Category Archives: Places in Israel

Magdala: The Rest of the Story

MagdalaPanoIn two previous posts I described and posted images of the beautiful chapel and the first century synagogue at Magdala.  Besides these two structures a number of others have been discovered including an “Elite House” (=mansion) that contains three(!) ritual baths, a mosaic floor, etc.

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View looking east at a portion of the foundation walls of an elite residence that is located south of the synagogue. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

In the center of the image is a doorway and below it to the left are hewn steps that lead down into a miqveh (ritual bath).  The thickness of the walls indicates that there was more than one story to the house.  There is a mosaic under the permanent covering—that is still covered for protection.   Because of the ritual baths found in the house, it seems that wealthy/religious Jews that lived there.

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View of one of the three ritual baths that are part of an elite house that is located south of the synagogue at Magdala.

Hewn stairs lead down into the water.  The bath still contains water—actually a spring in the area still supplies the bath with water.

Between the synagogue and the mansion an extensive Market Area has been excavated.

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View looking east at the market of Magdala.

In the shops, pottery, woven goods, and fresh produce were sold.  In several of the shops there were plastered pools designed to hold fresh fish.  These pools had access to fresh underground water.

In addition, what is being called a “port,” was excavated—although the remains are not too impressive.

Finally, to the northwest is a very large freshwater pool called En Nun.

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View looking northwest at the large freshwater pool of En Nun.

This pool collects water from the springs that are located to the west of it.  It was apparently used for irrigation as far back as the Roman (= New Testament) Period.  It is possible that water was used in the fields north of Magdala.  Or, maybe it was used by another city that was located to the north of Magdala (Dalmanutha?? Mark 8:10).

 

 

First Century Synagogue at Magdala — Did Jesus Worship Here?

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Click on Panorama to view descriptive details.

In 2009, in preparation for the construction of a Franciscan Retreat Center on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, excavations took place before the construction began.  Much to the surprise of the excavators they came down upon a first century A.D. synagogue.

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The Interior of the First Century Synagogue at Magdala at the time of excavation
Note the benches around the side, the frescoed columns, and especially the unique stone box in the center of the image
Click to Enlarge — Photo: Gordon Franz

The synagogue measures 33 x 33 ft. and has benches on all four walls.  There is evidence that it was renovated between A.D. 40 and 50.  A coin from A.D. 29 was found among the debris and the synagogue was destroyed in A.D. 67 when Titus (the Roman General, later emperor) leveled the city.

If this dating, and interpretation are correct, it is very probable that Jesus, His disciples, Mary Magdalene, and others worshiped in this structure!!

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The “Stone Box” in-situ
Note the representation of a Seven Branch Menorah (on a tripod) that is flanked by two vases and clusters of columns
Click on Image to Enlarge — Photo: Gordon Franz

This solid “stone box” is totally unique.  Who ever carved the menorah probably saw the ones in the Temple in Jerusalem (prior to its destruction in A.D. 70).

For brief comments on Magdala see below
For 12 images of the Stone Box, Frescos,
and Mosaics of the Synagogue Click Here.
Many of these images are courtesy of Gordon Franz who publishes
articles on his website Life and Land

The site of al–Majdal (Arabic for “tower”) is located 4 mi. northwest of Tiberias, along the western shore of the Sea of Galilee.  This is evidently the site of New Testament Magdala (from migdol “tower”) that is the same as Taricheae (“the place of salted fish”) mentioned by Josephus where a bloody naval battle took place between the Jews and Romans during the first Jewish Revolt (ca. A.D. 66–70; War 3.10.1–10 [462–542]).

It was evidently the home of Mary Magdalene, one of the followers of Jesus who is mentioned 12 times in the NT.  It actually may also be the site of “Magadan: (Matt 15:39) and/or “Dalmanutha” (Mark 8:10).

The site was excavated in the 1970’s and more recent (ongoing) excavations have found the remains of an early Jewish Synagogue dated to the first century A.D. as well as ritual baths, streets, houses, and even the wharf.

Magdala: Home of Mary Magdalene — Chapel

During several visits over the past few years I have been excited to see the archaeological work on the synagogue, market, dwellings, and harbor of Magdala—home of Mary Magdalene on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee.

This past June we visited the site under the leadership of one of the Magdala guides and although we were pressed for time, she urged us to visit the Chapel at Magdala.  I am so glad that we did!

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View looking north northwest at the entrance to the chapel called “Duc in Altum.”

This chapel is called Doc in Altum that is Latin for the words of Jesus addressed to Peter as recorded in Luke 5:4 where, after preaching from his boat, Jesus tells Peter to “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” After a large catch Peter and his partners left all behind to follow Jesus—to become “fishers of men” (5:10).   The chapel is a call for present day followers of Jesus to become “fishers of men.”

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View looking east at the “Women’s Atrium” of Duc in Altum.

As we entered the atrium we were informed that it is dedicated to the women who followed and supported Jesus (Luke 8)—especially Mary Magdalene.  On seven of the eight columns the names of women mentioned in the Gospels are engraved.  The eighth column is not inscribed and represents women of faith through the ages.  Here our guide encouraged women in the group to pray at the eighth column.  A number of them, especially those who had experience trauma as women, did in fact do that—and later shared that this was a very moving and important experience for them.

From the Atrium of the Women, we moved east into the Chapel of the Boat.

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View looking east at the “Boat Chapel.” To view details on this Panorama you are invited to Double Click on the Image.

