Several times in the past three years we have called attention to the site of Magdala (Migdal). Last September we noted announcement by the Israel Antiquities Authority of the discovery of a synagogue from the Second Temple period (50 BCE—100 CE).
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.
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.
Recently Jim Joyner, one of our readers, offered to share a few of his photos made at Magdala earlier this year. The photo above shows part of the residential area of Magdala with Mount Arbel in the distance to the west. The synagogue excavation is under the tent in the distance. The Sea of Galilee would be to our back.
The residences were first excavated. Eventually the remains of a synagogue were discovered. It was a magnificent discovery! The walls of the synagogue are clear, and the places where seats were located in the synagogue are obvious. The walls were beautifully frescoed, and the remains of the colors are still obvious on the uncovered portions of the walls.
Thanks, Jim. We look forward to seeing more of these great photos.
We wrote about the Magdala Excavation Project here.