Archaeologists Excavate Possible Home of Mary Magdalene and Synagogue Where Jesus May Have Preached
A Catholic priest and archaeologists in Israel are excavating an ancient synagogue and a site that may have been the home of Mary Magdalene, who has been called Jesus' most beloved disciple. Archaeologists say Jesus could have preached in the temple as he is said in the Gospels to have preached at synagogues in the Galilee and no other synagogue from his lifetime has been found.
Six years ago Juan Solana, a Catholic priest, bought some property in the ancient town of Magdala and was required to do exploratory excavations under Israeli law. By chance he found the ruins of a 1st century AD synagogue.
“Historians believe Jesus may have once walked the cobbled streets,” says a CNN story that was published on WDAM.com “This may have been home to one of the most important figures of the Bible, Mary Magdalene. The first recorded witness of the resurrection. 'This is a holy site. I am sure of that,' said Father Juan Solana.”
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Smithsonian.com says that for centuries Mary Magdalene was “the most obsessively revered of saints, this woman became the embodiment of Christian devotion, which was defined as repentance.” The article says it is almost certainly untrue that she was a repentant prostitute. St. Gregory the Great in the 6th century AD was the first to call Mary Magdalene a sinner, according to the book All Saints by Robert Ellsberg. She is identified in the gospels of Mark and Luke as “a woman from whom seven demons had gone out.” Ellsberg writes that the statement about the demons can be interpreted variously.
In Fra Angelico's painting, Mary the Mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene are the foot of the cross, per the New Testament. (Wikimedia Commons )
In the dramatic 20 th chapter of the Gospel of John , Mary encounters Jesus after his resurrection on Easter Sunday morning but does not recognize him at first:
He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
Because Mary Magdalene was the first to tell the Apostles about Jesus' resurrection, she has been called the Apostle to the Apostles.
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Solana bought the land in Magdala to build a Christian retreat. The synagogue dates to the first century AD. The New Testament says Jesus preached in synagogues in the Galilee, and this is the only one that dates to Jesus' lifetime that has been excavated in the area.
The synagogue is ornate with frescoes and mosaic floors. It has an altar, called a bimah in Hebrew, in the center. People call this the Magdala stone. It has on it a rare menorah carved into the stone.
"It is not for me. This is for millions of people that will come see this will enjoy this as I did and hopefully will be able to discover our common roots,” Solana said.
The town of Magdala's purification bath, which is still functional, is at the bottom of the steps visible in the center of the photo. ( Wikimedia Commons )
Archaeologists say that the synagogue in Magdala is one of the more important discoveries in Israel in 50 years. There they have also found a bowl dating back about 2,000 years that Jesus may have washed his hands in before preaching or praying in the synagogue.
Marcela Zapata, an archaeologist, describes the purification baths, which still work: "It's the most pure water in all of Israel. Today if I ask for some of the volunteers to take out all of the water and to clean the floor and steps in half hour the water starts to come again. Wow.”
The team of archaeologists and assistants has found coins and shards of pottery, which they are restoring. Zapata says everything they find tells something about everyday life or cooking and about the materials the people used.
Featured image: The Magdala Stone or altar in a temple where Jesus possibly preached ( Wikimedia Commons )
By Mark Miller