Why? Because the Rabbinical School of Johanan Ben Nappaha compiled the Aramaic language version of the 'Talmud' there.

Only the Hebrew Bible (the Tanak) is considered to be more important than the Talmud, hence the significance of it's place of composition. Indeed, the fact that this book was written in the land of Israel, and in the Galilee region of Tiberias (and nearby Cesar-ea), where, at the time, intensive fishing and farming were practised, lends to the Jerusalem Talmud a certain focus on questions of agricultural laws and customs that is not present in the Babylonian Talmud, which was compiled outside of Israel and at a later date.

Finally Tiberias is important to the Jewish people for yet another reason, and this brings us back to the topic of grave-sites, because two great rabbinical teachers, scholars, and leaders of ancient Israel, are entombed in Tiberias; namely Rabbi Akiva and Moses Maimonides.

To understand the significance of these two great men is a topic for another time, but suffice it to say that they hold places of supreme esteem and respect in the world of Judaic learning for their contributions to the 'corpus' of Jewish erudition.

Thus Tiberias, which began as a city built on graves, by a corrupt king, as a worldly tribute to a worldly Emperor, is now an eternal city which stands as a glorious tribute to holy men and sacred religious tradition and the book these together produced, the Jerusalem Talmud.

Esther Zibell. “V’zot Haftorah” (2006). Oil on canvas, 36”X 24”.

video about Rabbi Akiva in Tiberias Israel


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