Tag Archives: Sea of Galilee

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.

Domus Galilaeae — Near Korazin

Visitors to Israel will often stop at the Second Temple/Talmudic site of Korazin (Chorazin: Matt 11:21; Luke 10:13) where an impressive basalt synagogue has been partially reconstructed.  To the west of Korazin, on the south side of route 8277 is beautiful is a Roman Catholic retreat center known as Domus Galilaeae.  It opened in 2000 and was blessed by Pope John Paul II.  It is generally not open to visitors so I thought I would share a few of my images of the place.

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View from the patio of Domus Galilaeae of Jesus teaching his disciples
In the background is the Sea of Galilee — 3 mi. distant

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Weather in Israel and the “Health” of the Kinneret (Sea of Galiee)

All of us who have traveled in Israel and the surrounding countries are well-aware of the importance of the winter rains for the well-being of the inhabitants of the area, local agriculture, and the water supply in general.

If you wish to “keep up” on how the Sea/Lake of Galilee (the Kinneret) is doing a “fun” place to go is the Kinneret Bot where the water levels of the lake are reported frequently (especially when it has been raining).

Blog01In addition, the Israel Meteorological Service maintains a web page (available in Hebrew and English) where current conditions and weather forecasts are available.  In the winter I find myself looking at the home page, the three day forecast, and also at the “Rain Forecast Maps.”  I the summer I tend to look at the “Heat Stress” tab under “Observations” (what is the HS at the Kinneret?  Masada?@#!).

Blog02These two sources may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I have found them interesting and thought some of you might as well.

Tuesday’s Travel Tips #5 — The Swiss Forest

Many tour/study groups have enjoyed and profited from the view offered above the cliffs of Arbel looking over the Plain of Gennesaret and the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee.

Plain of Gennesaret from the top of the Arbel Cliffs

However, since the Israel Nature and Parks Authority has taken control of the site, groups must enter before 4:00 pm (3:00 in winter; earlier on Shabbat) and this really cramps its availability for groups that are use to arriving in the Sea of Galilee area around 5:00 or 6:00 pm.

For groups arriving to late to visit the Arbel Cliffs a reasonable alternative is a visit and stop in the “Swiss Forest” (Heb. Ya’ar Shvaits).  A good paved road runs through this forest and a number of observation platforms have been constructed.

From the Swiss Forest looking down on to Tiberias to the north

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