New Historian

Synagogue Where Jesus Preached Discovered

View from Tiberias over the Sea of Galilee

<![CDATA[An ancient synagogue where Jesus likely preached has recently been unearthed. The Catholic organisation 'Legions of Christ' had been planning to build a pilgrims' hostel, an inter-faith chapel, and a women's shelter on the site, but Israeli law states that archaeological excavations must be carried out before any building works can commence. When archaeologists started digging at the site on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, they were amazed to find a first-century synagogue, one of only seven in the entire world. It has been suggested that the synagogue is part of the ancient town of Magdala, sometimes translated as Magadan, home to Jesus' female companion, Mary Magdalane. "This is the first synagogue ever excavated where Jesus walked and preached," Father Eamon Kelly, a member of the Legions of Christ, told Haaretz, an Israeli news outlet. Father Kelly also noted that when people think of Jesus, they usually think of Bethlehem or Jerusalem. But "eighty percent of Jesus' public life was [in Galilee]," he said. The find is hugely important for both Christians and Jews as it offers insights into both faiths. Mariana Bravo, of the Magdala Center, has called the archaeological project a "cross-roads of Jewish and Christian history." As the synagogue dates from a time that precedes modern religious divisions, Kelly notes that it is an important symbol today. "In here, we have a place that helps us to recognise what we share in common," he said. The original synagogue was a humble structure built around the year 1 CE, but it was subsequently added to, resulting in a much more ornate synagogue by the year 40 CE. A sculpted limestone block, the Magdala Stone, was found in the centre of the synagogue. Relief carvings in the block have revealed the oldest menorah ever found on stone. Until the Magdala Stone was discovered, the oldest menorah found was on Rome's Titus Arch, constructed in 82 CE. It is obvious that the Magdala Stone predates the Titus Arch, as the Magdala synagogue was destroyed in 67 or 68 CE by Romans in their first war with Jews. Until the town of Tiberias was constructed in 20 CE, Magdala would have been the only settlement on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. As a result, it is highly likely that Jesus would have preached in the recently revealed synagogue, as it was the only holy site in the vicinity. "[Jesus] was a clever rabbi," Kelly says. "He knew where to set up shop. If you walk from Nazareth to Bethsaida to Capernaum, you're going to come out here [in Magdala]." Anyone who travelled in the region, as the New Testament states Jesus did, would not have skipped Magdala. It was an important town located on the Via Maris - an ancient trade route that ran on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, linking Egypt and Syria. As well as the synagogue, archaeologists have also found fishing pools and Jewish ritual baths. Archaeological excavations are now concentrated on exploring the entire first-century city, where there are still around twelve acres left to excavate. Image courtesy of Wikimeda Commons User: JFreeman]]>

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