We ended our first day in Israel at a site recently discovered in 2009. The town of Magdala began in the Hellenistic period and became a successful fishing village located on a commercial trade route, the Via Maris. This town is well known to readers of the Bible because of Mary Magdalene, a woman healed by Jesus who became one of his most faithful disciples.
The Magdala Synagogue is the oldest synagogue excavated in Galilee and one of seven first century synagogues in Israel. Coins have been discovered dating between 5 and 63 A.D. One coin, minted in 29 A.D., gives reason to believe Jesus would have taught in this synagogue during his public ministry.One of the most interesting and unique finds in this synagogue is known as the Magdala Stone. Believed to be a holder for the Torah and Prophet scrolls, its detailed carvings depicting Herod’s Temple gives evidence that the artist was familiar with this Temple before it was destroyed by the Romans. It also upholds the belief held by many scholars that the synagogues of that day were considered sacred places rather than just places for meetings and study. The original stone has been removed for safe-keeping, but a replica sits on the site as you can see here.
Also uncovered is the marketplace of Magdala made up of over 20 rooms that would have sold items such as pottery, woven goods, and fresh produce. At least 40 water installations and wells have been discovered in this area.
Built near the site is a spiritual center, the “Duc in Altum” (Latin for “Put Out into the Deep”). Inside this building are several chapels and the Women’s Atrium which is dedicated to women disciples throughout history. In the Women’s Atrium are eight pillars, seven of which represent women in the Bible who followed Jesus and the eighth honors women of faith through the ages.
One chapel, the Boat Chapel, contains a fishing boat made like one that Jesus would have preached from on the Sea of Galilee.
Then there are Mosaic Chapels. Each of these contains a mosaic picturing a Biblical event that happened around the Sea of Galilee.
Finally, the Encounter Chapel built on the marketplace of the first century port and modeled after the Magdala synagogue. An amazing and beautiful mural is painted on the wall depicting the encounter between Jesus and the woman with the issue of blood (Mark 5:25).
This site at Magdala, well labeled as a “crossroads of Jewish and Christian History”, is a work in progress, so many discoveries are yet to be found. As beautiful as the chapels with their paintings and mosaics are, to see a place where Jesus would have taught and healed was a highlight, not only of my first day in Israel, but also of the whole trip.–More “highlights” to come.