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Tiberias meaning


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🔼The name Tiberias/Tiberius: Summary

Darkling, Dark Lord
You Pass Over, She Passes Over; He/She Who Does The Hebrew Thing
From the name Tiber, from a PIE root meaning dark or darkness.
From the term תעבר (ta'abor), from the verb עבר ('eber), to cross or pass over.

🔼The name Tiberias/Tiberius in the Bible

The Sea of Tiberias (John 6:1, 21:1 only) was named after the city of Tiberias (John 6:23 only), which was named after Rome's second Emperor Tiberius (Τιβεριος, Tiberios; Luke 3:1 only; see full concordance), who took his name from the river Tiber, upon whose banks Rome was built. And the building of Rome is told of in the famous legend of Remus and Romulus.

Remus and Romulus were children of vestal-virgin Rhea Silvia (daughter of king Numitor) and the god Mars. Fearing rivalry, Numitor's brother and successor king Amulius ordered the boys to be abandoned on the banks of the Tiber, from where they were saved by the she-wolf Lupa. This story obvious meditates on the same archetypes of human psychology, sociology, statecraft, law and civilization as does the story of Moses, who was an Egyptian semi-prince, adopted like Augustus and Tiberius had been, abandoned and drawn out of the Nile. Moses' mission would ultimately result in the New Jerusalem, which likewise had a river running through it, namely the River of Life, with on both its banks the Tree of Life, whose leaves were for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:1-2). International healing was precisely what Augustus had in mind when he created the Empire (see our articles on Pyrrhus and Thyatira).

The story of Remus and Romulus is not about laying bricks and cobblestones but about forming government: the soul and character of the city of Rome rather than its physical body, which, as all Romans knew, had existed since deep antiquity. The story of how Rome became Rome (the story of Remus and Romulus) plays in the 8th century BC, the age of Homer who told of the long past Trojan War, and Isaiah whose future vision of the Virgin to be with Child described the city of Athens and the Republican experiment that had begun to be proposed within her. Legendary Troy had fallen around the same time that Moses had marched Israel out of Egypt (both accounts derive their momentum from the Bronze Age collapse, in the 12th century BC), and a Trojan survivor named Aeneas (the namesake of the man from Damascus, who had helped Paul regain his sight) would journey to Italy and found the royal dynasty that would produce Romulus and Remus.

The Roman Empire was kept together by administration and correspondence, and without the Latin alphabet that would certainly not have been possible. There would also not have been a great Roman Republic, and for the same reason. And the chances are excellent that without script and popular literacy, the republican insurrectionists would not have been able to amass the social momentum needed to topple the Roman monarchy in 509 BC, six years after the Second Temple was completed in Jerusalem.

We moderns are inundated with he marvels of information technology and it's not emphasized enough what a mighty weapon literacy is, and what a miracle of enlightenment the alphabet is. The Latin alphabet is an adaptation of the Greek one, and the Greek one derives from the Hebrew one, which was perfected by the Phoenicians around 1000 BC, the time of David (Psalm 16:10). The Hebrew alphabet would bring light and freedom to the world, and the formation of it is in the Bible described as the building of the great Temple of YHWH in Jerusalem (957 BC).

In those days there were no dictionaries and grammar books, so a language was demonstrated by its stories. One of the functions of foundational texts (Homer, Moses, Virgil) was to demonstrate the language that gave the people a unified reality to experience, and that in turn made a people one and gave them one single identity, even a social soul or national spirit. That means that not only the mere alphabet but also the legendariums of the Greeks and Romans were adaptations of the Hebrew one (see our article on the many Hebrew roots of the Greek language). And the subsequent developments of literary corpi, of the Hebrews, the Greeks and the Romans, were formed from a global conversation between cultures, like great beasts evolving in a single shared natural environment, each recording the entire world within the memories of their own cultural minds.

In the Gospels, Jesus embodies the Logos, the human Ratio (Colossians 2:3, Ephesians 1:10), who may have been a native son of the Hebrews but surely not a stranger to the wider world. Waters in the Bible very often represent large cultural basins (Revelation 17:15, see our articles on Tigris and νεφελη, nephele, cloud), and the literary entity called "Sea of Tiberias" (though obviously grafted on the actual lake) also served to represent the whole of Roman intelligent nobility. The Sea of Tiberias is the one Jesus rebuked and ordered to calm down (Matthew 8:26, see Genesis 8:1), and the one he walked on (Matthew 14:25, see Genesis 1:2 and Matthew 5:13).

