ruins of 4th c. synagogue at Tiberias with sea of Galilee & Golan heights in distance.

Tiberias

New capitol of Galilee founded by Antipas (19 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 revolt (66 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), when the rabbinic Academy at Jabneh was forced to leave Judea, did Tiberias become a center for Jewish teaching. The influence of Rabbi Meir who expanded the Mishna, & cHiyya bar Abba who compiled the Tosefta 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.

Other resources on line:

 Perspective on the World of Jesus 

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