This chapel commemorates Jesus preaching from the boat of Simon Peter (Luke 5:1-11).  The chapel seats 300 and along the sides of the chapel are pictures of the 12 male disciples of Jesus.

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View looking east at the boat altar in the “Boat Chapel.”

The altar’s design is based upon the 1st century boat that was excavated in 1986 along the shoreline near the chapel.  The altar is made out of cedar wood.  The “tabernacle,” that contains the elements for the Eucharist, to the right of the mast, was blessed by Pope Francis on May 26, 2014 during his pastoral pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

The glassy floor, the reflecting pool behind the window, and the Sea of Galilee itself give the impression of the boat resting on the sea.


As usual, I was very impressed with the antiquities at Magdala, BUT I am so glad that we set aside time to visit this chapel to experience the symbolism and testimony that the Legionaries of Christ are sharing with the world–at–large!  If you visit the site, please budget 90 minutes for a complete visit—it will be very worthwhile!

Additional information can be found at the Official Magdala Web Site.

The Holiest Druze Site in Israel

On the road that leads to the top of the Arbel Cliffs, on the west side of Lake Galilee, there is a turn off that leads to the most sacred Druze site in Israel.  I have known about it for many years but only a month ago was I able to visit it for the first time.

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View from the Nabi Shu’ayb complex looking northeast. The Arbel Cliffs and the Sea of Galilee are visible in the distance.

This site is located on the lower northeastern slope of the Horns of Hattin and commemorates Nabi Shu’ayb (=”the prophet Shu’ayb” = Jethro).   The identification of Shu’ayb with Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses is a Muslim and Druze tradition.

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View of the entrance ways into the main room that houses the “tomb” of Nabi Shu’ayb.

In the picture above, note the man on the left who is putting on a gray cape that covers him from head to calf.  Of course, one removes their shoes before entering the room.  As a non-Druze I was not permitted to enter the tomb area via the main doorway, but had to enter and exit via a side door—I was escorted by a Druze elder.  I was not permitted to take pictures within the room.

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View of a courtyard with a fountain that is located west of main room that houses the “tomb” of Nabi Shu’ayb. No one used the fountain while I was visiting the site.

Since 1948 this shrine has been under Druze control (= holy property [wakf]).  It was rebuilt in the late 20th century and is a place of pilgrimage for Israeli Druze.  On April 25th, the Druze community has an annual meeting (celebration) here.  Usually new Druze soldiers in the Israeli army swear loyalty to the state at this site.

This is one of 4 or 5 places where Shu’ayb is said to be buried.  The main tomb of Shu’ayb is in Jordan and there are several candidates in Sinai.

To view 9 images of this sacred site Click Here.

For a quick overview of the Druze Religion Click Here.

Changes: Nebi Samwil, Jacob’s Well, Mount Gerizim

On our current trip to Israel I have noted a few changes (that may be “old news” to some of you) but I thought I would mention them.

The staircase to the roof of Nebi Samwil is now open—after being shut for a number of years—you can see the Dome of the Rock from here.

We can now take pictures at Jacob’s Well in Nablus—in my experience this was not permitted previously.

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Jacob’s Well near Sychar (John chapter 4). Click on image to Enlarge and/or Download.

And then, students always seem to inject some surprises along the way!

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Examining the ruins of the Byzantine Church on the top of Mount Gerizim.

Deir Aziz Synagogue (Golan Heights)

Deir Aziz (“Monastery of Aziz”) is a site  located 4 mi. [6.5 km.] east of the Sea of Galilee on the north side of a wadi that flows into the Nahal Qanaf.  There is a very powerful spring at Deir Aziz and the remains of a prominent synagogue that dates to the Talmudic/Byzantine Period.

Synagogue at Deir Aziz — Looking Southwest

View looking down, southwest at the interior of the synagogue.  The woman in the image is sitting near the south wall of the synagogue.  On the upper right note the stairs that lead down into the synagogue.

The synagogue was first built during the sixth century AD and was evidently destroyed in the earthquake of AD 749.  The scattered remains are from the synagogue and subsequent usage.

Deir Aziz — Interior — Looking East

The door on the far side is the entrance to the synagogue from the east.  On the left (north) side of the image notice the three-tiered bench and behind it the plastered wall.  Above the wall notice the projecting stones.  These stones probably supported wooden beams that supported the roof of the synagogue.

Deir Aziz — Spring and Pool

View of the “modern” pool at Deir Aziz that is fed by the powerful spring at the site.  Note the sabra cactus plants on this side of the pool.

To locate Deir Aziz on a map, and for additional images, Click Here.

Back to Samaria/Sebaste

On recent trips to Israel, we have been able to visit the OT Samaria that was the capital city of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and was founded by Omri (ruled 885–874 BC).  His son Ahab, husband of Jezebel, and other Israelite kings developed it.  It is mentioned 109 times in the OT.  The Assyrians captured the city in 723 BC, thus ending the northern Israelite Kingdom.  Afterward, the district around the city became known as Samaria and its inhabitants as “Samaritans.”

Temple Dedicated to the Roman Emperor Augustus

Beginning in the days of Alexander the Great (ca. 332 BC) it became more and more Greco-Roman in outlook.  The city was renamed “Sebaste” in honor of the Roman Emperor during the days of Herod the Great (37–4 BC) who built a temple to honor the emperor there.

West Gate of Sebaste — Hellenistic and Roman Periods

Samaria/Sebaste is located about 7 mi. [11 km.] west-northwest of Nablus (ancient Shechem).

To view 20 more images of Samaria/Sebaste, including walls, gates, towers, theater, stadium, basilica and church, Click Here.