The town of Magdala is not mentioned in the Bible, but Mary Magdalene is mentioned a total of 12 times in the four gospels. This place may have been her birthplace or her home. A few late manuscripts mention Magdala (Matthew 15:39 KJV), but earlier manuscripts read Magadan. Magdala is located about 4 miles north of Tiberias on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee.
The Hebrew word Magdala means tower. In New Testament times the city had become Hellenized and bore the Greek name Tarichea because of the importance of the salted-fish industry there. Mendel Nun located a harbor at the site. He says,
“In ancient times, pickled sardines were an important element of diet throughout the country–especially for those who lived near the lake” (BAR, Nov/Dec 1993).
Josephus had his headquarters at Magdala during the first Jewish Revolt against Rome (A.D. 66-70). He was able to get a group of at least 230 boats to go from Magdala to Tiberias (Jewish Wars 2.635-637). Vespasian attacked the town from the sea and destroyed it.
Archaeological excavations were conducted at Magdala in the early 1970s, on the plot owned by the Franciscan fathers, by Corbo and Loffreda. Biblical Archaeology Review announced (Sept/Oct 2007) that a new excavation will begin under the direction of Franciscan scholar Michele Piccirillo. In recent years entry to the site has been closed. The new excavations are welcomed.
The photo below is one that I made in 1977 of the area overlooking the earlier excavations. A first century mosaic from Magdala showing a boat is on display at Capernaum. Moments after posting this blog I noticed that a report had been issued on new finds at Magdala. You may read the report and see new photos here. It will be exciting over the next few years to watch this ancient town give up its secrets.