Shlomo, my Israeli guide I have used now in each of my last 7-8 trips or so to Israel, just participated in a tour guide refresher course required by all licensed guides. One of the places he visited was Magdala, a site that up to this point has not been open to the public. Re-excavated for about 5 years now (it was initially excavated a long time ago), Shlomo could not believe all that there is to see here.
Magdala was certainly a city, not just a small village. The highlight of the excavation is the 1st century synagogue that has been found, one of only seven that date to this time period. No doubt Jesus knew of this synagogue and participated here on occasion. Additionally within the synagogue, archaeologists found a stone which was probably used for the Torah. This stone was carved and decorated like the Temple in Jerusalem. Amazingly, the layer of dirt that covered these finds was only about 8 inches.
Archaeologists also found a bathhouse, 2 nympheons, mikvas (Jewish ritual baths), high quality residential homes, a big forum for commerce and the harbor which came right to the line of the trees today, yet so far away from the water line today (indicating that the Sea of Galilee was wider then in comparison to today). In the harbor they found basalt stones with holes in them to tie the boats when they anchored there. Did guys like Peter, Andrew, James, and/or John anchor their boats here on occasion too?
Although not mentioned by name in the Gospels, we do know that a certain Mary was from here. She became known as Mary Magdalene. There was even a church built here in the later Byzantine period (Late Roman, 4-5th century AD) which honored Mary. However, one can see very little of it.
Shlomo mentioned that lectures were shared to this group of tour guides indicating (in their opinion) how Mary Magdalen was in a certain way degraded by the Gospel writers but appeared as a heroine, an apostle and a leader in the sources outside the Gospel accounts (e.g. like the Gospel of Philip, Thomas etc.). This, let me comment, is an interesting view.
I can’t wait to see Magdala on my next trip in November! I hope we are able to see the synagogue at least.
If you would like to see it firsthand yourself, I invite you to consider joining me for one of my 6-7 tours planned for 2013! Visit www.biblicalisraeltours.com for the tour that works for you!