A History of Tiberias

Published: May 1st 2010
in News » Israel

Tiberias in 1862
Pic: wikimedia commons

Jewish occupancy continued unbroken from Raqat and Hammat to our days.


Tiberias today is a Jewish city with a population of 40,000. The city’s tourist sites include the Old City and the graves of Rabbi Meir Ba’al Haness, Rabbi Akiva, and the Maimonides. A row of hotels are situated along the shore of the Lake of Galilee (the Kinneret). The city is built in three sections: The lower one is located on the site of the ancient city; the middle level was built during the British Mandate period and includes Kiryat Shmuel, Don Yossef Hanassi, and other neighborhoods; the upper level was built after the establishment of the State of Israel.


The Bronze Period (3300BCE – 1200BCE)


Tiberias’ ancient name is Raqat, one of the most ancient cities in Israel. It began during the early Bronze period (3300 BCE – 1200 BCE). The Raqat mound is located a few hundred metres north of Tiberias, in an area distinguished by its dolomite rock. Raqat sat on one of the important routes from the north of the Fertile Arc to its south and its inhabitants made their living from fishing, farming, and international trade.


Raqat is mentioned in the Book of Joshua 19:35, as one of the cities in the estate of the tribe of Naphtali, but there is no information about its conquest by the tribes of Israel in the 13th century BCE, or about its existence as an Israelite settlement.


The remains of another settlement, named Hammat, have been uncovered south of Tiberias’ lower city. Hammat is mentioned in a document (Anastasi I Papyrus) from the 13th century BCE, the time of Rameses the 2nd. In his book “The Land of Israel During Biblical Times”, Yohanan Aharoni argues that this letter was written by an Egyptian scribe who described the main routes in Canaan, mentioning Hammat near the Kinneret.


The Book of Joshua mentions Hammat along with Raqat as fortified settlements in the estate of Naphtali. Scholars are divided, however, over whether the settlements mentioned in the various tribal estates were all conquered by the Israelites in Joshua’s time.


The First Temple Period (1000 BCE – 586 BCE)


An archaeological survey has been carried out in Raqat although full excavations are yet to be done. Archaeologists have determined that Raqat existed in the First Temple period (first in the Unified Kingdom and later on in the northern Kingdom of Israel, but it is not listed among the cities conquered by Assyria in the 8th century BCE) up to the time of the Persian period, i.e. around the middle of the 6th century BCE. The causes of its destruction or abandonment are not known.


Hammat, on the other hand, existed continuously throughout the First Temple period and further. S. Klein and William P.Albright dated the lists in the book of Joshua, chapter 21 and in the First Chronicles, chapter 26, to the time of the Unified Kingdom (King David and King Solomon’s time). These are lists of the Levitic cities that served as centres for administration and worship, and Hammat was one of them. Hammat in the estate of Naphtali is also listed among the Biblical cities that have been identified in modern times (ref. Aharoni, p.348)


The Second Temple Period (538 BCE – 70 CE)


Related articles: (Tiberias, Nazareth, Jewish occupancy)
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