ruins of 4th c. synagogue at
Tiberias with sea of Galilee & Golan heights in distance.
New capitol of Galilee
founded by Antipas
CE) near the hot springs of Hammath on the southwestern
shore of lake
Gennesareth. Its elevation
(about 690 ft. below sea level) made it one of the lowest sizeable cities
in the world.
The village of Hammath had been a regional
administrative center since Gabinius
decentralized the Jewish state (57
BCE). Antipas made his new
city the capital of all Galilee & dedicated it to
the emperor Tiberius.
It was designed as a luxurious Roman resort rather than a
fortified town. Antipas' palace was modeled on the imperial
palaces at Rome & Capri, with a mythological decor that was
so offensive to religious Jews that the Jerusalem Sanhedrin
ordered its destruction at the beginning of the great Jewish
CE). Another religious offense in the city's
construction was the fact that the excavations to lay its
foundations unearthed an ancient Hebrew cemetery. As a result early
first century Orthodox
Jews considered the site unclean & went out of their way to
avoid it. Thus, Antipas had to populate his splendid capital
with pagans, secularized Jews & native Galilean peasants
whom he relocated from other towns. Though Tiberias had a
"synagogue" large enough to accommodate its city
council of 600, this building was probably used more for civic
than religious purposes.
Mosaic in floor of 4th c.
Tiberias synagogue built when rabbinic academy was based there
Tiberias' lack of dedication to Judaic
tradition was demonstrated when Josephus
was unable to convince its citizens to join the revolt against
Rome & the city surrendered to Vespasian
without a fight. Only after the Hadrianic war (135 CE),
Academy at Jabneh
was forced to leave Judea,
did Tiberias become a center for Jewish teaching. The influence
Meir who expanded the Mishna,
bar Abba who compiled the
there helped overcome any prior reservations of religious Jews.
So early in the 3rd c. CE Rabbi
Johanan bar Nappacha
was able to move the rabbinic Academy from Sepphoris
to Tiberias. It became the internationally recognized center of
Jewish scholarship for more than a century. The Palestinian Talmud
was published there.
For further recent
information about archaeological & historical evidence, see:
Rousseau, John J. &
Rami Arav. Jesus & His World. (Minneapolis: Fortress
Press, 1995) pp. 316-318.
Horsley, Richard A. Archaeology,
History & Society in Galilee. (Valley Forge PA: Trinity
Press International, 1996) pp. 49-65.
on the World of Jesus
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Mahlon H. Smith
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