views updated May 08 2018


TIBERIAS (Heb. טְבֶרְיָה), city on the western shore of Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee), and the largest settlement in the Jordan Valley. The name usually appears in the Jerusalem Talmud as Tivveryah, and in the Babylonian Talmud as Teverya. The city is built upon a terrace of alluvial soil, lake sediment, and layers of basalt; the last is used as building material. It lies on a broad strip of land along the shore, where the ascent to the top of the mountains is relatively easy. Tiberias is situated approximately 8½ mi. (c. 13½ km.) from the northern tip of Lake Kinneret, and approximately 6 mi. (c. 10 km.) from the southern tip. It is geographically placed to serve as a trade, administrative and cultural center for the surrounding settlements. Because of the steep slopes of the mountains, the built-up part of the city is spread over a relatively large area. The old city lies only a few feet above the level of the lake and 690 ft. (c. 210 m.) below sea level, while the newest part of the city, on the Poriyyah Ridge to the west, reach to approximately 817 ft. (249 m.) above sea level, thus lying 1513 ft. (461 m.) above the level of the lake. This results in noticeable differences in temperature, rainfall, and vegetation within the city limits.


Tiberias was founded by Herod *Antipas, son of Herod, king of Judea and tetrarch of Galilee, on the remains of biblical Rakkath (Josh. 19:35, where Rakkath is described as a city of Naphtali between Hammath and Chinnereth; tj, 1: 1, 70a). The site of Rakkath is probably to be identified with Khirbat Qunayṭira, N. of the modern city of Tiberias. The city was built between 14 and 18 c.e. It was inaugurated in 18 c.e. and it is from this date that the age of the city was counted; it was named after the then-reigning Roman emperor Tiberius. It was originally unfortified and was planned in the Hellenistic style, with a palace at the highest point overlooking the rest of the city. The new city was declared capital of Galilee, and the government offices and treasury were transferred to it; the richer classes followed. The original population was mixed (Jos., Ant., 18:36ff.), including landless people and freed slaves. Since tombs were found while clearing the area for the building of the city, it was shunned by observant Jews. At the time of the First Jewish War, Jewish fishermen comprised the majority of the population. The territory of Tiberias stretched from the Jordan northward, but its cultivable area was not large and the city relied more on fishing and industry, including glass and pottery making, mat weaving, woodwork, wool weaving, and fish raising in ponds. The city was organized on the Greek model, with a council (boulé) headed by an archon, whose members attended a special synagogue. Two royal officials, the hyparchos and agoranomos (market overseer), supervised the city administration; in later centuries there was also a board of strategoi.

From Antipas, Tiberias passed to Agrippa i in 39 c.e.; after his death it came under direct Roman administration. After the death of the Emperor Claudius, it was called Tiberias Claudiopolis ("City of Claudius") in his honor. In 61 c.e. Nero separated Tiberias from Galilee and gave it to Agrippa ii, with whom it remained until his death. In 66 the city was split between the Zealots led by Jesus the son of Sapphias, who were opposed to Josephus, the commander in Galilee, and the well-to-do, who favored the Romans and surrendered to them in 67, when Vespasian and his army reached the city. At that time, Tiberias was already the most important city on the lake, which was sometimes called after it (John 6: 1). It had a mint which coined under Antipas (from 19/20 onward) and Claudius (in 53), and from 99 to the reign of Elagabalus, when coinage was municipal. The earlier coins show a wreath of reeds (symbol of the lake), and the later ones have images of Zeus, Tyche, Sarapis, Hygiea, and Poseidon, thus indicating the stronghold of the Romans on the city; Hygiea symbolizes its warm springs, and an anchor or galley its connection with the lake.

The character of the city changed completely in the first half of the second century, when R. Simeon b. Yoḥai purified it; soon afterward it was chosen by the Jewish patriarch and his Sanhedrin as their residence. Tiberias remained the capital of the Jews in the country until the transfer of the religious authorities to Jerusalem after the Arab conquest in the seventh century. The patriarch dominated the city, deciding in tax disputes and raising funds for the building of a wall in the late second century. The so-called Jerusalem Talmud was composed largely at Tiberias. It was the seat of the famous rabbinical academy presided over by R. Johanan and R. Simeon b. Lakish, R. Ammi and R. Assi, and their successors. Thirteen synagogues are mentioned in the sources, including those of the Babylonians and Tarsians residing there. The influence of the rabbis was so strong that the Hadrianeum (temple in honor of Hadrian) was never completed, and the statues in the public baths were destroyed by order of R. Johanan. The attempts of Comes Joseph, a Christian convert, to build a church in Tiberias under Constantine were in vain. The city revolted in 351 against Gallus Caesar; it was occupied by the Roman commander Ursicinus, but suffered no damage.

