As the only town on the Sea of Galilee, Tiberias is almost 2,000 years old and has become a resort town. The city was founded in 18 AD by Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, and dedicated to Tiberius, then emperor of Rome. Most people avoided living in the town because it was built on a cemetary. It was only later after a purification ceremony that people began to settle there. The Tiberians had little desire to see their city destroyed by the Romans as a result of Jewish uprisings so quickly surrendered and thus became the focal point of Jewish life following the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. By the 4th century, the Sanhedrin had settled in Tiberius and it was here that Jewish Oral Law was compiled into what became known as the Jerusalem Talmud. The city fell under hard times during the Byzantines and stabilized under the Muslim rulers and declined again under the Crusaders. Today the city is entirely Jewish.
The Sea of Galilee is in fact a freshwater lake approximately 13 miles long and 7 miles wide. The Jordan River feeds it from the north then leaves it in the south to travel to the Dead Sea. Almost completely ringed by cliffs and steep hills, the lake likes about 700 feet below sea level and its shores are covered with Christian landmarks.
As we left the town of Tiberias to travel along the Sea of Galilee, we passed a few other interesting sacred Christian locations. One such place was the Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha where Jesus is believed to have miraculously multiplied two fish and five loaves of bread to feed the crowds that followed him. Less than 200 yards east of this church is the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter which is built on the water’s edge over a flat rock known as Mensa Christi (the Table of Christ). After his resurrection, the New Testament describes Jesus appearing to his disciples by the Sea of Galilee and eating with them on a miraculous catch of fish. Three times Jesus asked the disciple Peter if he loved him and after his reply of “You know that I love you”, Jesus commanded him to “feed my sheep”. The episode is seen as annointing Peter and establishing his primacy.
The Mount of Beatitudes is located a few miles south of Tabgha and it is here that Jesus had his Sermon on the Mount. Pope John Paul II celebrated mass with some 100,000 faithful higher up the hill. There is a domed Roman Catholic church at this location.