Also known as Mejdel, el-Majdal, Magadan, Majdal, Mejdel, Taricheae

An Important Fishing Center

Magdala was also known as Taricheae, according to Josephus, which indicates that it was an important fishing center (Life, 72). Strabo also referred to the importance of the salted fish industry: “At the place called Taricheae the lake supplies excellent fish for pickling” (16.2.45). Josephus referred to Magdala as one of the two main administrative centers in the region, along with Tiberias. The rabbis criticized the immorality of the residents. This photo shows the area of the ancient site from the southeast.

Marketplace and Synagogue

The fishing village of Magdala is never explicitly mentioned in Scripture, but Mary Magdalene, “from whom seven demons had come out,” was from Magdala (Luke 8:2). Matthew 15:39 calls the village Magadan. The region of Dalmanutha (Mark 8:10) is apparently equivalent to the “region of Magadan” (Matt 15:39). Though not mentioned explicitly as a place that Jesus visited, Magdala was probably included in the references to Jesus’s travel to “nearby villages” (Mark 1:38-39; Luke 4:43; Matt 4:23), and “every village” (Luke 5:17).

First-Century Synagogue

The city of Magdala was originally excavated by the Franciscans from 1971 to 1973. A new wave of excavations began in 2006 and is ongoing. Excavators, working in advance of the construction of a tourist center, discovered a synagogue at Magdala in 2009. This synagogue is said to date from the Second Temple period (50 BC to AD 100), contemporary with the time of Jesus’s ministry and His healing of Mary Magdalene. It was the first synagogue of its period to be found at a Galilean site. More recent excavations have discovered a second synagogue from the time of Jesus.

Ornamented Table in the Synagogue

A unique feature of this synagogue was a decorated stone inscribed with a seven-branched menorah. According to the excavation director, Dina Avshalom-Gorni, “This is the first time that a menorah decoration has been discovered from the days when the Second Temple was still standing. This is the first menorah to be discovered in a Jewish context and that dates to the Second Temple period/beginning of the Early Roman period.” This depiction of a menorah lends evidence to the belief that, even in the Second Temple period, there was some symbolic connection between synagogues and the temple.

Magdala's Ancient Port

Josephus wrote that the town had many boats, shipyard workers, and wood supplies. He reported that he brought 230 boats from Migdal to Tiberias. The Franciscan excavators, however, used the harbor as a dump, not realizing its significance. The harbor is composed of two parts: the promenade and the sheltered basin. A mooring stone has been found at the western end of the harbor. The breakwater is 20 feet (6 m) wide and 230 feet (69 m) long, and the foundations are made of basalt and limestone boulders. The basin covers one acre (0.4 ha) and has a quay.

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Related Websites

Magdala (See the Holy Land) An overview and many photographs of the site.

Discoveries in Mary Magdalene’s Hometown (Bible History Daily) A helpful illustrated introduction to some of what has been excavated in Magdala.

The Magdala Stone: The Jerusalem Temple Embodied (Bible History Daily) Posits a few theories about the uses of the stone, including five photos.

Recent Archaeological Excavations at Magdala (PDF on academia.edu) Along with a map, many photographs, and footnotes, this paper gives a good overview of the site, as of 2016.

The Fishy Secret to Ancient Magdala’s Economic Growth (Bible History Daily) A few photos illustrate the income sources of ancient Magdala.

Researchers Unearth 2,000-Year-Old Synagogue in Mary Magdalene’s Supposed Hometown (Smithsonian Magazine) An article about the 2021 discovery of a second ancient synagogue in Magdala.