Second Temple period synagogue discovered at Magdala

Israel Antiquities Authority announces the discovery of one of the oldest synagogues known.

A synagogue from the Second Temple period (50 BCE-100 CE) was exposed in archaeological excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is conducting at a site slated for the construction of a hotel on Migdal [Magdala] beach, in an area owned by the Ark New Gate Company. In the middle of the synagogue is a stone that is engraved with a seven-branched menorah (candelabrum), the likes of which have never been seen. The excavations were directed by archaeologists Dina Avshalom-Gorni and Arfan Najar of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

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.

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.

IAA reports the following facts about the new discovery.

The main hall of synagogue is c. 120 square meters in area and its stone benches, which served as seats for the worshippers, were built up against the walls of the hall. Its floor was made of mosaic and its walls were treated with colored plaster (frescos).

A square stone, the top and four sides of which are adorned with reliefs, was discovered in the hall. The stone is engraved with a seven-branched menorah set atop a pedestal with a triangular base, which is flanked on either side by an amphora (jars).

The decorated stone depicting . Phoo: Moshe Hartal, IAA.

The decorated stone depicting seven-branch Menorah. Phoo: Moshe Hartal, IAA.

The complete IAA report may be read here.

HT: Joseph Lauer

6 responses to “Second Temple period synagogue discovered at Magdala

  1. Pingback: The new look at Magdala | Ferrell's Travel Blog

  2. Many thanks. I’ve emailed the Israel Antiquities Authority to get in touch with Moshe Hartal as well, so I hope that something will come of it. Thanks for the rapid reply!

  3. Welcome. The symbol did not strike me as being unusual for the early Christian centuries, but I know nothing more than what is in the IAA report. I suggest you follow the excavation at the Magdala Project web site. Perhaps something else will be made know.

  4. I came across your blog by chance and am interested by the symbolism on the decorated stone in your photo. Do you have any information on any suspected meaning for the six petalled circle motif on the top? It seems to have a use as a charm in later medieval Britain, and I am looking for any other historical uses.

  5. I am not sure how accurate your information is, but thanks for sharing it.

  6. Tremendously Exciting

    This discovery confirms my research into the importance of Magdala at the time of Y’hoshua ben Nasareth or as most call him, Jesus Christ. What makes this discovery so interesting is that it is located just 3 kilometres south of the centre of Y’hoshua’s family estate … the site of what is now called Ginosar. In Y’hoshua’s time it was called GenNasaret, or ‘Garden of the Prince’.

    What is interesting is that despite the nearness of the synagogue in Magdala, the family actually worshipped in Capernum, a town to the north of GenNasaret, a distance of some 6 kilometres.

    That means that his family had stronger connections to Capernum than Magdala, which is in line with my own understanding. It is my understanding that his father was a leading shipbuilder (carpenter) in Capernum.

    This also provides us with a new insight in that Mary ben Magdala’s family did not worship in the same synagogue as Y’hoshua’s family. This then strengthens the case for her family seeking a marriage contract between her and Y’hoshua. It is only logical that the daughter of a leading family living on the edge of the estates of the legitimate Prince of Israel, should be offered as a bride to a potential future King.

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