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Background Information on Magdala in the Holy Land

Two miles north of Tiberias, along the shore of the Sea of Galile, was the city of Magdala, home of Mary Magdalene. In the same manner as Jesus was identified as a Nazarene (from the town of Nazareth), Mary Magdalene came from Magdala.

Magdala was a prosperous second temple period prosperous village situated very close to Ginosar. During the pre -building excavations in 2009 (for a hotel that opened in 2019) one of the most significant stone inscriptions (known as the Magdala stone) was uncovered.  In addition,  a first century C.E. synagogue was discovered. Subsequent excavations on the site have unearthed many ancient dwellings and several mikvot indicating a prosperous fishing village was adjacent to the synagogue.

Tour group viewing the inscriptions on Magdala Stone from the 1st Temple period
Tour group viewing the inscriptions on the ancient Magdala stone

As described in the New Testament, Jesus met Mary and healed her of evil spirits. Although it is barely mentioned in the Bible, Magdala was among the larger of the cities around the Sea of Galilee at the time of Jesus. According to Jewish historian Josephus Flavius it had a population of 40,000 at the time of the first Jewish revolt (66-70 AD). The Talmud uses the longer name Magdal Nunaiya, or “fish tower.” In Greek it was call Tarichea, roughly meaning “the place where fish was salted,” because the town was a center for processing fish, which was sold in the markets of Jerusalem and exported as far as Rome. Magdala was also renowned as a center for flax weaving and dyeing, and the robes worn by Jesus at the time of his crucifixion are said to have been made there.

Chapel at Magdala
Downstairs chapel at Magdala with painting

From the early days of Christianity many pilgrims came to Magdala to honor Mary Magdalene, and a a church was built on the traditional site of her home. It was destroyed in the 7th century AD and rebuilt in the Crusader period, but the site has been in ruins since the 13th century AD.

Today, the Magdala townsite is marked by a sign beside the Tiberias-Migdal road. But, early in the Christian era, its exact location was lost. It was known to be just west and south of Capernaum, but parts of the site were submerged in the 1920’s when a dam raised the level of the Sea of Galilee. Not until the 1960’s did an American underwater archaeological expedition find its ancient harbor. Beginning in 1973, Franciscan monks working farther inland uncovered the remains of a Roman town of the 1st century AD with two main streets running at right angles, houses, a synagogue and a villa with a swimming pool. On the hill just south of the site, along the far side of the modern highway, you can still see stone coffins (sarcophagi) carved out of the rocks in what was the city cemetery. A monastery and a small white-domed shrine beside the road commemorate the meeting of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, and a natural spring by the lakeshore is said to be where Jesus quenched his thirst.

Significant archaeological work has been underway at the site in recent years.

Tour group viewing the inscriptions on Magdala Stone from the 1st Temple period

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