This is the view from the fort. The border is clearly defined: if it’s green, it’s Israel. If it’s brown, it’s Syria. Damascus is only 60 miles from where I stood. This is also the area that only three weeks ago saw Syria launching rocket attacks into Israel:
We left the border and headed back down to the Sea of Galilee to visit the ancient village of Magdala, the home of Mary Magdalene. The Bible never explicitly says that Jesus taught there, but Magdala was the largest city in the area, larger than close by Capernaum, and we know that Jesus taught throughout the area (the mount of beatitudes is very very close), so it stands to reason that he taught here.
Unlike other synagogues of Jesus day, Magdala’s was never touched. Others built new synagogues on top of the old ones for various reasons. Magdala didn’t because they destroyed their own city during the Great Revolt around AD 70 that saw the Temple destroyed by the Romans. Rather than allow the Romans to destroy their city, they did themselves as a ruse to convince the Romans that another division had beat them to it. It worked, but for some reason, they never rebuilt. So, the village was left in ruins and buried by soil until 2008.
In 2008, the Legionnaires of Christ, a Roman Catholic Order, bought the property to build a retreat center. While digging to put in a foundation, they found Magdala. It was a huge find. Not only did Jesus probably teach in the very synagogue, they found artifacts that helped them make sense of religious life even in Jerusalem. The biggest find is the so-called Magdala Stone:
The synagogue with a replica stone that was used for Torah scrolls.
Because of this side of the stone, we know what the menorah in the Jerusalem Temple looked like before its destruction. There are other Temple scenes around the other edges that can be found online.
Notice that you would not have seen the depiction of any living creature in a synagogue. Any decoration would have been by color and pattern. They took the commandment seriously.
Everything found on this site dates back to AD 70 or earlier. No Crusader or Byzantine accretions, because it was lost until 2008.
Praise God for the Legionnaires. They are a wonderful order; at least I have always gotten along with their members. I’ve met so many faithful Irish priests who go far and wide for the Lord and glad they are in Magdala.
They have even built a simple chapel that looks just like a synagogue, using one of the ancient city streets as the floor. Fr. Kelley said to the group, ‘When you get on the plane, tell your neighbor about our synagogue. Imagine it, a Christian synagogue!’
It is a strange turn of events, to be sure, but I couldn’t help thinking of James 5 where James speaks of the church (in Greek) as ‘the synagogue.’ After all, the early Jewish believers would have seen their Christian gathering as the synagogue rather than the Temple. So it was fitting that Fr. Kelley would remind us of our roots, our present, and our future when we are finally with the Lord Jesus in the New Jerusalem and he himself is the Temple.