Magdala was a wonderful place to visit. We explored a fairly recently excavated first century synagogue and city. When I visited Israel in 2013, this site was not open. It is quite amazing!
This is the only first century synagogue discovery in Galilee. Others have been found, but have been built on top of or changed in some way. The synagogue in Magdala is incredibly in tact. Very cool!
The town has also been largely preserved from the first century. How did that happen?
The popular belief is that during the first century Jewish revolt (which the first century historian Josephus writes much about as an eye-witness) Magdala was preparing for an attack from the Romans. This is evidenced by the fact that some of the columns are missing from the synagogue, but were found in the city walls. The idea is that they used everything they could to reinforce the walls for an oncoming invasion.
The synagogue actually sits outside of the city walls, so they believe that the people sort of deconstructed it and hid their greatest treasures inside of it. This way, the Romans would assume that it was an old, abandoned worthless building and pay no attention to it. The theory is that the people planned to rebuild it after the war, but they were routed in the revolt and Magdala was deserted.
Thankfully, their synagogue plan seemed to work. Archaeologists indeed found some treasures in the building, which was seemingly untouched by the Roman army. The most impressive treasure was what is believed to be a “model” of the second temple. What a fascinating find!
More fascinating than their find, for me, was the simple truth that Jesus absolutely taught in this first century synagogue. Oh to be there and to hear him speak!
There is also a wonderful building on the property that serves as a bit of a chapel and museum of women of the New Testament.
Magdala, of course, is most remembered because it was the home of Mary Magdalene, the sinful women whom Jesus cast seven demons out of, and who followed him from that point on. Mary was the first person to see the resurrected Christ, and was an apostle to the apostles. It was Mary whom Jesus told to go and tell the others that he had risen.
One of the rooms in the newly constructed building includes an amazing painting called “the Encounter”, which depicts the story from Luke 8 (also found in Mark 5):
And there came a man named Jairus, who was a ruler of the synagogue. And falling at Jesus’ feet, he implored him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she was dying. As Jesus went, the people pressed around him. And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and though she had spent all her living on physicians, she could not be healed by anyone. She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, and immediately her discharge of blood ceased. And Jesus said, “Who was it that touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds surround you and are pressing in on you!” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me.” And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” - Luke 8:41-48, ESV
So much could be said about this story, but I’ll simply say that the painting was incredibly moving. As I thought about the matchless love of God intersecting with the utter desperation of this poor woman, I was brought to tears.
I like art, but it rarely moves me to tears. This was an exception.