Take a ride along the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee and you’ll find one of the archaeological treasures of Israel. It’s the ancient town of Magdala, the home of Mary Magdalene, the friend of Jesus. She played a pivotal role in the life and ministry of Jesus. You can find her described throughout the New Testament. She was delivered from seven demons (Mark 16:9: Luke 8:2). You can find her too at the foot of the cross (Mt. 27: 55, 56; John 19:25); when Jesus was buried (Mt. 27:61) and was the first one to see Jesus after His Resurrection (Mark 16:1-11).
But who was this woman? Throughout history she has often been described as a prostitute before she began her ministry with Jesus.
However, new discoveries at Magdala suggest Mary Magdalene might not have been a “woman of the night” but rather an influential and wealthy woman. For example, in the first century, well known people were often called by the name of their hometown. That appears to be the case of Mary Magdalene. Some scholars also believe Mary Magdalene could have been a rich widow since she supported the ministry of Jesus. In Luke 8:3 it names her first among the women who cared for Jesus out of their own means.
Magdala is a relatively new archeological site but one rich in the history of the New Testament. CBN News reported a first century synagogue was discovered there. Since the Bible says Jesus taught in all the synagogues around the Galilee, it’s almost certain He preached there. Inside the synagogue, Israeli archeologists discovered what they call the Magdala stone. Some consider this one of the most significant discoveries in Israel in the past fifty years since on the stone itself is a relief of the Second Temple menorah.
Jennifer Ristine, the Magdalena Institute Director told CBN News, “I think it’s pretty amazing 2,000 years later standing around a synagogue where it’s highly likely Jesus taught.”
She added, “In 2017, 130,000 visitors came to the first-century Magdala synagogue. Messianic Jews and Christians from a multitude of denominations have all come to the synagogue to reflect on the essential message of those who follow Jesus. That He is alive and that message continues over the course of 2,000 centuries because of women like Mary of Magdala. Magdala becomes a unifying factor of all these people who believe in Jesus – that He is alive and we are saved by faith in Him.”
The entire archeological dig at Magdala opens up to the world a much more complete picture of Mary Magdalene’s hometown. They’ve unveiled a thriving market place, a fish factory, Jewish ritual baths and part of an ancient harbor.
Ristine is writing a book on Mary Magdalene to be released this summer and reflected on what the town may have been like:
“The ancient town of Magdala makes us think about the ambience of life in first century Magdala. Seeing the archaeology and imagining the variety of people passing through the bustling marketplace or Jesus and other religious figures teaching in the synagogue, makes you wonder what Mary Magdalene experienced. Was she attracted by the charismatic teachings of Jesus in the synagogue? Was she herself one of those people from whom Jesus expelled demons in the synagogue? Did she encounter Jesus here along the streets of Magdala as so many people do today?”
Father Juan Solana of the Legionaries of Christ oversees Magdala. http://www.magdala.org/about/
The site is open to tourists and by late 2018, he hopes to have a retreat center open for pilgrims. For those considering visiting Israel and the Sea of Galilee, Magdala is one of the most significant sites in the ministry of Jesus. Many believe it’s a must see.