Tiberias Early Settlement

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Early History of Tiberias
Abuhav Synagogue
היסטוריה של טבריה
Other Names
Historical events placed Tiberias in a position to become one of Judaism’s four holy cities

The history of Tiberias, one of Judaism’s four holy cities and the largest city in Israel’s Eastern Galilee, can be traced back to the Roman Era.


[edit] Early Settlement

Herod the Great was named “tetrarch” -- governor -- of Galilee by the Romans. Following Herod the Great’s death his son, Herod Antipas, was awarded the title of tetrarch and set out to build a city which allowed him to demonstrate his skills as a grand builder in the fashion of his father.

[edit] Rakkah and the Cemetery

Herod Antipas chose to build his city on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee -- Lake Kinneret. The site that he selected was said to have been the Canaanite city of Rakkat. Rakkat is mentioned in the Book of Joshua as one of the fortified cities that Joshua found in the Land of Israel when he came to conquer the Land. Herod Antipas wanted to build his city in that location because of the nearby hot springs whose curative powers were already becoming popular with Roman travelers. A small village named Hammat was also built near Tiberias to accommodate visitors to the hot springs.

The Jews of the area believed that there was a cemetery on the site and refused to move to the new town. Herod Antipas was forced to forcibly populate the city with vagrants and criminals.

[edit] Name

Herod Antipas named the city after the Roman emperor of the time, Tiberius Caesar. Coins were minted in the city and the city’s name was inscribed on these coins. In 54 A.D. the emperor Claudius renamed the city to include his own name - Tiberias Claudiupolis.

[edit] Physical Layout

Herod Antipas laid out the city in a grid pattern. Archaeologists have determined that the city had large avenues which were lined with shops. Other archaeological finds from this area include Roman statues which were erected throughout the city, a luxurious bathhouse and, for Herod Antipas, a grandiose palace.

[edit] Revolt and Population Shift

There were already Jewish families living in Tiberias when the Jews revolted against the Romans in 70 A.D. The Jewish general Josephus Flavius fortified the city against the Romans but when the Romans finally came, the inhabitants did not fight and the Roman general Vespasian did not destroy the city. Thus, Tiberias welcomed Jewish refugees from Jerusalem who fled to the Galilee after the Romans suppressed the insurrection in Jerusalem and exiled the population.

[edit] Purification

The possible presence of gravesites was a major concern of Jews of the first and second centuries A.D. These Jews were interested in moving to Tiberias but refrained because of the Torah injunction that prohibited the desecration of graves. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (the RASHBI), author of “Zohar” and revealer of the Kabbalah was able to take steps to quiet this concern.

The RASHBI traveled to Tiberias during the second century A.D. to use the mineral baths at the Hammat hot springs. During this visit he “cleansed” Tiberias by planting lupine plants throughout the area. Accounts differ -- some accounts say that wherever a lupine grew, the RASHBI was able to identify it as the location of a grave, while other accounts note that the RASHBI could ascertain where a grave was by the absence of the lupine plant.

In either case, the RASHBI identified all gravesites in Tiberias and re-interned the bodies in a new location, thus paving the way for large-scale Jewish settlement in Tiberias.

[edit] Sanhendrin

Joining the move to the north was the "Sanhendrin" -- which established their court in Tiberias after unsuccessful settlements in Usha, Shefaram and Beit-Shearim. The presence of the Sanhendrin marked importance of Tiberias as a center of Jewish life during the years following the Jerusalem Temple’s destruction.

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