Perhaps the most exciting recent synagogue discovery in Israel was in Magdala, reputedly the home of Mary Magdalene. (Was this the synagogue she regularly attended?) On the shore of the Sea of Galilee, the newly discovered Magdala synagogue, excavated by archaeologists with the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), is one of only seven uncovered in Israel that was in use during the first century C.E., when the Jerusalem Temple still stood. The others include Masada, Herodium and Gamla, with which BAR readers are familiar. Other possible examples have been excavated at Herodian Jericho, Qiryat Sefer and Modi’in.
During the first century C.E., Magdala was a significant fishing village with a major port on the Sea of Galilee, as revealed in recent Italian excavations led by Stefano De Luca (under the general direction of the late Michele Piccirillo). Today the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee is much lower than in ancient times and the new excavations have revealed boat portals or hookups that today are far from the shore.
The Magdala synagogue from this time is richly decorated with frescoes of colored panels. Mosaics with geometric designs covered the floor. Impressive columns supported the roof. And a strange, nearly 3-foot-long stone block found in the center of the synagogue is elaborately carved on the side and the flat top. Among other reliefs, it features one of the earliest depictions of a seven-branched menorah.
Monday, June 27, 2011
New Synagogue Excavation in Israel
For a while there was a debate as to whether synagogues existed in the New Testament era or whether they were anachronistically written into the Gospels and Acts. Over the last 20 years or more, however, there have been a number of synagogues discovered that can be reliably dated to the first century.
Recently a new one has been discovered in the Galilee in Magdala, the traditional home of Mary Magdalene. Biblical Archaeology Review has a good article on it. I am hoping to see it this weekend. Here is a part of the BAR article.