Tiberias is mentioned three times in Scriptures, all in the gospel of John. At the time of Jesus, Tiberias was a new city. Sources vary widely on the date of its' founding, some saying A.D. 14, others A.D. 16 or 20 and one as late as A.D. 26. It is safe to say that during the time of Jesus' public ministry, when he spent so much time traveling around Galilee, Tiberias was certainly only a few years old. The first century historian Josephus records the reason, location, and founder of this new city.

3. And now Herod the tetrarch, who was in great favor with [Roman emperor] Tiberius, built a city of the same name with him, and called it Tiberias. He built it in the best part of Galilee, at the lake of Gennesareth. There are warm baths at a little distance from it, in a village named Emmaus. Strangers came and inhabited this city; a great number of the inhabitants were Galileans also; and many were necessitated by Herod to come thither out of the country belonging to him, and were by force compelled to be its inhabitants; some of them were persons of condition. He also admitted poor people, such as those that were collected from all parts, to dwell in it. Nay, some of them were not quite free-men, and these he was benefactor to, and made them free in great numbers; but obliged them not to forsake the city, by building them very good houses at his own expenses, and by giving them land also; for he was sensible, that to make this place a habitation was to transgress the Jewish ancient laws, because many sepulchers were to be here taken away, in order to make room for the city Tiberias whereas our laws pronounce that such inhabitants are unclean for seven days. (Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews 18.2.3; Chapter 2 - Now Herod And Philip Built Several Cities In Honor Of Caesar.)

A night view of Tiberias looking across the Sea of Galilee.

Tiberias was located on the western side of the Sea of Galilee towards the southern end. Built in a small valley (about two miles long and a quarter mile wide), it was bordered by the sea and steep hills to each side. It was close to natural warm water (hot bath) springs notable to the ancients and still in existence today.

Josephus likely provided the primary reason why Tiberias hardly is mentioned during Jesus' time, namely that Jews observing the law would have avoided having anything to do with it. The ancient Jewish law that would have been broken is as follows:

Numbers 19:11-13, 16 "Whoever touches the dead body of anyone will be unclean for seven days. 12 He must purify himself with the water on the third day and on the seventh day; then he will be clean. But if he does not purify himself on the third and seventh days, he will not be clean. 13 Whoever touches the dead body of anyone and fails to purify himself defiles the LORD's tabernacle. That person must be cut off from Israel. Because the water of cleansing has not been sprinkled on him, he is unclean; his uncleanness remains on him. ... 16 "Anyone out in the open who touches someone who has been killed with a sword or someone who has died a natural death, or anyone who touches a human bone or a grave, will be unclean for seven days. (NIV)

With all the time Jesus spent around Galilee, it is quite significant that Jesus is never recorded as having visited Tiberias. The gospels show that Jesus never broke the law. Certainly He was accused of doing so, but this was by the Pharisees who had added their own strict interpretation to it, perverting it by their traditions (Mark 7:6-8). Jesus perfectly keeping the law may be one such reason why he didn't enter Tiberias.

Matthew 5:17 "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (NIV)

A quick collage of Tiberias showing the Sea of Galilee to the hillside.
(Sorry changing clouds and lighting kept this from being seemless)

Tiberias was not some insignificant city either. Immediately following its' founding it was proclaimed the capital city of the region, the seat of the government and it remained so until the time of Herod Agrippa II. History records that Herod tried hard to entice the Jews into accepting his city, perhaps the greatest being through the construction of a magnificent synagogue there. As home to Herod Antipas, Jesus likely avoided going there solely to stay away from Herod. It was not until Jesus' crucifixion that Herod got to see Jesus.

Luke 13:22, 31-33 Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. ... 31 At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, "Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you." 32 He replied, "Go tell that fox, 'I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.' 33 In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day - for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem! (NIV)

Luke 23:6-9 On hearing this, Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean. 7 When he learned that Jesus was under Herod's jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time. 8 When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform some miracle. 9 He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. (NIV)

People from Tiberias, besides Herod, obviously were aware of Jesus. As a city on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, many would have been fishermen (Josephus mentions this too!) and boats available to them. This brings us to the account of John and one of his mentions of Tiberias...

John 6:22-24 The next day the crowd that had stayed on the opposite shore of the lake realized that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not entered it with his disciples, but that they had gone away alone. 23 Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus. (NIV)

In the days of Jesus, the lake was commonly known as the Sea of Galilee or the Sea of Gennesaret, both descriptive of its location. John, writing a number of years later, and knowing that his gospel would be read by many not familiar with the area, also used the name that Rome favored, the Sea of Tiberias. This name actually stuck and was used for centuries following. John's provision of an alternate wording is not unique in this circumstance as he quite commonly provides Greek translations of other Hebrew words and names throughout his gospel.

John 6:1-2 Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), 2 and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the miraculous signs he had performed on the sick. (NIV)

Later, in John's gospel, both names aren't given as He relies solely only on the new name.

John 21:1 Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias. (NIV)

The destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in A.D. 70 marked a new beginning for Tiberias, which had not been destroyed due to the favorable few its' residents had towards the Romans. After a few temporary stays, including at Sepphoris, the Sanhedrin ultimately made its' long term home at Tiberias in the second century following the Jewish uprising of A.D. 135. It's interesting that the religious rulers would compromise so greatly over Tiberias, a place they would have avoided half a century earlier, all because of circumstances. A number of important Jewish post temple documents came out of Tiberias including the Jewish Mishna (a binding code of civil and ritual laws, decrees and customs which was compiled in Tiberias circa A.D. 190 - 200), the Jerusalem Talmud and the writings of Maimonides, who died there in 1204 A.D.

During the brief period that Christians controlled the area, Tiberias was the seat of a bishop. Beginning in 637 A.D., though, the city fell to the Muslims and changed hands a number of times until falling completely under Muslim control in 1247.

Returning to New Testament times, another significant event likely took place at Tiberias though not specified by name.

Matthew 14:1-12 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus, 2 and he said to his attendants, "This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him." 3 Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, 4 for John had been saying to him: "It is not lawful for you to have her." 5 Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered him a prophet. 6 On Herod's birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for them and pleased Herod so much 7 that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. 8 Prompted by her mother, she said, "Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist." 9 The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted 10 and had John beheaded in the prison. 11 His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. 12 John's disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus. (NIV)

John's imprisonment was likely in one of Herod's outposts close to where he had been ministering. The first century historian, Josephus, claims that it was at Machaerus, beyond the Jordan (Antiquities 18.5.2). On the other hand, Herod and Heordias normally resided at Tiberias. For this reason, it is not unlikely that the dance and request for John's head all took place at Tiberias (consider Mark 6:21). Even if the death sentence was carried out at place further away, his head could have been sent to the primary palace. It also may be that John, himself, had been transferred to Tiberias sometime prior. In Mark's gospel we are told, prior to the dance, that Herod liked listening to John, which presupposes that John may have been kept nearby.

Mark 6:19-20 So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, 20 because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him. (NIV)

Night view of Tiberias from the waterfront looking northwest

Day view of Tiberias from the waterfront looking northwest