Tibe'rias (New Test. and Josephus Τιβεριάς, Talmud טבריא), the most important city on the Lake of Galilee in the time of Christ, and the only one that has survived to modern times, still retaining the same name.
1. Origin and Early Associations. —The place is first mentioned in the 'New Test. (Joh 6:1,23; Joh 21:1), and then by Josephus (Ant. 18:2, 3; War, 2, 9, 1), who states that it was built by Herod Antipas, and was named by him in honor of the emperor Tiberius. It was probably not a new town, but a restored or enlarged one merely; for Rakkath (Jos 19:35), which is said in the Talmud (Jerusalem Megillah, fol. 701; comp; Otho, Lex. Rabb. p. 755) to have occupied the same position, lay in the tribe of Naphtali (if we follow the boundaries as indicated by the clearest passages), and Tiberius appears to have been within the limits of the same tribe (Mt 4:13). If the graves mentioned by Josephus (Ant. loc.
cit.) are any objection, they must. militate against this assumption likewise (Lightfoot, Chorog. Cent. c. 72-74). The same remark may be made, respecting Jerome's statement that Tiberias succeeded to the place of the earlier Chinnereth (Onomasticon, s.v.); but this latter town has been located by some farther north and by others farther south than the site of Tiberias. The tenacity with which its Roman name has adhered to the spot (see below) indicates its entire reconstruction; for, generally speaking, foreign names in the East applied to towns previously known under names derived from the native dialect-as, e.g., Epiphania for Hammath (Jos 19:35), Palmyra for Tadmor (2Ch 8:4), Ptolemais for Akko (Ac 21:7)--lost their foothold as soon as the foreign power passed away which had imposed them, and gave place again to the original appellations.
Tiberias was the capital of Galilee from the time of its origin until the reign of Herod Agrippa II, who changed the seat of power back again to Sepphoris, where it had been before the founding of the new city. Many of the inhabitants were Greeks and Romans, and foreign customs prevailed there to such an extent as to give offence to the stricter Jews. SEE HERODIAN. Herod, the founder of Tiberias, had passed most of his early life in Italy, and had brought with him 'thence a taste for the amusements and magnificent buildings with which he had been familiar in that country. 'He built a stadium there, like that in which the Roman youth trained themselves for feats of rivalry and war. He erected a palace, which he adorned with figures of animals, "contrary," as Josephus says (Life, § 12,13, 64), "to the law of our countrymen." The place was so much the less attractive to the Jews, because, as the same authority states (Ant. 18:2, 3), it stood on the site of an ancient burial-ground, and was viewed, therefore, by the more scrupulous among them almost as a polluted and forbidden locality. Tiberias was one of the four cities which Nero added to the kingdom of Agrippa (Josephus, War, 20:13, 2). Coins of the city of Tiberias are still extant, which are referred to the times of Tiberius, Trajan, and Hadrian.
