Tiberias from 1st Century to Ottoman Conquest

Map after HerodThe city of Tiberias is on the western side of the Sea of Galilee. it was Herod Antipas, one of the sons of Herod the Great, who inherited the areas of Galilee and Perea and ruled as tetrarch. The boys took after their father, Antipas built the city of Tiberias as his capital in 18 CE on an existing settlement, which he named after his patron the Roman emperor Tiberius and built an impressive palace there. His half-brother Philip built his capital at Banias In 3 BCE and made improvements in 14 CE after which Agrippa II also carried out urban improvements. During the First Jewish–Roman War, Vespasian rested his troops at Caesarea Philippi in July 67 CE before advancing on Tiberias to crush the Jewish resistance in Galilee. Today you can visit the archaeological site at Banias but although archaeologists have excavated Tiberias since 1934 (Makhouli, Guy and Rabani, Druks, Foerster, Berman, Hirschfeld, also with Gutfeld) only recently has it been possible to visit the site.

The site and its surroundings boast an array of archaeological finds from almost every period from its establishment during the first century to the Crusader period and you’ll need a knowledgeable guide to make sense of it.

Tiberias excavations

map by Leticia Barda of the Israel Antiquities Authority

At the southern edge of the city are the remains of a decorative gate built by Antipas, the entrance flanked by two cylindrical towers. This gate and the Cardo leading from it continued to be used through the Early Islamic period, more than 700 years. South of the gate is a drainage system channeling the water from the winter floods into the lake – a bridge enables access to the gate and the Cardo. During the Byzantine period, the gate was connected to a wall encompassing the city and the eastern slopes of Mt. Berenice.

City Gate, Tiberias

Foerster Area C

 

The other monumental structure uncovered is a Roman theater built by Antipas, with 7,000 seats, more than the theater at Caesarea built by Herod.

Roman Theater, Tiberias

Over the years, archaeological expeditions have uncovered, a large Late Roman-Byzantine bathhouse, a broad pillared building built over what has been identified as an unfinished Roman temple (Hadrianeum), and a basilical building to the east, lying between the Cardo and the Sea of Galilee.

Hirschfeld excavations Tiberias

Excavation Plans Tiberias (2005). (Dov Porotsky, courtesy of Hirschfeld Expedition team)

The following are excerpts from Israel Antiquities Authority article by Hirschfeld and Meir from 2006 at http://www.hadashot-esi.org.il/report_detail_eng.aspx?id=337&mag_id=111.

In excavating down to Stratum VII (first century CE), they reached the Herodian level on which the basilica was erected. Parts of a floor that consisted of divided marble slabs in opus sectile pattern and a long wall with traces of a red fresco below the basilica’s foundations were found. It is presumed that this was the remains of Herod Antipas’ magnificent palace, which Josephus Flavius described in his writings. Further exposed remains of this building included pieces of frescos painted in red, ochre, as well as blue and green, which were scattered in abundance throughout the excavation area.

At Stratum VI dated to the Roman period (second–third centuries CE) remains in Area A included the bathhouse and Area C consisted of the “covered marketplace”. Remains of the Hadrianeum––a temple dedicated to Hadrian whose construction was never completed––were discovered to the north of Area C. The Cardo was also paved during this period.

Hirschfeld excavated, among others, a large building from the late Roman period (Area B, stratum IV), which he identified as the Great Academy (Beth Midrash) of Tiberias.

Among the recovered coins from Stratum II (10th-11th Century) were 4–5 anonymous folles (‘Jesus coins’), dating to the middle of the eleventh century CE. The image of Jesus was depicted on one side of the coin and an inscription in Greek: “Jesus the messiah, king of the kings” was on the other side.

Cytryn-Silverman, who now heads the Tiberias excavation, claims that the “covered marketplace” is a mosque, in fact, it resembles the plan of the Great Mosque in Damascus, Syria.

A church that predates the mosque has also been uncovered at the site. Unlike at other sites, however, the mosque was built not over the church, but nearby.

