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Sermon Podcast | Audio | Video : Christian Books : Chapter 81 Some history of Tiberias. The Jerusalem Talmud was written there: and when.

From The Talmud And Hebraica by John Lightfoot

Chapter 81 Some history of Tiberias. The Jerusalem Talmud was written there: and when.

Tiberias was built by Herod the tetrarch in honour of Tiberius: and that in a common burying-place, or in a place where many sepulchres had been. Hence it was that the founder was fain to use all manner of persuasion, enticements, and liberality, to invite inhabitants. The very delightful situation of the place seemed to put him on to wrestle with such a difficulty and inconvenience, rather than not to enjoy so pleasant a soil and seat. For on this side, the sea washing upon it, -- on that side, within a little way, Jordan gliding by it, -- on the other side, the hot baths of Chammath, -- and on another, the most fruitful country Gennesaret adjacent, -- did every way begird this city, when it was built, with pleasure and delight.

It did every day increase in splendour, and became at last the chief city not only of Galilee but of the whole land of Israel. It obtained this honour, by reason of the university translated thither by Rabbi Judah, and there continued for many ages. It was ennobled by thirteen synagogues: among which |the ancient Serongian synagogue was one.| It was famous also for the Sanhedrim sitting there; for the Talmudic Misna, perhaps, collected here by R. Judah; and for the Jerusalem Talmud, written there for certain. That very volume does openly speak the place where it was published: in which the words here, and hither, do most plainly design Tiberias, almost in infinite places. But there is a greater controversy about the time: it is agreed upon, by very many learned men, that this Talmud was written about the year of Christ 230: which I do indeed wonder at, when the mention of the emperor Diocletian, unless I am very much mistaken, does occur in it. Let us note the places: --

|When the king Docletinus came hither [to Tiberias], they saw R. Chaija Bar Abba climbing a sepulchre to see him.| This story is repeated in Nazir, and he is there called Doclinus, by an error, as it seems, of the copiers.

|Dicletinus gathered the rivers together, and made the sea of Apamia.| And this story is recited in Chetuboth, and there he is called Docletianus.

|Docletinus had most fine gold, even to the weight of a Gordian penny.|

|When Docletianus came thither, he came with a hundred and twenty myriads.|

|The boys of R. Judah, the prince, bruised Diclot, the keeper of hogs, with blows. That king at length escaped, and coming to Paneas, sent for the Rabbins, &c. He said to them, Therefore, because your Creator worketh miracles for you, you contemn my government. To whom they said, We contemned Diclot the hog-herd; we contemned not Diocletianus the king.| Hence arose a suspicion among some learned men, that this was not to be understood of Diocletian the emperor, but of some little king, I know not whom, of a very beggarly original: of which opinion I also was some time, until at last I met with something that put the thing past all doubt.

That you find in Avodah Zarah. There inquiry is made by one, |What of the mart of Tsur?| -- There is this inscription there, |I Diocletianus, the king, built this mart of Tsur [or Tyre], to the fortune of my brother Herculius, in eighty days.| The very sound persuades to render Herculius, and the agreeableness of the Roman history, from which every one knows how near a king there was between Diocletian and Maximian Herculius.

Eusebius mentions the travelling of Diocletian through Palestine; and all the Roman historians speak of his sordid and mean birth; which agree very well with the things that are related by the Talmudists.

These are all the places, unless I am much mistaken, where this name occurs in this Talmud, one only excepted, which I have reserved for this place, that, after we have discovered, by these quotations, that this was Diocletian the emperor, some years after him might be computed. That place is in Sheviith: |Diocletianus afflicted the men of Paneas: they said therefore to him, We will depart hence: but a certain sophist said to him, Either they will not depart; or, if they do, they will return again: but if you would have an experiment of it, let two young goats be brought hither, and let them be sent to some place afar off, and they will at last come back to their place. He did so: for the goats were brought, whose horns he gilded, and sent them into Africa: and they, after thirty years, returned to their own place.| Consider, that thirty years passed from this action of Diocletian, which if you compute even from his first year, and suppose that this story was writ in the last year of those thirty, you come as far as the ninth or tenth year of Constantine.

Mention also of king Sapor occurs, if I do not fail of the true reading. |A serpent, under Sapor the king, devoured camels.| Yea, I have I know not what suspicion, that |Lulianus the king,| of whom there is mention in that very same place, does denote Julianus the emperor. |When Lulianus the king (say they) came thither, a hundred and twenty myriads accompanied him.| But enough of this...

R. Judah, who first removed the university to Tiberias, sat also in Zippor for many years, and there died: so that in both places were very famous schools. He composed and digested the Mishnaioth into one volume. |For when he saw the captivity was prolonged| (they are the words of Tsemach David, translated by Vorstius), |and the scholars to become faint-hearted, and the strength of wisdom and the cabala to fail, and the oral law to be much diminished, -- he gathered and scraped up together all the decrees, statutes, and sayings of the wise men; of which he wrote every one apart, which the house of the Sanhedrim had taught, &c. And he disposed it into six classes; which are Zeraim, Moed, Nezikin, Nashim, Kedoshim, Tahoroth.| And a little after; |All the Israelites ratified the body of Mishnaioth, and obliged themselves to it: and in it, during the life of Rabbi, his two sons, Rabban Gamaliel and R. Simeon, employed themselves, in the school of the land of Israel: and R. Chaija, R. Hoshaia, R. Chaninah, and R. John, and their companions. And in the school of Babylon, Rabh and Samuel exercised themselves in it,| &c.

Therefore it is worthy of examination, whence those differences should arise between the Jerusalem Misna, and the Babylonian, -- differences in words, without number, -- in things, in great number; which he that compares them will meet with every where. You have a remarkable example in the very entrance of the Jerusalem Misna, where the story of R. Tarphon's danger among thieves is wanting, which is in that of Babylon.

Whether R. Judah composed that system in Tiberias or in Zippor, we are not solicitous to inquire: he sat in both, and enriched both with famed schools; and Tiberias was the more eminent. For |The university of Tiberias was greater than that of Zippor.|

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