The city of Tiberias was founded in 20 AD by Herod Antipas (see Revelation 2:13), on the west-bank of the Sea of Galilee (a.k.a. Sea of Gennesaret), precisely halfway its north-south length, where the city of Rakkath already stood. The Jordan flows from this lake into the Dead Sea, which in Hebrew lore was the bottom of the drain of the world's sewer, a kind of geographic equivalent of Rick's Café Américain, where all the sins of the world collected (1 Kings 10:25, Acts 2:5-6, Revelation 21:24, Iliad.2.803-804) — a function that in later texts was obviously assumed by the crucified Christ (Isaiah 53:11, John 1:29, 1 Peter 5:7, 1 John 2:2).

When in 70 AD, Jerusalem was sacked and the Temple was destroyed, the Sanhedrin moved north and ultimately settled in Tiberias (Matthew 26:32). There the Mishnah and "Jerusalem" Talmud were written, and the Masoretes worked out their code that would ultimately prove crucial in preserving the Hebrew texts for posterity.


Emperor Tiberius succeeded Augustus in 14 AD, after decennia of political wife swapping, forced divorces and child adoptions: a very Roman thing to do but summarily condemned by the Hebrews (Mark 6:18). In Hebrew lore, a general population is feminine and the legal government is masculine, but any and all law only proceeds from God. The king embodies the law (Deuteronomy 17:17-20) whereas a queen embodies the people, and the conversation between the queen and king reflects the king's understanding of both God's law and his people (hence the significance of texts like Esther 2:17 and Matthew 14:8). The chaotic do-si-do in Rome's higher echelons demonstrated to the Hebrews that Rome's head had lost touch with its body and the whole staggered about like a drunken madman or a Legion possessed.

Before he was Augustus, Octavian had become the legally adopted son of the deified Julius Caesar (which made him the originally titled "Son of God") and Tiberius was the legally adopted son of Octavian (hence also the significance of texts like Romans 8:15-23, 9:4, Galatians 4:5 and Ephesians 1:5). But biologically, Tiberius was a son from a previous marriage of Octavian's third wife Livia. He married Octavian's only biological child, Julia, his adoptive sister and daughter of Scribonia, Octavian's second wife (who had been married twice before and was forced to divorce to marry Octavian, who divorced her the day Julia was born). Sister Julia had had two husbands before Tiberius, who had had one wife before her (named Vipsania Agrippina, a woman whom he was deeply in love with but ordered to divorce by Augustus; she remarried a man who Tiberius had starved to death in 33 AD). Two sons of sister Julia with her second husband (forced divorce), namely Gaius and Lucius, were set to succeed their grandfather Augustus, but both died of dubious illness, both childless. Tiberius was next in line.

Tiberius was 55 years old in 14 AD and had been an unusually skilled soldier, diplomat and politician for decades, but often in a troubled relationship with his colleagues and the Senate. His ascension to the throne was reluctant, and his true ambitions appear to have lain elsewhere. In 6 BC, at age 35, when Tiberius was the Empire's towering second in command, he suddenly retired from Roman politics and moved to the island of Rhodes and remained there for seven years. Why he did that remains disputed (from the year it happened up to Jane Bellemore's most thoughtful study Tiberius and Rhodes, Klio, 2007) — very soon after he became emperor, Tiberius became a literary character in the great theatre of Roman commentary, making it very difficult (even a futile effort) to try to distill any trace of true historicity from the many accounts because these many accounts were purposed primarily to meditate on the mythological properties of the emperor. Roman Imperial Theology, after all, is the ideological ancestor of Roman Catholicism.

Certain is, however, that Rhodes at that time was a proverbial academic hotspot and host to many great schools. Tiberius had been long fascinated with Greek rhetoric, literature (i.e. mythology) and astrology (and see Genesis 15:5, Daniel 12:3, Matthew 2:2), and although he was quickly becoming a notoriously somber recluse, he also clearly enjoyed the company of learned men (many of the "reports" of conversations between Tiberius and astrologers and philosophers have since become canonized moral parables, very much in line with Plato's dialogues, tales of the Buddha and of course the Gospels of Jesus Christ).

Under Augustus, Tiberius had campaigned in Armenia on the eastern border of the Roman Empire, and his interest in protecting the Empire may have prompted his interest in the Parthians, which in turn was strongly informed by the Aramaic language and thus the Hebrew mind (Ezra's wisdom schools had never left: the "Babylonian" Talmud was written there). Note that the "magi from the east" who first identified the infant Christ came precisely from that same region, and that Dio claims that Tiberius "went to Rhodes" the very same year Augustus made him governor of Arminia (Jane Bellemore rejects Dio's claim, but still, does not dispute that he made it).

Tiberius' later anger with Pontius Pilate (concerning gilded shields set up in Herod's palace, upon which the Jews sent complaints to Rome) reveals a deep sensitivity to Jewish affairs, or at least the understanding that peace is much more lucrative than war. In 9 AD, the Illyrian Revolt combined with the shameful losses in Teutoburg Forest, had certainly inspired the Romans to explore governmental tactics other than brute military force (hence perhaps also the piety of Cornelius, Acts 10:1-2).

