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  • Writer's pictureSteve McAtee

Israel Unveiled Volume 1: Magdala

Updated: Jul 30, 2020

By Amir Tsarfati

So here we are in Magdala. Behind me are the excavations of the ancient harbor of that first-century Jewish town right by the Sea of Galilee. As you can see, the waters of the Sea of Galilee went way down. This is definitely a year of drought. We didn't get enough rain the last several years, and the Sea of Galilee went down, and that, of course, throws me back to the time when in 1986, two brothers walked right here by the shores of the Sea of Galilee between Magdala and Gennesaret and Ginosar with the hope that they'll find a treasure one day. And that day was their day, definitely.

They saw a Roman nail and another one, and another one, and then they saw a piece of wood. They clean it up, and they saw that it's part of a boat. They realized that it's a race against time right now. They turned to authorities, to El Al, to the Airforce; they needed some help to somehow recover that amazing ancient first-century wooden boat from the mud right here by the shore of the Sea of Galilee and to bring it to a safe haven. Of course, the only way to get the boat from where it was to dig a channel from where the boat was to the Sea of Galilee. And once the water came, that boat was coming out of its watery grave and managed to float, once again, after 2,000 years on those same waters of the Sea of Galilee.

The interesting thing is that right behind me in this Harbor, we found a beautiful mosaic that shows what a fishing boat from the first century would have looked like. And as we compared the boat that we found with the one that we saw here on that particular mosaic floor, it was almost identical. So that was a very exciting moment for

both the archaeologists and the experts to definitely confirm that we're talking about a

first-century wooden boat unlike anything else that has ever been found here in this

place and in any other around the world.

We have to go back in history to understand that Magdala named Migdal in the

time of Jesus, which means a tower, was the first town that Jesus ever hit on its way --

on His way from Nazareth down towards Capernaum. In fact, behind me is Mount

Arbel; and right behind Mount Arbel is the Canyon through which Jesus would walk from

Nazareth down to the Sea of Galilee, And the first town, the first Jewish town -- the first inline of several of them, of Magdala Gennesaret, Tagbha; we're talking about Capernaum, Chorazin, Bethsaida -- the first of all of them was Migdal, was Magdala. Migdal comes from “tower.” There was no need for a watchtower. There's no need for walls and fortifications, The tower that we had here most likely was a tower for what we call commercial purposes. They say that they used to dry fish from the Sea of Galilee in little niches in that tower, and that was the ancient beef jerky of those days, the fish jerky. The dried fish were delicacy at that time. It was sort of a protein bar that mostly Roman soldiers like to have in their pockets in times of great need for some boost of energy.

Migdal was a Jewish town. Jewish people lived only in a very limited area around the Sea of Galilee at the time of Jesus. And we definitely confirmed that this is Jewish town by finding a synagogue, and not just a synagogue. This is the only first-century synagogue that we found here around the Sea of Galilee.

In all the other towns that we found synagogues at, like Capernaum, and Chorazim, the synagogues that we found there were actually from later periods, some from the 3rd some from the 4th, 5th centuries, but none of them was the original one from the time of Jesus except here, right here in this place.

Thanks to the construction efforts of the Catholic-Mexican organization that bought the land from a Jewish man who decided just to sell it because he didn't know what to do with the land. Thanks to their will to build a hotel for Catholic pilgrims, accidentally, ruins of the first-century city were found.

Of course, the construction had to be coming to a stop, and they started excavating immediately. And they found the synagogue. They found the marketplace next to the synagogue. They found residential areas. They found the ancient harbor, and of course, they found a mosaic of that boat. And above all, I think that the most interesting thing that they found here was that square stone that must have been the main table, situated in the heart of the synagogue, where the attendant would take their scrolls, open them, and read from them.

We know that Jesus more than once taught in synagogues around the Sea of Galilee, and we know that as His custom was, He would enter the synagogue on the Sabbath day and He would read from the scriptures. So we have no doubt that the stone that we found here that was beautifully decorated from all four sides and even the top, which means it wasn't part of a wall or anything, we have no doubt that Jesus himself stood there and read from the Bible scrolls while the heat was playing on that stone. The stone was beautifully decorated with Jewish ornaments, with Jewish symbols, and above all, the Menorah, the seven-branched candelabra that was the most important thing that decorated a stone. That determined, by all means, that we are indeed looking at a Jewish town.

Later on, we found ritual baths that only matches the needs of priestly families that lived here in that town. And we know an important Jewish town from the first century existed right here by the Sea of Galilee. The size of the synagogue was pretty small and that, of course, told us that the city itself wasn't that big.

Normally, it would be men that attend the synagogue on a daily basis; women will come only during the holidays or the Sabbath. And when the synagogue is so small, you can understand that the town wasn't big. Small towns sometimes can be with big mouths, and we know that when you live in a small place, everybody knows everything about everyone. And that brings me to the story of a very important special woman that lived here in this town.

Her name was Miriam, Mary, and she was known in Luke Chapter 8 as

Mary Magdalene, which means Mary from Magdala, from Migdal. She didn't have a

family name. We don't even know who was her father or what the name of her mother was. We don't know if she had sisters or brothers, although it was common in those days to have way more than one child.

We only know that she lived in Magdala, and we only know that Jesus healed her and cast out of her seven demons. Demonic presence inside a human being can be manifested in many different ways, but one thing for sure: if people know that you're demon-possessed, you're already a damaged good. People will stay away from you. People will not want to associate themselves with you.

