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Magdala, an important site for Jews, Christians and everyone else.

There are many sites along the shore line of the Sea of Galilee (Kinneret) which are worth visiting. Many of them are connected to Christianity, specifically to the Ministry of Jesus. However, there is one site which is also especially interesting to Jews and anyone else involved in the history in the Land of Israel or archeology. That place is Magdala.

Airial View of Excavations

Ancient Magdala only existed for a brief period but its existence is important never the less. The city developed from a small Jewish fishing village to an important town around 60 BCE. The city was destroyed in 67CE by Vespasian during the Great Revolt of the Jews against Rome. In fact, the town was the headquarters of the Jewish governor of the Galilee who built a defensive wall around the city. The governor, and leader of the revolt in the north, is the famous Yosef Ben Matityahu who switched sides and fought for Rome against the uprising. He is better known a Josephus Flavius who wrote the history of the Great Revolt.

Josephus Flavius

Those inhabitants who were unable to flee were all killed by the Romans. The city never recovered and ultimately disappeared for close to 2000 years.

In 2006 a plot of land next to the eastern shoreline of the Kinneret was purchased by the Catholic church with the intention of building a retreat on the spot. In accordance with Israeli law an archeological survey was conducted before building began. What they discovered was amazing- the ancient town of Magdala including a rare Second Temple era synagogue and mikvaot (ritual baths)!

Magdala Synagogue

Why is this synagogue important? For Jews and historians, the reason is that it is only one of seven synagogues from the Second Temple period to be discovered. For Christians, it is surely a place where Jesus preached as well as the home of Mary Magdalene, whose name is derived from where she lived.

Mary Magdalene

The synagogue is also important because of the Magdala Stone, found in the synagogue. The stone is the earliest know depiction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem! The stone illustrates the Menorah which stood in the Temple and other Temple ceremonial motifs. It is obvious that the artist who carved it actually saw the Temple before it was destroyed by the Romans in 70CE.

Magdala Stone with Menorah Image

Magdala is still being excavated and who knows what else will be found there. The retreat is being built on an adjacent plot of land and a beautiful church, the Duc in Altum is located next to archeological park where ancient Magdala can be seen. In fact, the Roman Catholic Duc in Altum church should not be missed, but that’s another story.

Altar at Duc im Altum

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