Family names, as we refer to them today, are relatively modern terms. Even this concept continues to evolve as attitudes toward the family unit changes; as women's roles beyond motherhood become more prominent; and as both mother and father family names are being used more and more frequently. However; in Biblical times, there was no such thing as a "Family Name". People were known by their private names only. In order to distinguish one person from another of the same name, quite often, a supplementary description was added; like the person's profession, the name of the town they lived in, or the name of their father. Some examples that portray this are: Joseph the carpenter, Jesus of Nazareth or David, son of Eshai (Jesse). Therefore , Mary Magdalene, was simply Mary from the town of Magdala - (Aramaic) or Migdal (Hebrew).
Where is Magdala and what was it like?
The New Testament tells us that Jesus left Nazareth and travelled to the village of Capernaum on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee - a distance of about 60 km (36 miles). Jesus makes the north shore and the village of Capernaum the center of his messianic work. His followers and disciples are the residents and inhabitants of the fishing villages of the lake. One can confidently state that this area, about 30 km long (18 miles) and a width of about 5km (3 miles), is the stage for most of the events in the New Testament. Along this section of shoreline, many of the ancient sites exist till today and are authentic, not just 'traditional'. Even the scenery has not changed significantly in 2000 years. Jesus was active among the Jewish fishermen and farmers comprising the villages of this area. Most of these people, who became followers of Jesus, were poor and hardworking.
Magdala was known by various names which bear witness to the town’s character: Migdal Nunieh (in Hebrew, meaning "Tower of Fish") and Magdala Tarichaeae (in Greek meaning "The Place Where Fish are Salted"). It is located on the northwest corner of the lake, about 10 km north of Tiberias. A Jewish village was established at Migdal in 1909 ,which today has a population of 1600 inhabitants and the ancient Magdala of 2000 years ago lies about 1 km southeast, (1000 yds) of the modern town of Migdal .
Magdala, in contrast to the other villages that Jesus frequented, was successful, well planned and well organized . It was a major town and a commercial center of the lake region during the first century. Much of its success was based on the fish preservation industry that flourished there. According to the writings of Josephus, Magdala had many boats, shipyard workers and supplies of wood. The archaeological excavations that are surfacing daily, definitely prove these observations.
At the archaeological site of Magdala Center we are greeted by the charismatic Father Juan Maria Solana, from the Pontifical Institute of Notre Dame of Jerusalem. He tells us that when he first visited Israel and the Galilee many years ago, he inquired about the location of Magdala. He was told that it was on the location of the 'Hawaii Beach Hotel'.
Years later when the Pontifical Institute had come to the decision that they would make a Pilgrim Center in the Galilee, it came to Father Juan's knowledge that 'Hawaii Beach' was for sale and he knew that would be the place for the project . The initial purchase of the plot was in 2006 and intensive research and excavations at the site were started . In 2009 construction permits were finally granted.
Father Juan describes with passion the present phase of construction, future plans, and dreams and hopes at the site of Magdala Village http://youtu.be/KxwPnnQePkk
The excavations at the site are by the Israeli Antiquities Authority in cooperation with research institutes and various universities worldwide. It is important to emphasize that the site is mainly a Jewish fishing village and the fish industry from the 1st Century sheds light on everyday life in Jesus time. Some of the recently uncovered findings are: the dock where the fishermen's boats were tied to, the fish market with special pools to keep the live fish and the Jewish ritual bath (mikva). The streets from the first century and the villa, indicate that the town was well planned in contrast to Capernaum, where there was no central planning. One of the most exciting discoveries is the First Century Synagogue. We can discern that this was one of the places that Jesus visited and maybe even taught in during his walks between the fishing villages. Let us not forget too, that this is where he met Mary Magdalene. Although, this is the only synagogue discovered thus far in Magdala; from past experience, it makes sense that there were more. The synagogue and its structure is a classical example of synagogues from that period. It is important to keep in mind that synagogues from the first century before the destruction of the temple in the year 70 had a different purpose than synagogues as we know them today. They were not places of worship but rather places of gathering and reading the Torah.
|Replica of the stone table with engravings of the menora, oil jars and other instruments.|
Although the land is owned by the Vatican , it is open to all Christian faiths as well as to all peoples who are interested in history and archaeology. Everyone is welcome and there will be places allocated where people can meditate or pray in their own spiritual beliefs. The site is unique in the sense, that regardless of the ongoing intensive work , it is already open to the public. One can see and feel the pulse of exciting archaeological discoveries alongside the modern development of the site . Since it is a construction site, special care needs to be taken while visiting.
It is interesting to note that the two archaeologists in charge of the excavation from the Israel Antiquities Authorities are Arfan Najjar, an Israeli Arab and Dina Gorni, an Israeli Jew and maybe it has significant meaning and value that a Muslim man and a Jewish lady are working together to unveil Christian roots.
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