The mosque, which symbolized the power of Muslim Tiberias, stood for 330 years, until an earthquake toppled it in 1068. In 1099, the Crusaders conquered Tiberias and used the mosque’s building stones for another structure. That, too, has been uncovered by the dig, and by the type of clay vessel found there, has been shown to be a sugar cane production plant, part of one of the country’s most important export industries at the time.

South of ancient Tiberias is a suburb by the name of Hammat Tiberias built around 17 hot springs. Within the small archaeological park are some of the remains of the ancient town of Hammat, including a synagogue from the Late Roman–Byzantine period, boasting a spectacular mosaic floor. In addition to the synagogue are the remains of an Ottoman Hammam (bathhouse complex) and the springs themselves. You can experience these hot springs at the modern spa across the road.

The remains of a Byzantine monastery and church were discovered on the summit of Mt. Berenice from which there is a spectacular view of the Galilee, the lake and across to the Golan Heights.

1st C Synagogue planIn the center of the present city of Tiberias a small, open-air archaeological park can be found. Within it are the remains of a synagogue dated to the Byzantine period, with a small section of mosaic floor with an inscription in Greek, Proclos son of Krispos framed by images of a palm branch and citron. In addition there is a display of architectural elements found in archaeological sites around Tiberias.

To the north of Tiberias the Umayyad caliphs built a winter palace at Khirbat al-Minya which can be visited.

Khirbat al-Minya

The eighth century was Tiberias’ golden age, as shown by both excavations and historical writings. A large Jewish community also flourished in the lakeside city, and that community produced the copy of the Bible that became known as the Aleppo Codex.

In 1187 Saladin’s force left Caesarea Philippi to engage the fighting force of the Knights Templar in which the Crusader force was destroyed. Saladin then besieged Tiberias which fell after six days. On July 4, 1187 Saladin defeated the Crusaders coming to relieve Tiberias at the Battle of Hattin, 10 kilometres (6 miles) outside the city making the Islamic forces the eminent military power in the Holy Land. During the Third Crusade, the Crusaders drove the Muslims out of the city and reoccupied it. In 1265 the Crusaders were driven from the city by the Mamluks, who ruled Tiberias until the Ottoman conquest in 1516.

 

Hiking the Makhtesh

Even from space Makhtesh Ramon appears as a masterpiece of the spirit of the earth.
(from Space Shuttle Columbia monument)

This week I did a very nice 13 km hike in the Har HaNegev reserve to Har Ramon, the highest mountain in the Negev at 1037 meters above sea level. After the winter rains we saw many plants blooming even though this area is a desert.

DSC_0286

Along the way we passed a number of tumuli, piles of rocks that are ancient tombs, and a 4.6 km stone wall running between the mountains Ramon and Romem estimated to be from the Intermediate Bronze period, more than 4000 years ago. Further along the red trail we reached a lookout on the basalt hills of Karne Ramon below, where a monument has been established to the 7-person crew of the space shuttle Columbia that disintegrated on re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere in 2003. One of the crew was Israeli, Ilan Ramon, who had taken his surname from this area.

From Karne Ramon lookoutFrom there we descended in a winding path to Nahal Ramon at the bottom of the makhtesh. We then joined the green trail through the Canyon of Prisms and ascended the trail out of the makhtesh.

Canyon of Prisms

It’s hard to capture the expansiveness of this “hole” in the earth because the makhtesh is so large. The makhtesh is 40 km long, 2–10 km wide and 500 meters deep, and is shaped like an elongated heart. I took a sequence of overlapping photographs with the intention of stitching them together to try to give you an idea of the view. Click on each of these images to see it full-size. This image is made up of 2 photos.Makhtesh Panorama1This image is made up of 3 photos.Makhtesh Panorama2This image is made up of 4 photos, a pan of 180º, overlooking Karne Ramon at the southern end of the makhtesh.Makhtesh Panorama

Magdala on Sea of Galilee

Magdala Nunayya (Magdala of the fishes) was an important Jewish city on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee established during the Hasmonean period, centuries before neighboring Tiberias. In Christian tradition, it is the birthplace of Mary Magdalene and where Jesus went after he fed the five thousand (Mark 8:10).