2. Scriptural Mention. —It is remarkable that the Gospels give us no information that the Savior, who spent so much of his public life in Galilee, ever visited Tiberias. The surer meaning of the expression, "He went away beyond the sea of Galilee of Tiberias," in John 6:1 (πέραν τῆς θαλάσσης τῆς Γαλιλαίας τῆς Τιβεριάδος), is not that Jesus embarked from Tiberias, but, as Meyer remarks, that he crossed from the west side of the Galilean sea of Tiberias to the opposite side. A reason has been assigned for this singular fact, which may or may not account for it. As Herod, the murderer of John the Baptist, resided most of the time in this city, the Savior may have kept purposely away from it, on account of the sanguinary and artful (Lu 13:32) character of that ruler. It is certain, from Lu 23:8, that though Herod had heard of the fame of Christ, he never saw him in person until they met at Jerusalem, and never witnessed any of his miracles. It is possible that the character of the place, so much like that of a Roman colony, may have been a reason why he who was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel performed so little labor in its vicinity. The head of the lake, and especially the Plain of Gennesaret, where the population was more dense and so thoroughly Jewish, formed the central point of his Galilean ministry. The feast of Herod and his courtiers, before whom the daughter of Herodias danced, and, in fulfillment of the tetrarch's rash oath, demanded the head of the dauntless reformer, was held in all probability at Tiberias, the capital of the province. If, as Josephus mentions (Ant. 18:5, 2), the Baptist was imprisoned at the time in the castle of Machaerus beyond the Jordan, the order for his execution could have been sent thither, and the bloody trophy forwarded to the implacable Herodias at the palace where she usually resided. Gams (Johannes der Taufer im Gefangniss, p. 47, etc.) suggests that John; instead of being kept all the time in the same castle, may have been confined in different places at different times. The three passages already referred to are the only ones in the New Test. which mention Tiberias by name, viz. Joh 6:1; Joh 21:1 (in both instances designating the lake on which the town was situated), and Joh 6:23, where boats are said to have come from Tiberias near to the place at which Jesus had miraculously supplied the wants of the multitude. Thus the lake in the time of Christ, among its other appellations, bore also that of the principal city in the neighborhood; and in like manner, at the present day, Bahr Tubarieh, "Sea of Tiberias," is almost the only name under which it is known among the inhabitants of the country.
3. Later Jewish Importance. —Tiberias has an interesting history, apart from its strictly Biblical associations. It bore a conspicuous part in the wars between the Jews and the Romans, as its fortifications were an important military station (Josephus, War, 2, 20, 6; 47, 10, 1; Life, § 8 sq.). The Sanhedrim, subsequently to the fall of Jerusalem, after a temporary sojourn at Jammia and Sepphoris, became fixed there about the middle of the 2nd century. Celebrated schools of Jewish learning flourished there through a succession of several centuries. The Mishna was compiled at this place by the great rabbi Judah hak-Kodesh (A.D. 190). The Masortah, or body of traditions, which has transmitted the readings of the Hebrew text of the Old Test., and preserved, 4by means of the vowel system, the pronunciation of the Hebrew, originated, in a great measure, at Tiberias. The place passed, under Constantine, into the power of the Christians; and during the period of the Crusades it was lost and won repeatedly by the different combatants. Since that time it has been possessed successively by Persians, Arabs, and Turks; and it contains now, under the Turkish rule, a mixed population of Mohammedans, Jews, and Christians, variously estimated at from two to four thousand. The Jews constitute, perhaps, one fourth of the entire number. They regard Tiberias as one of the four holy places (Jerusalem, Hebron, Safed, are the others), in which, as they say, prayer must be offered without ceasing, or the world would fall back instantly into chaos. One of their singular opinions is that the Messiah, when-he appears, will emerge from the waters of the lake, and, landing at Tiberias, proceed to Safed, and there establish his throne on the highest summit in Galilee. In addition to the language of the particular country, as Poland, Germany, Spain, from which they or their families emigrated, most of the Jews here speak also the Rabbinic Hebrew and modern Arabic. They occupy a quarter in the middle of the town, adjacent to the lake; just north of which, near the shore, is a Latin convent and church, occupied by a solitary Italian monk. There is a place of interment near Tiberias, in which a distinguished rabbi is said to be buried with 14,000 of his disciples around him. The grave of the Arabian philosopher Lokman, as Burckhardt states, was pointed out here in the 14th century.
