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According to Christian tradition, the ruins here on the western shore of Lake Kinneret, 3 miles north of Tiberius, are those of the ancient city of Magdala. They are thought to be the home of Mary Magdalene, an early follower and financial supporter of Jesus of Nazareth. Her name probably means Mary from Magdala. The ruins are of considerable interest because of the finding of two synagogues dated to between 50 BCE to 100 CE. These synagogues were therefore functioning before the destruction of the Second Temple. But what were they used for since the Temple was considered then to be the main focus for prayer? 

VISITING MAGDALA

 

Directions: Enter “Magdala” into Waze. This will bring you to the hotel.

Entrance: You will need to go to the reception at the hotel to pay the admission fee. Admission is 17 nis, and students and seniors 12 nis. Children under 12 years are free. At the hotel desk they will direct you how to enter the site from the hotel. The site is open from 8.00 am to 6.00 pm.

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This is the oldest synagogue found around Lake Kinneret. Early synagogues such as this are of interest because they represent the very beginnings of the synagogue as a feature of Jewish lifew

This site was a major city in Second Temple times. It was located by the Via Maris, an important road linking Egypt with Syria, Anatolia and Mesopotamia. Excavations have shown evidence of a thriving port city with a large harbor with warehouses, and also public baths, a fish-salting facility, and two synagogues. The city was largely abandoned in about 270 CE, and was further devastated by an earthquake in 363 CE. About a century later, Christian pilgrims identified the city as Magdala.

 

This city was first settled during the Hellenistic period between the 2nd to 1st century BCE. Jesus of Nazareth is thought to have taught here and healed a lady called Mary Magdalene. She subsequently travelled with him and was a witness to his crucifixion and burial. Christian sources from the 8th and 10th centuries CE mention a church that had been Mary Magdalene’s home. The city was destroyed by the Romans during the Great Revolt, and the later Byzantine and early Islamic cities were located slightly to the north of the older city.

 

The synagogue uncovered here is the oldest synagogue found around Lake Kinneret, and is one of only a few synagogues found in Israel dated to before the destruction of the Second Temple. It represents, therefore, the very beginnings of the synagogue as a feature of Judaism. During this particular period, it may have functioned more as a community center for public meetings and a learning center for Torah readings than as a house of prayer.

 

During the Temple periods, the Temple was considered the focus for Jewish prayer, and development of the synagogue will only fully take place after the destruction of the Temple. The synagogue was a major innovation in Jewish religious life in that it allowed everyone, rather than just a priestly class, to become involved in the public rituals of Judaism. It also permitted the development of a more intimate relationship with God, in that this was no longer dependent on the intervention of a priest. The church and the mosque modeled themselves on this innovation.

 

There is a stone block within the synagogue with the design of a menorah on its sides (the Magdala Stone). This is the earliest menorah design seen outside of Jerusalem. The block is tall enough for a scroll of the law to be read from it from while seated.

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Closer view of the Magdala Stone.

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The church at Magdala.

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Replica of the Magdala Stone in the Yigal Allon Museum

But is this really Magdala?

 

Many scholars feel that these ruins are those of a city called Taricheae. According to the Jewish historian Josephus and other writers of the time, the city of Taricheae had a population of about 40,000 people, was fortified with walls, and was 30 stadia (about 4 miles) from Tiberias. In other words, this is likely not Magdala but Taricheae. So where was Magdala?

 

The Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds mention a village called Magdala Nunayya on the outskirts of Tiberias. Magdala means a tower in Aramaic, and is similar to the Hebrew word migdal. This tower may have been used for processing fish, and it very likely that the real Magdala was Magdala Nunayya, meaning Tower of the Fishes.

 

Does it really matter that the identification of Mary’s home town is mistaken? Firstly, Mary Magdalene might not mean Mary from Magdala, but Mary as a tower of faith. But even if the identification is incorrect, the church at Magdala can be considered a memorial to the memory of Mary Magdalene, and it is really not that important if it is off her birthplace by several miles, since in any case this no longer exists.

Details of other sites of Christian interest can be found on the webpage "Capernaum and other nearby sites of Christian interest".

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