Joseph of Tiberias (c. 285 – c. 356) was a Jewish believer in Jesus. He is also known as Count Joseph and is venerated as Saint Joseph of Palestine. His memorial day is 22 July.
The main source about his life is a book by Epiphanius, the Panarion, which in chapter 30 retells the stories Epiphanius heard from Joseph during their encounter in Scythopolis around the year 355. According to Epiphanius, Joseph was a contemporary of Emperor Constantine, a Rabbinical scholar, member of the Sanhedrin and a disciple of Hillel II. Following his conversion, Emperor Constantine gave him the rank of count (comes), appointed him as supervisor of the churches in Palestine and gave him permission to build churches in the Galilee. Specifically, Joseph wished to build churches in Jewish towns which didn’t yet have a Christian community. One of the churches attributed to him was the first Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish at Heptapegon, erected around AD 350. Despite his high position, he opposed the Arian policies of Constantine’s successors, and got married after his first wife died in order to evade Arian pressure to become a bishop for that sect.
Prayer: Thank you Lord for this Messianic Jewish saint, the churches he is described as building, and the story of his life. Help us to walk the path of faith that you have set before us. In Yeshua’s name we pray. Amen.
Abstract of Goranson’s Phd on Joseph of Tiberias – full thesis here
Joseph of Tiberias.
An apostate, Joseph by name, a former member of the Sanhedrin of Tiberias, raised to the dignity of a comes by Constantine the emperor, in reward for his Apostasy, is described by Epiphanius in his “Panarium,” xxx. 4-11 (ed. Dindorf, pp. 93-105). He claimed, while an envoy of the Sanhedrin, to have been cast into the river by the Jews of Cilicia for having been caught reading New Testament books, and to have escaped drowning only by a miracle. He must have done much harm to the Jews of Palestine, since the emperor had, in the year 336, to issue, on the one hand, a decree prohibiting Christian converts from insulting the patriarchs, destroying the synagogues, and disturbing the worship of the Jews; and, on the other hand, a decree protecting the Apostates against the wrath of the Jews (Cassel, in Ersch and Gruber, “Allg. Encyklopädie,” iv. 23 and 49, note 59; Grätz, “Gesch. der Juden,” iv. 335, 485). The very fact that he built the first churches in Galilee at Tiberias, Sepphoris, Nazareth, and Capernaum—towns richly populated by Jews and soon afterward the centers of a Jewish revolt against Rome—justifies Grätz in assuming that the dignity of comes conferred upon Joseph covered a multitude of sins committed against his former coreligionists in those critical times. The rabbinical sources allude only to the fact that Christian Rome, in accordance with Deut. xiii. 6—”the son of thy mother shall entice thee”—said to the Jews, “Come to us and we will make you dukes, governors, and generals” (Pesiḳ. R. 15a, 21 [ed. Friedmann], pp. 71b, 106b]). A decree of the emperor Theodosius shows that up to 380 the patriarchs exercised the right of excommunicating those that had espoused the Christian religion; which right, disputed by the Christian Church, was recognized by the emperor as a matter of internal synagogue discipline (Graetz, “History of the Jews,” ii. 612, iv. 385).
Epifanio da Salamina
Panarion adversus omnes haereses (315-403)
Epiphanius, bishop of Salamis, was the first to bring news of a church in Nazareth, remembering Joseph of Tiberias’ attempt to build a church in the village of Nazareth. Joseph was a Jew baptized during Constantine’s time. The bishop recounts having been a guest in Count Joseph of Tiberias’ villa in 355 in Scitopoli, nowadays Beit She’an, and of having learnt from him how Christianity officially penetrated Galilee, which had been a Jewish stronghold until then.
Joseph, “apostle” of the Patriarch Judas Ha-Nasi, had decided to convert to Christianity after reading the New Testament and having had contacts with some bishops. Honored by Emperor Constantine’s friendship who had dignified him as a “companion,” he requested his permission to erect some churches in Galilee, especially in Tiberias, Diocesarea (Sefforis), Nazareth, Cana and Cafarnaum.
The emperor not only gave permission, but also ordered the tax authorities to provide him with all necessary means. According to Epiphanius’ report, Count Joseph, was able to inaugurate churches in Tiberias, in Diocaesarea and other cities despite the Jewish community’s reaction. With regard to Nazareth, in the story it appears in the list of churches that Count Joseph wanted to build, although its construction is not mentioned. However, he was probably able to carry out the work.
Epiphanius points out the presence of small Christian communities in Galilee. In this regard, he retrieves Hegesippus’ and Julius Africanus’ second century texts, which mention early Christians in Galilee, humble peasants called to account for their descent from Jesus’ family before the emperor Domitian (81-96 AD) and during Decius’ persecution (249-251 AD). A man named Conon was martyred in Phrygia under Decius’ persecution, who made the following statement before the court: “I’m from the town of Nazareth in Galilee, I am related to Christ whom I worship like my ancestors did.”
« The good emperor (Constantine) made (Joseph) a count and added that he could ask of him whatever he wanted. Joseph asked for nothing but to receive this great gift from the emperor, that he be permitted by means of imperial edict to erect churches to Christ in the villages of the Jews. Indeed, no one had ever been able to build churches there, because neither Greek nor Samaritan nor Christian was found in their midst. This (rule) indeed they have that no other race may be next to them. This is true especially in Tiberias, in Diocesarea also known as Sefforis, in Nazareth and in Cafarnaum. … He only built a small church in the Adrianeion in Tiberias, but he completely fulfilled his building wishes in Diocesarea and some other cities. »
Donato Baldi, Enchiridion Locorum Sanctorum, Jerusalem ,1935, pp. 2-3
Jewish layman who was attached to the biblical school of Tiberius, and served as assistant to the famous Rabbi Hillel. Secretly a Christian believer, Hillel was baptized on his deathbed, and entrusted his holy books to Joseph. As head of the synagogue in Tarsus, his congregation caught Joseph reading the gospels; they beat him and threw him in the Cydnus River. He then publicly converted.
Friend and counselor to emperor Constantine the Great, who appointed him to the high position of comes. Built churches in Galilee, Tiberias, Nazareth, Capernaum, Bethsan, and Diocaesarea, and evangelized throughout the Holy Land. Fought Arianism, and moved to Scytholopolis where he hid priests from their persecution. Financial patron of SaintEusebius of Vercielli and Saint Epiphanius; Epiphanius wrote Joseph’s biography.
His guardianship of holy writings and holy men led to his association with guardians in general.
- Ray Pritz, “Joseph of Tiberias — The Legend of a 4th Century Jewish Christian” Mishkan2 (1985)
Let me make clear that we should not eschew theory. Jacobs makes some important contributions. For example, he cautions us against assuming that the vitality of Judaism necessarily entailed the vitality of Christian-Jewish relations (pp.205-206). In addition, some readings are quite insightful. On pp. 48-50 there is an excellent interpretation of the Joseph of Tiberias story in Epiphanius: the liminality of Joseph as convert appears in combination with a connection between Joseph’s knowledge and his defeat of the Jews. Here, the postcolonial reading of the Joseph story as a folktale highlights its ideology of powerful dominance of the other through knowledge. Similarly, when Jacobs identifies the structure of the inventio story — knowledgeable Jew who conceals Christian secrets retrieved by imperial hand through trickery or force (p. 190) — the colonialist thinking becomes clear.
Andrew S. Jacobs, Remains of the Jews: The Holy Land and Christian Empire in Late Antiquity. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004. Pp. 264. ISBN 0-8047-4705-9. $55.00.
Reviewed by Matthew Kraus, University of Cincinnati (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Word count: 2378 words
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