Q: What do you get when you cross a hotel, a new spiritual center and an archaeological site at the historical location of Magdala/Tarichaea overlooking the Sea of Galilee?

A: The Magdala Center, a new tourist and pilgrim destination.

The original excavations at the site were done by the Franciscan Corbo in the 1970s. Paved streets and a large colonnaded square typical of a Roman city were found, along with buildings with mosaic floors. On the floor of one urban villa an image of a sailing ship, a type of Mediterranean vessel, modified for the lake was found in mosaic. Scholars think that boats like this were used to transport goods between Magdala and the Decapolis on the eastern shore of the lake. The shape of the hull and the additional cutwater (forward curve of the stem of a ship) resembles the features of the boat discovered in the mud near Ginnosar.

In excavations from 2007 carried out by De Luca large portions of the paved Cardo and the Decumanus were uncovered. Underneath these streets were drainage channels which fed numerous wells and fountains, part of the city’s sophisticated water system. In 2008 thermal pools were discovered. The water supply system serves primarily the large thermal complex east of the Cardo and the large Quadriporticus which served as palaestra (rectangular court surrounded by colonnades with adjoining rooms) for the visitors of the thermae. The newly discovered harbour of Magdala includes in situ: massive foundations of a tower with casemate, a Hasmonean wall built of ashlar stones with dressed margins, ramps for recovering ships, a staircase, a large L-shaped basin with breakwater and six mooring stones incorporated in the painted plastered wall - the largest and best preserved harbour on the Sea of Galilee discovered so far. Everywhere in the excavations De Luca encountered damage caused by the First Jewish Revolt in which Magdala played a major role (as recorded by Josephus). Plans are to re-open this site in the near future.

In the most recent excavations by archaeologists Avshalom-Gorni and Najar of the Israel Antiquities Authority as part of a salvage dig a building that covers about 120 square meters with simple mosaics covering the floor and frescoes of colored wall panels was found. The building has stone benches along the walls and columns that would have supported the roof and has been identified as a first century synagogue.

Synagogue 1st C at Magdala aerial

from IAA

from IAA

Perhaps the most interesting find is a nearly 3-foot-long limestone block found on the floor in the center of the synagogue elaborately carved on the sides and top. On one side is the first and only pre-70 Galilean depiction of a seven-branched menorah between 2 amphorae and fluted columns (another early menorah is the drawing in plaster found in a mansion in the Herodian quarter in Jerusalem). The precise function of the stone remains uncertain – it may have been used as a table on which Torah scrolls were rolled out and read. Perhaps less impressive but still very interesting is a series of mikva’ot (ritual baths) that have been uncovered that fill from underground springs.

Mikva at Magdala

The excavations have also found the fish market and some pools used for holding and sorting the fish brought in by the fishermen, attesting to the importance of fishing to the economy of Magdala.

In the plans, besides the hotel, a church or Spirituality Center is being built called “Duc in altum” based on the words from Luke 5:4 that Pope John Paul II chose, “Put out into the deep” to say, that with God’s help, anything and everything can be accomplished. The building is in the shape of an octagon which is usual for a martyrium as opposed to the traditional Byzantine basilica (rectangular, central nave with apse, and two or more aisles). Not only the shape is reminiscent of early Orthodox churches but the interior of the main chapel is decorated with paintings of holy figures like in an Orthodox church, in the spirit of ecumenism. The area of the altar has a replica of a wooden boat so that as you sit in the chapel, you face the boat with a view of the lake behind it.

Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, Jesus asked him to put out a short distance from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.  Luke 5:3

Duc in Altum sanctuary

There are 4 smaller chapels off the main hall, each decorated with beautiful mosaics by artist Maria Jesus Fernández depicting scenes from Jesus’ ministry: the resurrection of  Jairus’ daughter, Jesus calling the disciples, the exorcism of Mary Magdalene and Jesus calming the waters of the Sea of Galilee. Below is an ecumenical chapel where the floor paving stones are from Magdala’s first century market.

