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Magdala

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Magdala Excavation Site in Israel.jpg

Magdala was a city found along the Sea of Galilee. It has been dated back to the time of Jesus and thought to have been in use during the time of the Temple of Jerusalem. In 2004, Father Juan Maria Solona, wished to build a retreat center near the Sea of Galilee to have a worship place near the places that Christ walked. However, his plan of a retreat center and restaurant on the site, did not last long. In 2009, when the required routine dig began, they ran into a stone bench just about two feet under the soil. This became the beginning of the recent excavation of the city of Magdala and all its features such as the synagogue that Jesus is thought to have taught at. The excavation has uncovered three ritual purification baths that would have had fresh spring water to fill them, pottery, a Roman sword, first century coins, market places, residential areas, and of course the famous Magdala stone. In addition, it has been found that because of the market places location near the port, the town was a popular fishing exporter.[1]

Recent Excavation

In 2009, Magdala was found and excavations began. The findings in this village are like none other. The Magdala stone alone is an antique so unique and there has not been much else found that is anything similar to it. Dina Gorni, one of the two Israeli Antique Authority workers, said that
[i]t took [her] 3 days to believe what [she was] seeing that [they] are standing in a synagogue from the time that the Beit Hamikdash, the Temple of Jerusalem was working.
The discovery of Magdala has been compared to that of Pompeii in how the city was just waiting to be found. The land was covered beneath 20 inches of topsoil when the excavation began yet no other civilization, over the thousands of years, ever built over it. Father Juan Maria Solona explains that despite there never being specific information about Christ teaching in Magdala, that we can speculate He most likely taught there.[2]

Synagogue at Magdala

The excavation of the synagogue at Magdala.
As a popular and newly excavated site in Galilee, Magdala was recently discovered in 2009 and dug up. It was so well preserved that researchers have been able to find relics and items that help to date the site. One item from the excavation was a coin that had been minted in Tiberias in the year 29 AD, bringing more proof for the time period that the synagogue was used and how it was near the time of Christ’s ministry. The Bible speaks about accounts where Jesus had spoken in Galilee and taught to the people in the towns.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. Matthew 4:23 (NIV)

Other findings from the synagogue include a study room, also called a Bet Midrash, and a separate room hold their Torah scrolls in.[3]

Around the time that the synagogue was being used, there could only be one Temple in the area.[4] Father Juan Maria Solona said that “[f]rom the Christian point of view, we cannot doubt that Jesus would have been there sometime. The first Christian communities used to gather in the synagogues. They were observant Jews. So it’s clear that the first generation of Christians used to gather there.”[2] For those in Galilee, the trip to Jerusalem was too far and a substantial journey to get to from where they lived. The Magdala Stone found in the synagogue would suggest that this synagogue in Magdala was the main Temple in Galilee. A retired professor of Jewish history at Tel Aviv University, Mr. Elchanan Reiner, said that "[i]t brings that community closer to, and further from, Jerusalem at the same time."[4]

The Magdala Stone

A menorah engraved on the side of the Magdala Stone.

As a rare find in biblical archaeology, the Magdala Stone almost stands as an ancient snapshot of what the Second Temple in Jerusalem would have looked like during the time it was primarily used. The stone is described as “a three-dimensional depiction of the Temple of Herod” by scholar Rina Talgam. This picture of Herod’s Temple also includes an image of the Holy of Holies, which is the most inner sanctum of a temple. Because the synagogue in Magdala was around during the time of Herod’s Temple, it is thought that the stone may have resided in the middle of the synagogue for the purpose of giving the space the feeling of holiness and a lesser temple for the people who did not make the journey over to Jerusalem for the Temple of Herod. Some researchers believe that it may have been intended to be a representation of where God or the Holy Spirit would reside. One of the unique features carved into the stone was the seven-branched menorah. It is said to be called a candelabra in the Bible and was the Jewish symbol and representation of hope for redemption. [4]

Something distinctive about the stone is its many symbols. In fact, the stone has the most amount of symbols depicting Herod’s Temple than any other object found in history. While the front and sides of the stone have carvings of what is thought to be the Second Temple of Jerusalem, the back side has wheels and fire carved into it, presumably a representation of the Holy of Holies. However, the most popular and exciting piece of the stone for most researchers is the depiction of the seven-branch menorah.[5] At the bottom of the menorah is a tripod shaped base which indicates that the artist carving the structure most likely had seen a real menorah in the Temple. Underneath the menorah is a box shape which is thought to be a symbol of altar sacrifice. Standing on either side of the menorah are two vases possibly as a representation of water and oil that a Rabbi would have used in the Temple. Several images and objects on the sides of the stone are still debated over by scholars on whether or not the objects are there for a specific reason or if they are just pretty space fillers. Some people, like Professor of Archaeology, Motti Aviam, from Kinneret College, interpret objects like the bread loaves on the stone as offerings on the shewbread table.[6]

Mary Magdalene

A painting of Mary Magdalene meeting with Jesus.

Mary Magdalene was a vital historical figure in the biblical history of Jesus’ time. After living as a prostitute for years, Mary found Christ and repented. After this change of heart, she never turned back and became a strong figure in leading people to Christ. Her hometown village was off the shore of Galilee and called Magdala. She was one of the most devoted followers of Jesus. Even when all the men abandoned Jesus at the tomb during an hour danger, she stuck around during his Crucifixion. She stood by his mother and watched as Christ was brutally crucified. Mary Magdalene was one of the woman present at the tomb when Jesus rose on the third day. She was one of the first people to see him again and hear the “Good News” that Christ had to share. Some believe that the fact that Mary was one of the only ones to stay with Jesus during his crucifixion meant that she had more loyalty than any of the men that left and fled. This is said to affirm her faith in Christ even after others had ran and lost their faith, she said. However, some believe that her actions may not have the loyalty everyone believes they did. In the historical context, it was more common and possible that the men may have been arrested at the scene compared to women getting arrested. Because of the widely used name of Mary in the Bible, it is common for audiences to mix up the stories behind each of the women in the Bible. Mary Magdalene in unique because of the village that she grew up in that distinguishes her name. Some may worship Mary Magdalene as a saint figure, while realizing the repentance she had to come to. Her background of prostitution remains in her past after her long life of living for repentance and seeking the Gospel.[7]

Video

Jewish Temple Incense Shovel Discovered in Archaeological Excavations at Magdala

References

  1. Romanowsky, Zoe. Magdala, the Home Town of Mary Magdalene, Is Being Resurrected Aleteia. Web. Published July 22, 2015.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Makler, Irris. Israeli Archaeologists Discover “Jesus” Synagogue Public Radio International. Web. Published January 4, 2013.
  3. Synagogue Magdala. Web. Last Accessed January 1, 2018. Unknown Author.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Kershner, Isabel. A Carved Stone Block Upends Assumptions About Ancient Judaism The New York Times. Web. Published December 8, 2015.
  5. Savage, Sean. Magdala Stone, known as Jewish-Christian ‘crossroads,’ gets its public debut Jewish News Service. Web. Published May 15, 2017.
  6. Ristine, Jennifer. The Magdala Stone: The Jerusalem Temple Embodied Biblical Archaeology Society. Web. Published October 27, 2016.
  7. Carroll, James. Who Was Mary Magdalene? Smithsonian.com. Web. Published June 2006.