The ruins of Magdala are on the western shore of Lake Kinneret, 3 miles north of Tiberius. The claim to fame of this site is because Magdala was the presumed 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 functional before the destruction of the Second Temple. But what for?
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.
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 Judaism..
Magdala was major city in Second Temple times being located by the Via Maris, a major ancient road linking Egypt with Syria, Anatolia and Mesopotamia. Magdala means a tower in Aramaic, and is similar to the Hebrew word migdal. This tower may have been used for processing fish, and Magdala is probably the same place as Magdala Nunayya mentioned in the Talmud, meaning Tower of the Fishes.
Magdala was first settled during the Hellenistic period between the 2nd to 1st century BCE. Jesus of Nazareth 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. At this 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 its destruction. When this happened, the synagogue became 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 it was not 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.
Closer view of the Magdala Stone.
The church at Magdala.
Replica of the Magdala Stone in the Yigal Allon Museum
Details of other sites of Christian interest can be found on the webpage "Capernaum and other nearby sites of Christian interest".