Gustav Bauernfeind and Orientalism

Orientalism refers to the depiction or imitation of aspects of Eastern cultures in the West by writers and artists, and can also imply a sympathetic stance towards the region. Since the 1979 publication of Edward Said‘s book Orientalism, the term has arguably taken on a pejorative meaning, becoming shorthand for prejudiced views towards cultures of the East. Said claimed that “every European (and similarly American), in what he could say about the Orient, was . . . a racist, an imperialist, and almost totally ethnocentric.”

Bauernfeind_Gustav_photoLuckily for Gustav Bauernfeind (born in Sulz am Neckar, Germany 1848 – died in Jerusalem, 1904 and buried in the Templer cemetery on Emek Refaim Street; on his tombstone is the first verse of Isaiah 43 …I have redeemed thee, … thou art mine!) he lived before Said’s volley against Europeans who were sharing their impressions of the exotic Orient.

Bauernfeind was a German Orientalist painter, illustrator and architect of Jewish origin. After completing his architectural studies at the Polytechnic Institute in Stuttgart, he studied painting. He first visited the Levant from 1880 to 1882, living and working in Palestine, Lebanon and Syria. He became interested in the Orient and returned repeatedly, moving to Palestine in 1896  with his wife and son and settling in Jerusalem in 1898. For a time, Bauernfeind lived upstairs in the house at 6 Cremieux Street named for the French statesman and founder of Alliance Française that was inhabited by August Bienzle, blacksmith, who did most of the ironwork of the German Colony.

German Colony, aquarelle by Gustav Bauernfeind

German Colony, aquarelle by Gustav Bauernfeind

An album of Bauernfeind’s watercolor paintings of the German Colony was presented to the German Kaiser Wilhelm II when he visited Jerusalem and the German Colony in 1898.

Bauernfeind’s work is characterized primarily by architectural views of Jerusalem and the Holy Land. His oil paintings, of cityscapes and recognized holy sites, are meticulously crafted, intricately composed and almost photographically accurate, at a time when travel photography was already becoming popular. During his lifetime he was the most popular German Orientalist painter but fell into oblivion after his death. Since the early 1980s, Bauernfeind has been gradually rediscovered, with his paintings appearing at auctions and garnering high prices.

In 1992 his oil painting The Wailing Wall was sold at Christie’s in London for €326.000. When the painting was auctioned at Sotheby’s in London in 2007 it fetched €4.5 million. Note that there is no mehitza (separating the area into men and women sections), this happened only after 1967.

In 1997, another oil painting of Bauernfeind, The Port of Jaffa, was sold at the Van Ham Kunstauktionen in Cologne for 1.510.000 DM, thus becoming the most expensive 19th century painting ever sold in Germany.


If you are interested in exploring the various German Colonies, in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv-Jaffa and Haifa where the German Templers settled in the late 1800s contact me for a guided tour.

Photo of the Negev

The Negev is one of the quintessential areas of Israel. When visiting you should plan some time in the Negev, which makes up 60% of Israel’s land area. Ben Gurion was the visionary that realized the importance of the Negev to Israel’s future. Near Sde Boker, the final resting place of David Ben Gurion, is Ein Avdat, a spring in a canyon. It’s high limestone walls and pools are a great place for photographs.

Terebinth Ein Avdat horz

As you enter the reserve you will notice an old (250-year-old), solitary terebinth, a Pistachia Atlantic, אלה in Hebrew, rooted in the rocky soil. This tree normally grows in colder, semi-arid zones with annual rainfall of over 300 mm – this tree is a reminder of a forest that flourished here when the climate was colder and rainier. Looking up you may see Griffon vultures that nest on the cliffs soar overhead. There are also quite a few ibex that are attracted by the water. Ibex, a kind of mountain goat, are very good climbers on the steep rocky slopes and even up in a Pistachio tree.

Ibex in a Tree

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The technical details, shot with a Lumix point and shoot camera, ISO 80, 4.1mm, F4 at 1/200 sec.

