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Ancient synagogue unearthed in Magdala

An ancient synagogue unearthed on the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee may have been a temple where Jesus preached, according to the Christian organisation that owns the site.

Ancient synagogue unearthed in Magdala
The synagogue ruins, were first uncovered in 2009 and they are thought to 
date back 2,000 years [Credit: Magdala Center Project]
Archaeologists have been excavating the 2,000-year-old ruins, which date from the 1st century, in the town of Migdal in northern Israel.

The town is thought to sit on top of what was the ancient town of Magdala, the birth place of Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus' most devoted followers.

During excavations in preparation for the construction of a new hotel on beachfront on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, archaeologists uncovered a delicately carved stone featuring menorah, a seven branched candelabrum that is a symbol in Judaism.

Now the Legions of Christ, the Catholic organisation which owns the land where the synagogue was discovered, are now claiming that Jesus himself may have preached there.

Ancient synagogue unearthed in Magdala
The site of the ancient synagogue had been covered in litter and weeds for 
years before excavations began [Credit: Hanay/WikiCommons]
Father Eamon Kelly, vice chargé of the Pontifical Institute Notre Dame of Jerusalem Centre, told Israeli news website Haaretz that there was now strong evidence that Jesus had preached there.

He said: 'This is the first synagogue ever excavated were Jesus walked and preached.

'He was a clever rabbi. He knew where to set up shop. If you walk from Nazareth to Bethsaida to Capernaum, you're going to come out here.'

Father Kelly said that although Jerusalem and Bethlehem are more commonly associated with Jesus, he actually spent 80 per cent of his life in what is now northern Israel.

Ancient synagogue unearthed in Magdala
This stone, with carvings on each site and the top including one of a seven-branched 
candelabrum, was found in what was the main hall of the synagogue, which also 
had a mosaic floor and plaster walls [Credit: Magdala Center Project]
The book of Matthew in the bible also mentions Jesus setting food in Magdala, saying: 'He took ship, and came into the coasts of Magdala.'

Until the town of Tiberias was built, the only town on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee was Magdala, which sat along an ancient trade route from Egypt to Syria.

It is thought to be here that he met with Mary Magdalene, or Mary of Magdala as she is also known.

Father Kelly said that the ancient synagogue would have served as a meeting point where people in the town would have gathered.

He said: 'If a strange rabbi came to town, a new rabbi, a new preacher, a new teacher, the logical place was to meet here.'

Ancient synagogue unearthed in Magdala
The site will ultimately have a visitor's centre, hotel, restaurant and inter-faith chapel
 built around the ruins [Credit: Magdala Center Project]
The synagogue is thought to have existed during what is known as the Second Temple period. Experts believe it was originally built in the 1 CE and was a simple structure before being refurbished in 40 CE.

Archaeologists have discovered a main hall that is around 1,291 square feet, with stone benches built up against the wall of the hall.

The floor is made of mosaic and the walls appear to have been treated with coloured plaster.

It is in this hall that the engraved limestone block featuring the menorah, along with carved images of amphora, was discovered.

The reliefs are the oldest menorah ever found on stone. Archaeologists believe the block was probably used for reading or writing the Torah.

According to archaeologists, the synagogue was probably destroyed in around 67 or 68 CE by the Romans during their first war with the Jews.

In addition to the synagogue, excavations around the site have also uncovered ancient baths and fishing pools.

'Actually what the archaeologists are saying now is we're digging up an entire 1st century city,' said Father Kelly.

There is still another 12 acres of the site to be excavated.

The Legion of Christ, which is creating a Magdala visitors centre on the site, are also planning to build a hospice and restaurant along with an inter-faith chapel.

Some 5,000 people have visited the site, according to the Magdala Centre.

According to the excavation director, Dina Avshalom-Gorni, excavation director with the Israel Antiquities Authority, said: 'We are dealing with an exciting and unique find.

'The synagogue that was uncovered joins just six other synagogues in the world that are known to date to the Second Temple period.'

Author: Richard Gray | Source: Daily Mail Online [December 23, 2014]

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