4. Position and Present Condition. — As above intimated, the ancient name has survived in that of the modern Tubarieh, which occupies unquestionably the original site, except that it is confined to narrower limits than those of the original city. According to Josephus (Life, § 65), Tiberias was 30 stadia from Hippo, 60 from Gadara, and 120 from Scythopolis; according to the Talmud, it was 13 Roman miles from Sepphoris. The place is four and a half hours from Nazareth, one hour from Mejdel, possibly the ancient Magdala, and thirteen hours, by the shortest route, from Banias or Caesarea Philippi. Near Tuibarieh, about a mile farther south along the shore, are the celebrated warm baths, which the Roman naturalists (Pliny, Hist. Nat. 5, 15) reckoned among the greatest known curiosities of the world. The intermediate space between these baths and the town abounds with the traces of ruins, such as the foundations of walls, heaps of stone, blocks of granite, and the like; and it cannot be doubted, therefore, that the ancient Tiberias occupied also this ground, and was much more extensive than its modern successor. From such indications, and from the explicit testimony of Josephus, who says (Ant. 18:2, 3) that Tiberias was near Ammaus (Α᾿μμαούς), or the Warm Baths, there can be no uncertainty respecting the identification of the site of this important city. (See also the Mishna, Shabb. 3, 4; and other Talmudical passages in Lightfoot's Horas Heb. p. 133 sq. Comp. Wichmannshausen, De Thermnis Tiberiensibus, in Ugolino, Thesaur. tom. 7.) These springs contain sulfur, salt, and iron; and were employed for medicinal purposes. SEE HAMMATH.
It stood anciently, as now, on the western shore, about two thirds of the way between the northern and southern end of the Sea of Galilee. There is a margin or strip of land there between the water and the steep hills (which elsewhere in that quarter come down so boldly to the edge of the lake), about two miles long and a quarter of a mile broad. The tract in question is somewhat undulating, but approximates to the character of a plain. Tubarleh, the modern town, occupies the northern end of this parallelogram, and the Warm Baths the southern extremity; so that the more extended city of the Roman age must have covered all, or nearly all, of the peculiar ground whose limits are thus clearly defined.
The present Tubarleh has a rectangular form, is guarded by a strong wall on the land side, but is left entirely open towards the sea. A few palm-trees still remain as witnesses of the luxuriant vegetation which once adorned this garden of the Promised Land, but they are greatly inferior in size and beauty to those seen in Egypt. The oleander grows profusely here, almost rivaling that flower so much admired as found oil the neighboring Plain of Gennesaret. The people, as of old, draw their subsistence in part from the adjacent lake. The spectator from his position here commands a view of almost the entire expanse of-the sea, except the southeast part, which is cut off by a slight projection of the coast. The precipices on the opposite side" appear almost to overhang the water, but, on being approached, are found to stand back at some distance, so as to allow travelers to pass between them and the water. The lofty Hermon, the modern Jebel esh-Sheikh, with its glistening snow-heaps, forms a conspicuous object of the landscape in the north-east. Many rocktombs exist in the sides of the hills, behind the town, some of them, no doubt, of great antiquity, and constructed in the best style of such monuments. The climate here in the warm season is very hot and unhealthy; but most of the tropical fruits, as in other parts of the valley of the Jordan, become ripe very early, and, with industry, might be cultivated in great abundance and perfection.
This place, in common with many others in Galilee, suffered greatly by an earthquake on New-year's-day, 1837. Almost every building, with the exception of the walls and some parts of the castle, was leveled to the ground. The inhabitants were obliged to live for some time in wooden booths. It is supposed that at least seven hundred of the inhabitants were destroyed at tat t time. The place has even yet not fully recovered from the disaster.
Tiberias is fully described in Raumer's Pallstina, p. 125; Robinson's Biblical Researches, 2, 380 sq.; Porter's Handbook, p. 421 sq.; Thomson's Land and Book, 2, 71 sq.; and most books of travel in Palestine. SEE TIBERIAS, THE SEA OF (ἡ θαλάσση τῆς ΤιβεριάΔος ; Vulg. mare Tiberiadis). This term is found only in Joh 21:1, the other passage in which it occurs in the A. V. (vi, 1) being, if the original is accurately rendered, "the sea of Galilee, of Tiberias." John probably uses the name as more familiar to non-residents in Palestine than the indigenous name of the "sea of Galilee:" or "sea of Gennesaret," actuated, no doubt, by the same motive which has induced him so constantly to translate the Hebrew names and terms which he uses (such as Rabbi, Rabboni, Messias, Cephas, Siloam, etc.) into the language of the Gentiles. SEE GALILEE, SEA OF.