Photographs on this website are © Shmuel Browns (unless marked otherwise) – if you are interested in purchasing one of my photos or using one of my photos for your own project please contact me.

Sunset in the Desert

The makhtesh, the Hebrew word for mortar, is the geographic term for an erosion cirque. Unique to the Negev and Sinai deserts, a makhtesh has steep walls of resistant rock (limestone and dolomite) surrounding a deep closed valley that was created when the core of softer rock (in this case colored sandstone)  was eroded and carried away by a stream bed. After a day of exploring we arrived at the colored sands in the Makhtesh HaGadol just around sunset, a perfect time for photographs. (Wish I had had my Nikon DSLR, I only had a Lumix point and shoot).

Colored sand makhtesh 3

Colored sand makhtesh 2

Large Makhtesh sunset

The Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth, is in the Judean desert. After a day of climbing the snake path to the top of Masada and exploring the site, we did a hike in the Ein Gedi reserve, including the Dodim cave, the Chalcolithic temple, Tel Goren and the 6th century synagogue. When we went down to the Dead Sea for a float it was just around sunset, a perfect time for photographs.

Dead Sea sunset

Dead Sea sunset 2

Trees, Almond and Tu Bish’vat

With the advent of Tu Bish’vat, the new year of trees next Thursday, I am happy to present this excerpt from The Natural Bible by Baruch Sienna about trees and the almond tree that is the harbinger of spring in Israel.

Introduction to Trees

From the very first trees planted at creation and the Garden of Eden, to the trees worshipped by King Ahaz in the final chapters of the Bible, trees figure prominently in Jewish literature and lore. The Hebrew word for tree appears over 150 times in the Bible, and more than 100 different kinds of trees, shrubs and plants are named. The Mishnah adds hundreds of names of plants; Masechet Zera’im in particular deals with laws of agriculture. Midrashim, too, often use plants in similes and parables. In all, over 500 different plants are mentioned in classical Jewish sources. The Bible is rich in natural imagery, metaphors and parables. Often, our understanding of the biblical text is impoverished because we no longer appreciate their meaning.

Trees and plants were important in the ancient world. Trees furnished wood for construction of buildings, boats, furniture and smaller articles. Many trees provided nutritious and tasty fruit. Grains and vegetables were cultivated and wild plants were gathered. Other plants were used for food, medicinal purposes, herbs and spices, incense important for use in sacrifices, rope and cloth fibers. Sap and oils were extracted from plants and trees.

Today, many of us live much farther removed from the natural world than did our biblical ancestors who lived and worked outdoors for much of their lives. It is only natural that the Bible used images of the great outdoors that surrounded them.

While the Bible uses images and descriptions of plants and trees, it is not meant to be a botanical encyclopedia. The Bible often mentions plants and trees incidentally; the names and descriptions of plant and animal life are not systematic. Some plants, such as ebony, pistachio, and walnut, are mentioned by chance, appearing just once in the whole Bible, while even many common species of plants, such as the caper and carob, are not mentioned at all.

What are trees?

Trees are the tallest and longest living plants on the earth. It is difficult not to be inspired by an enormous tree, whose roots are in the earth, yet whose branches seem to touch the very sky. Trees typically survive for several human generations, and their longevity must have also impressed the ancient Israelites. It is not surprising that trees were powerful symbols for the ancient Israelite, and many significant trees are featured in biblical stories.

The terms conifer and broadleaf are used to describe the trees included in this tree guide. While conifers are typically evergreen, the two terms are not synonymous even though they are often commonly and incorrectly used interchangeably. A conifer has needlelike or scalelike leaves, and usually produces its seeds in a woody cone-like fruit (although the juniper fruit, being the exception that proves the rule, resembles a berry). Broadleaves are often deciduous (meaning they lose their leaves), but again, many broadleaves, especially living in Israel’s climate, are also evergreen. Broadleaves produce diverse types of edible and inedible fruit: berries, fleshy fruits, as well as nuts. The palm “tree” is a special case. Palms seem very tree-like but are not actually true trees. Palms have a single unbranched stem that does not increase in girth with age. The difference is apparent when a palm is cut down — the trunk is not woody, and the stump does not have the rings of growth we normally see in an actual tree.

