An ancient synagogue discovered on the shore of the Sea of Galilee may have been a temple where Jesus preached, according to the Christian organization that owns the site.
Archaeologists have excavated the 2,000-year-old ruins, which date back to the 1st century, in the town of Migdal in northern Israel.
The city is believed to sit atop the ancient city of Magdala, the birthplace of Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’ most devoted followers.
The ruins of the synagogue, pictured, were first discovered in 2009 and are believed to date back 2,000 years.
During preparatory excavations for the construction of a new seaside hotel on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, archaeologists discovered a delicately carved stone depicting the menorah, a seven-branched candelabra that is a symbol of Judaism.
WHY IS MIGDAL IMPORTANT?
Migdal is the modern name of the village of Magdala, located on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee at the foot of Mount Arbel.
It is said that Magdala was the hometown of Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’ most faithful disciples.
She is mentioned in the Gospels under the name of Mary, and it is believed that her name was a variant of “Mary of Magdala”.
Researchers are studying the site for clues as to how and when Magdalene first met and began following Jesus.
Now the Legions of Christ, the Catholic organization that owns the land where the synagogue was found, now claim that Jesus himself may have preached there.
Father Eamon Kelly, vice-charge of the Pontifical Institute of Our Lady of the Center in Jerusalem, told the Israeli news site Haaretz that there was now strong evidence that Jesus preached there.
He said, “This is the first synagogue ever excavated where Jesus walked and preached.
“He was a smart rabbi. He knew where to settle. If you walk from Nazareth to Bethsaida to Capernaum, you will get out of here.
Father Kelly said that although Jerusalem and Bethlehem are more commonly associated with Jesus, he actually spent 80% of his life in what is now northern Israel.
The book of Matthew in the Bible also mentions that Jesus put food in Magdala, saying, “He took the boat and came to the shores of Magdala.
Until the construction of the city of Tiberias, the only city on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee was Magdala, located along an ancient trade route from Egypt to Syria.
The site of the old synagogue was covered in rubbish and weeds for years before excavation began
It is believed that it was here that he met Mary Magdalene, or Mary of Magdala as she is also known.
Father Kelly said the old synagogue would have served as a meeting point where people from the city gathered.
He said, “If a strange rabbi came to town, a new rabbi, a new preacher, a new teacher, the logical place was to meet here.
The synagogue is believed to have existed during what is known as the Second Temple period. Experts believe that it was originally built in 1 CE and was a simple structure before it was renovated in 40 CE.
This stone, with carvings at each site and the top including one of a seven-branched candelabra, was found in what was the main hall of the synagogue, which also had a mosaic floor and plaster walls. .
Archaeologists discovered a main hall of about 1,291 square feet, with stone benches built against the wall of the hall.
The floor is mosaic and the walls appear to have been treated with colored plaster.
It is in this room that the block of engraved limestone representing the menorah was discovered, as well as carved images of amphorae.
The reliefs are the oldest menorah ever found on the stone.
Archaeologists believe the block was probably used to read or write Torah.
According to archaeologists, the synagogue was probably destroyed around 67 or 68 CE by the Romans during their first war against the Jews.
In addition to the synagogue, excavations around the site have also uncovered ancient baths and fishing ponds.
“In fact, what archaeologists are saying now is that we are digging up a whole 1st century city,” said Father Kelly.
The site will eventually have a reception center, a hotel, a restaurant and an interfaith chapel built around the ruins.
There are still 12 acres of the site to be excavated.
The Legion of Christ, which is creating a Magdala visitor center on the site, is also planning to build a hospice and restaurant as well as an interfaith chapel.
Some 5,000 people visited the site, according to the Magdala Center.
According to the director of excavations, Dina Avshalom-Gorni, director of excavations at the Israel Antiquities Authority, said: “We are dealing with an exciting and unique find.
“The synagogue that was discovered joins only six other synagogues in the world known to date during the Second Temple period.”