In the fifth century the Christians established a community with a bishop in Tiberias. At the beginning of that century the Patriarchate was abolished, but in 520, Mar *Zutra, the son of the exilarch of Babylonia, settled in Tiberias and became head of the academy (Rosh ha-Perek). *Benjamin of Tiberias was one of the heads of the Jewish uprising against the Byzantines at the time of the Persian invasion in 614. In 636 the city was taken by the Muslim Arabs, and it became the capital of the province of al-Urdunn. In the seventh century it was a center of the Masoretes, who developed a special vocalization there. The great poet Eliezer *Kallir probably lived there at the time. The Jewish community continued to exist under Arab rule, when Tiberias was a center of the tapestry and textile industry, and even under the Crusaders, 50 Jewish families survived. It was the capital of the principality of Galilee from 1100 to 1247. The medieval city, now surrounded by an 18th-century wall, extends north of the Roman town into the cemetery. It was to succor besieged Tiberias that the Crusaders ventured on the expedition which ended in disaster at Hattin in 1187. In the 12th century, Maimonides visited Tiberias and was buried there in 1206. In 1562 the city was given by the Turkish sultan Suleiman I to Don Joseph *Nasi, who tried to reestablish it as a Jewish city, but in the 17th century it fell into complete ruin. It was rebuilt in the 18th century by Sheikh Ẓāhir al-ʿAmr, ruler of Galilee. The Jewish community, which regarded Tiberias as one of the four holy cities of the Land of Israel, revived and was strengthened in 1777 by a group of Ḥasidim. Its walls were built by Ibrāhīm Pasha in 1833.

Tiberias was severely damaged by the violent earthquake of 1837, which destroyed most of the 16th-century city wall and caused the death of many inhabitants (according to one source, 1,000 Jews then lost their lives). Many of the surviving Jews fled to Jerusalem, but returned to Tiberias in the following years; in 1839 the city had 600 Jewish inhabitants. On the site of the old settlement, in addition to the inhabitants belonging to the old yishuv, a modern Jewish community was established, given impetus with the founding of Jewish villages in the surrounding areas in eastern Lower Galilee at the beginning of the 20th century. Tiberias served as the center of these settlements. In 1912–14, the first Jewish quarter outside the Old City confines, Shekhunat Aḥvah, was built. After World War i, the town served as a base for *Gedud ha-Avodah ("The Labor Legion"), which was then employed in road building in the vicinity. Throughout Mandate times it was the headquarters of a sub-district. In 1920 the ground was laid for the new Jewish quarter of Kiryat Shemu'el on the slope above the Old City in the northwest; the site was chosen with a view to its relatively cooler climate, and was named after the High Commissioner Sir Herbert Samuel on the occasion of his visit to Tiberias. In the same year, the Tiberias hot springs came into Jewish possession, and the city began to be developed as a modern recreation center. In 1922 the Jewish population of Tiberias was 4,427 out of a total of 6,950.

In the 1936–39 Arab riots, there were repeated Arab assaults on Jews and over 30 persons were killed, although relations between the two communities remained generally tolerable. In 1944 the Jewish population was 6,000 out of a total of 11,310. At the beginning of the War of Independence, an undeclared truce existed between local Jews and Arabs. However, it was broken in April 1948 with an attack by Arabs who anticipated the Syrian invasion of the area. Following the *Haganah's counterattack, all Arab inhabitants left in the same night, making Tiberias the first town of mixed population in the country to become all Jewish in the wake of the war; approximately 4,000 Jewish citizens remained.

In the fall of 1948, many of the Old City's dilapidated buildings were blown up as a first step toward comprehensive city planning. In 1949 a large transit camp for new immigrants (*ma'barah) was established on the slopes above Kiryat Shemu'el, which absorbed newcomers from southeastern Europe, Yemen, Iraq, Morocco, etc., bringing the number of Tiberias' inhabitants to 16,200 in 1952. In 1960 it increased to 20,843, and in 1968 to 23,600; in the mid-1990s the population reached 35,900, rising further to 39,800 in 2002 and occupying an area of 4 sq. mi (10 sq. km.). After 1952, construction of "Upper Tiberias" (the Poriyyah quarter) centered on a large hospital previously built there, in order to provide permanent housing for the inhabitants of the ma'barah, which gradually shrank, to disappear in the early 1960s. Kiryat Shemu'el expanded uphill without, however, linking up with the Poriyyah quarter. Parts of the upper slopes were afforested and an avenue of trees and flower beds was laid out along the shore to the hot springs in the south. Tourism and recreation, based on the hot springs and centering on the winter months, constituted Tiberias' principal economic foundation. New hotels were constructed, mostly in Kiryat Shemu'el, but also on the shore and on the Poriyyah ridge. In the tourist slump that accompanied the al-Aqsa Intifada (see *Israel, State of: Historical Survey), the city experienced severe economic hardship. Fishing continued to be the occupation of some of Tiberias' inhabitants. Local industry was of modest size.