Identification issues

The majority of biblical plants have been identified, though occasionally differing identifications and interpretations have been suggested. As a result, the identity of some biblical flora is speculative. The Bible does not include a full botanical description, and it is even possible that the plant referred to in the Bible may no longer grow in Israel or at all. Some plant names in the Bible are very specific and some names refer to a more generic category. So, kotz for example, refers to thorns in general. The word erez can be both: it usually refers to the cedar but sometimes is used to mean non-fruit bearing conifer trees in general.

Descriptions in classical rabbinic sources as well as other ancient translations and early historical writings are helpful in identifying biblical flora. Often, a plant’s name has been preserved in its Aramaic or Arabic form. Biblical scholars assume that there have been no major changes in the geology or climate of the region, so trees that are described as growing in a particular region presumably might still be found there. This may not always be ​the case for trees which have been over-harvested, for example. Conversely, many exotic species have been introduced into Israel’s flora, such as the native Australian eucalyptus tree. These were planted extensively during the early 1900s to drain potential mosquito breeding grounds, to provide shade, and to serve as a natural camouflage for military installations and road convoys.

A common mistake of early commentators and translators was to identify flora with species found in their respective countries. Israel enjoys a remarkable variety of soil and climatic conditions, but it cannot be assumed that the trees found in medieval France also grew in the land of Israel. (Rashi, for example, incorrectly identifies the armon with the chestnut.)

Furthermore, languages change over time. Occasionally, a Hebrew name is used in modern Hebrew to refer to a different plant than was meant in the Bible. Asking for botnim today in Israel will buy you peanuts; in the Bible the word refers to pistachios. The biblical Hebrew word kishu-im is now used in Israel to refer to the zucchini squash, and not cucumbers. To identify the cucumbers mentioned by the Israelites who left Egypt, we must search for a species that grew in Egypt in the period of the Israelite wanderings, and not with the species that flourish today.

Translations may not reflect the latest botanical understanding and are not always reliable. For example, it is now generally agreed that the biblical brosh refers to the juniper, although it is usually translated as cypress, which has become its modern day meaning as well. Finally, some plants such as the ‘ar ‘ar and the tirzah, many animals and birds, and names of precious stones and gems cannot be identified with any certainty at all, and translations are at best a guess.

What follows in the Natural Bible is a comprehensive guide to the plants mentioned in the Bible. From this guide, I have chosen one tree, the almond, a symbol of springtime in Israel and associated with Tu BiSh’vat as its flowers usually appear in the month of Sh’vat – while guiding up on the mountain ridge at Belvoir I saw the first almond blossoms in January, the day before Rosh Hodesh Sh’vat.

Almond (Prunus Amygdalus)

Jacob then got fresh shoots of poplar, and of almond and plane, and peeled white stripes in them, laying bare the white of the shoots. (Genesis 30:37)

Although the common word for almond is sha-keid, the word luz appears once in Genesis 30:37 (where it is erroneously identified as hazelnut by Rashi). The word luz is similar to the Arabic and Aramaic word for almond: luza.

Almond trees

Almonds were also one of the “choice products” Jacob instructed his sons to take with them to Egypt:

Put in your baggage the land’s best products and take them to the man as gifts — some balm, a little honey, gum, ladanum, pistachios and almonds” (Genesis 43:11).

AlmondAlmond trees produce pink or white five-petalled blossoms. Both wild (bitter) and domestic varieties of almonds grow in Israel. The wild variety can be eaten with the rind when young, but in its later stages requires roasting to destroy poisonous alkaloids. Cultivated almond trees of the early 20th century were attacked by the borer beetle, and almost all the orchards were destroyed. In the 1960s, almond cultivation resumed in Israel.

Excerpt From: “The Natural Bible” Baruch Sienna, Behrman House, 2013.
A great resource and just in time for Tu Bish’vat, available as an iBook at https://itun.es/us/ERuJJ.l

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