In his excellent study Tiberius the Wise (Historia, 2008), Edward Champlin recounts a tale told by Suetonius (69-122 AD), about a fisherman who offers Tiberius a big fish and gets tortured to death for his kindness, and ascribes it to inspiration taken from the familiar story of the Ring of Polycrates: the warrior lord Polycrates of Samos was advised to demonstrate his humility toward the gods by tossing a valuable ring into the sea. Some days later, he is offered a fish, and in the fish is found the ring. Another adaptation of this same story is found in Matthew 17:24-27, where Jesus and Peter obtain the two-drachma temple tax from a caught fish. This poll tax was introduced by the administration of Tiberius, upon the dethronement of Herod Archelaus and annexation of Judea into the Empire in 6 AD.

In 40 AD, the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria (20 BC - 50 AD) had served the embassy of Alexandrian Jews in Rome, in their attempt to explain to Caligula why Jews wouldn't deify the emperor, erect statues or built temples or altars dedicated to the emperor cult. He wrote about Tiberius:

"He held sway over land and sea for twenty-three years without allowing any spark of war to smolder in Greek or barbarian lands, and he gave peace and blessings of peace to the end of his life with ungrudging bounty of hand and heart. Was he inferior in birth [to Caligula]? No, he was of the noblest ancestry on both sides. Was he inferior in education? Who among those who reached the height of their powers in his time surpassed him in wisdom and learning?" (Philo, Legatio ad Gaium, 141-142)

A century after Philo, the Christian Tertullian (155-220 AD) wrote:

"It was in the age of Tiberius, then, that the Christian name went out into the world, and he referred to the Senate the news which he had received from Syria Palestine, which had revealed the truth of [Christ's] divinity; he did this, exercising his prerogative in giving it his endorsement. The Senate had not approved beforehand and rejected it. [Tiberius] Caesar held to his opinion and threatened dangers to accusers of Christians" (Tert.Apol.5.2).

🔼Etymology of the name Tiberias/Tiberius

The names Tiberias (of the town and lake) and Tiberius (of the emperor) either stem from or share a root with the name Tiber, of the river of Rome. Where that name comes from isn't clear, but some have suggested that it stems from the same Proto-Indo-European root "themH-", meaning dark as does the name Thames, of the river of London. Others point at the PIE root "teh-", to flow or melt, which would relate our name(s) to Tivoli, or even the Sabine noun teba, hill, hence, perhaps also the name Tibur.

Any Hebrew (or Aramaic) speaker, however, would immediately realize that the Sabine noun teba is strikingly similar to the Hebrew noun תבה (teba), which describes the basket in which baby Moses was placed among the Egyptian reeds (i.e. papyri; its library), and also the Ark with which Noah and his family and all the animals had survived the great flood.

The same Hebrew speaker would recognize in the name Tiber the term תעבר (ta'abor), the second person masculine singular (you) or third person feminine singular (she) Qal Imperfect of the verb עבר ('eber), to cross or pass over (to transcend), from which also comes the name Hebrew (and Abarim). The form תעבר (ta'abor) occurs in Genesis 18:3, 31:52, 32:21, Leviticus 26:6, Numbers 5:30, 20:18, 20:20, Deuteronomy 3:27, 31:2, 34:4, 2 Kings 14:9 (2 Chronicles 25:18), Proverbs 4:15, Isaiah 43:2, Lamentations 4:21, Ezekiel 14:17 and 29:11:

Excerpted from: Abarim Publications' Biblical Dictionary

The important verb עבר ('abar) means to pass or cross over (a river, border, obstacle or terrain). The derived noun עבר ('eber) describes what or where you end up when you do the verb: the other side or region beyond.

Creative Greek speakers may have made a link between our names and the noun τεφρα (tephra), ashes (specifically from a funeral pile), which clearly corresponds to the Hebrew אפר ('eper), also meaning ashes; hence names like Ephraim and Ephrathah.

🔼Tiberias/Tiberius meaning

The name Tiberius means "Of The Tiber," which in Indo-European ears probably sounded like "darkness", making Tiberius the Darkling (or Dark Lord). People from a Semitic background would probably have heard something like the highly significant You Pass Over or She Passes Over. That would make Tiberius a kind of Hebrew, or rather He/She Who Does The Hebrew Thing, which is of course to look at stars in pursuit of wisdom and peace on earth for all mankind (Genesis 12:2-3, John 12:32, Ephesians 3:14-15, Philippians 1:15-20, Revelation 13:3).