JERUSALEM, Israel – The discovery of a 2,000-year-old synagogue in the Galilee region is offering a new window into life during Jesus’ time.
Israeli archaeologists say they found the synagogue in the town of Migdal, located on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Migdal was a large Jewish settlement during the Second Temple Period. The Bible says Mary Magdalene was born in Migdal and it’s where Jesus spent much of his time on earth.
“We can imagine Mary Magdalene and her family coming to the synagogue here, along with other residents of Migdal, to participate in religious and communal events,” said Dina Avshalom-Gorni, one of the directors of the excavations. “The exposure of a second synagogue casts new light on Jewish communal life in the Galilee, the area where, according to the New Testament, Jesus performed his miracles.”
The synagogue is a square-shaped building made from basalt and limestone with a central hall and two additional rooms. The walls of the central hall are coated with white and colored plaster. It contains a stone bench, also coated in plaster, which runs along the walls. Excavators found a plaster-coated shelf in a small room on the south side of the hall where Torah scrolls may have been stored.
Avshalom-Gorni said the synagogue “reflects a need for a dedicated building for Torah reading and study and for social gatherings” during Jesus’ time.
Second Synagogue from the Second Temple Period Found in the Migdal Excavations. Photo credit: University of Haifa, courtesy
This is the second time a synagogue has been found in Migdal, making it the only place in the world where two synagogues from the Second Temple Period have been found in the same area.
The Israel Antiquities Authority excavated eastern Migdal more than a decade ago and found the first synagogue in 2009. That synagogue contained a stone bearing an image of a menorah. Excavators suggest the menorah image replicated the one in the temple in Jerusalem.
“The fact that we have found two synagogues shows that the Jews of the Second Temple period were looking for a place for religious, and perhaps also social, gatherings,” said Prof. Adi Erlich, head of the Zinman Institute of archaeology at the University of Haifa. The stone bearing a relief of the Menorah from the other synagogue at Migdal, suggests that the local Jews saw Jerusalem as their religious center, and their local activities took place under this centrality. The synagogue we are excavating now is close to the residential street, whereas the one excavated in 2009 was surrounding by an industrial area. Thus the local synagogues were constructed within the social fabric of the settlement.”
The synagogue and excavation findings will be on display for the first time on Tuesday, December 28th, at the University of Haifa’s Archaeology Institute conference.