In Tiberias are the traditional and venerated tombs of R. *Johanan b. Zakkai, R. *Meir Ba'al ha-Nes (with two synagogues in its vicinity), R. *Akiva, R. *Ammi, and R. *Assi. *Maimonides and Isaiah *Horowitz are also buried in a Tiberias cemetery.

Excavations were carried out in the southern environs of the city between 1945 and 1956 by Bezalel Rabani and in 1973–74 by G. Foerster. Architectural remains include a colonnaded street (cardo), a bathhouse (referred to in talmudic sources), a market place, a large building, possibly a basilica, as well the southern fortified gateway flanked by two round towers (see *Fortifications). Rich finds in pottery, metal and glass, jewelry and coins attest to the city's prosperity until the 11th century c.e. The pottery from Foerster's excavations have been studied by D. Stacey. About 80 meters northeast of the bathhouse A. Druks uncovered in 1964 the remains of a large urban villa complex; it was re-excavated in 1993 by Y. Hirschfeld. A two-chambered mausoleum of the Roman period was uncovered by F. Vitto in 1976 in the Kiryat Shemuel neighborhood. A Roman theater that could have seated 5,000 spectators was probed by Y. Hirschfeld between 1990 and 1994 at the foot of Mount Berenice. Nearby was a rectangular building, dated to between the early third century c.e. and the middle of the Byzantine period, with an adjacent ritual bathing pool (mikveh). Hirschfeld has identified it as the bet midrash founded by Rabbi Johanan, leader of the Sanhedrin, where the Jerusalem Talmud was redacted. On the summit of Mount Berenice a church and monastery was uncovered by Hirschfeld between 1990 and 1992. The adjacent city wall was constructed during the reign of Justinian in 527–65 c.e., according to Procopius (Buildings, 5, 9:21). An excavation led by A. Berman in 1978–79 uncovered a sixth-century building with mosaic floors at the northern edge of the site, which has been identified as one of the 13 synagogues of Tiberias mentioned in the Talmud.

Close to the excavations of 1989 a new excavation was conducted in 1998 by Y. Hirschfeld and O. Gutfeld with the discovery of dwellings from the Abbasid-Fatimid period and a portion of a street with a drainage channel under it. Beneath one of the houses was an incredible find: one of the largest hoards of bronze vessels ever found in the Levant. This hoard included 700 objects consisting of lanterns of different types, table ware, jewelry, and other assorted items.

South of the city are the hot springs of *Hammath Tiberias where two synagogues were uncovered by M. Dothan between 1961 and 1963.


Schuerer, Gesch, 2 (19064), 216ff.; D. Baldi, Enchiridion … (1955), nos. 336ff.; S. Klein (ed.), Sefer ha-Yishuv (1939), s.v.; G. Le Strange, Palestine under the Moslems (1890), 334ff.; M. Avi-Yonah, in: iej, i (1951), 160ff.; idem, in: Atlas Yisrael (1956), Maps 8/9; idem, Map of Roman Palestine (1936), 35; A. Kindler, Coins of Tiberias (1961); H.Z. Hirshberg (ed.), Kol Ereẓ Naftali (1967); Slousch, in: Koveẓ ha-Ḥevrah … 1, pt. 1 (1921), 5ff.; 1, pt. 2 (1925), 49–52; W.F. Albright, in: basor, 19 (1925), 10. add. bibliography: Y. Tsafrir, L. Di Segni, and J. Green, Tabula Imperii Romani. IudaeaPalaestina. Maps and Gazetteer. (1994), 249–50; D. Pringle, The Churches of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. A Corpus. vol. 21, LZ (excluding Tyre) (1998), 351–66.

[Michael Avi-Yonah,

Abraham J. Brawer, and

Efraim Orni /

Shimon Gibson (2nd ed.)]


views updated May 29 2018


Town located on the eastern shore of Lake Tiberias (also referred to as the Sea of Galilee or Kinneret) in northern Israel.

The town of Tiberias was founded by Herod Antipas (c. 20 c.e.) and named for the Roman emperor Tiberius. It was an important center of Jewish learning, law, and religion from the second through fifth centuries. Over the course of its history, Tiberias was controlled by Arabs, Crusaders, and Ottoman Turks. Early Zionist pioneers set up kibbutzim in this area around the turn of the twentieth century. The city's population quadrupled after the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. In the 1948 Arab-Israel War, fighting broke out with an Arab attack on Jews in the older sections of the town. Jewish fighters were able to push out their Arab adversaries, and eventually the Arab inhabitants fled.

Tiberias, which has a relatively warm climate in winter, is a favorite tourist site, featuring boating, lakefront hotels, and a hot springs spa. Its 2004 population was about 43,000, the majority of them immigrants from North African and Eastern European countries.

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