Mary Magdalene was not a popular woman in this town. That's for sure. Small town, big gossip; small town, big mouth. Everybody knows everything, and for sure Mary didn't feel comfortable being demon-possessed, living in such a small town, being the joke of the town, and being certainly someone that is outcasted, someone that is not desired by anyone. She didn't have a man who could love her, support her, and give her the children that she probably would like to have. A woman in those days in her age who wasn't married and didn't have kids was certainly a woman that had a problem.

And I can only relate to Mary because so many, so many of us at some point in our life had gone through something that for others, it might be causing us to look like damaged good. But Jesus came to the city of Migdal, and we know one thing: we know that He cast all the demons out of Mary.

We know that there is one man she had no fear to approach. There was one person she felt comfortable to come to, and that was Jesus. And then, of course, Jesus as we said before never turn down anyone from being healed.

The Bible says that He went throughout all Galilee, taught in their synagogues, and He was healing all people of different diseases and torments, and there were epileptics and paralytics and demon-possessed. There's no doubt Mary was one of them, but very few people who were ever healed by Jesus left everything and followed Him. Mary was one of them.

We are introduced to Mary for the first time in Luke Chapter 8. It says, “Now it

came to pass, afterward, that Jesus went through every city and village, preaching and

bringing the glad tiding of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with Him and

certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities -- Mary called

Magdalene, out of whom had come seven demons, and Joanna the wife of Chuza,

Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others who provided for Him from their


Mary Magdalene was one of those that follow Jesus together with the twelve.

Mary Magdalene felt more comfortable with Jesus than with her own mother, father,

maybe brothers and sisters, and definitely with the residents of her hometown.

It's interesting because the chapter before is Chapter 7. Jesus is talking to Simeon, one of the Pharisees who asked to dine with Jesus, and Jesus told him a story about a woman that was healed. And then, of course, in Verse 47, He said, “Therefore, I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.

Seven demons came out of Mary. It's not necessarily because she sinned; could be, but one thing is for sure: the more we are forgiven, the more we love! Seven demons caused Mary to love Jesus in ways that I believe no other person loved throughout the time of the first century.

And then, of course, we know that Mary followed Jesus, and everywhere they went, she was there. She called him, “Rabbi.” She called him, “Master,” and then she called him, “Lord.” Jesus was Mary's Lord. He wasn't her lover, as some people tried to suggest because they really don't know what the love of God is. They have a hard time understanding the love of the woman towards her master.

Jesus was her Lord, which means He was the center of her life. He was everything for her. To be someone who was demon-possessed, who was outcasted, who was rejected, and now for the first time to be loved, to be forgiven, and to be taken and embraced by someone who is hailed by so many as “Master,” as “Lord,” as “Teacher,” as “Rabbi,” as “the Redeemer,” and “the Redeemer of the whole nation.” It was such a great privilege for her.

And you can imagine the shock that Mary was in when she saw Jesus on the cross. Her life was shattered. Her dreams, her hopes were shattered as well. Everything went down. She found it hard to believe that He's gone. He was everything for her. He was the reason for which she woke up in the morning, she lived, and she went to bed.

She knew that there is hope in her life. She knew that there is forgiveness in her life. She knew that there is love in her life. She knew that there is a reason for her to live. And then, of course, comes the account from John, Chapter 20, the account that I believe displays, more than anything else, the love and the dedication of Mary to Jesus as her Lord and her Master.

I'm reading from John, Chapter 20. “Now the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was dark..” She went to the tomb early while it was dark. She wasn't even His relative. It wasn't a mother or a brother. It wasn't that she was the first of all the disciples, but she was the only one who appeared at the tomb early in the morning, Sunday morning when it was still dark. She wasn't afraid of the dark. She wasn't afraid of a bandit that might come, or maybe attack her. She could care less about all those fears and things that might hinder anyone from coming so early to a place that's supposed to be guarded by Roman soldiers. She came to the tomb while it was dark, and she saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and she said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.”

Wow! Can you hear the concern and compassion in her voice? She -- it wasn't about a revelation she had about Jesus' resurrection. No, she didn't really understand what the resurrection is all about. All she cared about is that the body of Jesus, even him as a dead person, will be taken good care of, will be treated well, will be where it needs to be, and it will be treated the way a body should be treated. “Peter therefore went out, and the other disciple, and we're going to the tomb so they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first. And he, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there; yet he did not go in. And then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloth lying there, and the hand kerchief that had been around his head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself. Then the other disciple who came to the tomb first went in also, and he saw and believed, for as yet they did not know the scripture that he must rise again from the dead.”

Jesus told him He must rise. Jesus told him in in the Caesarea Philippi, right

after Peter acknowledges He's the Christ, the Son of the Living God, that the Son of

Man must be killed and resurrected. But it didn't sync; it didn't really register, and even now they see an empty tomb, it still doesn't register.

It's still an enigma to them, but look at what happened. “Then the disciples went

away again to their own home.” They just saw an empty tomb; Jesus is gone, and they turned around and went back to their own homes.

Now, this is Peter and John, the two most senior disciples in the group of disciples of twelve, but not Mary. Mary will not turn around. Mary will not take a no for an answer. Or she will not take no answer as an answer. Mary will not let an empty tomb stay there without an answer where Jesus is. She will not turn around. She will not go back home.

The Bible says, “Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept, she stooped down and looked into the tomb, and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other one at the feet where the body of Jesus had lain. And then they

said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”

And she said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not

know where they have laid Him.” She just saw two bodies of two angels sitting where

Jesus's body was supposed to be, but Mary didn't stop thinking to herself, “Wow, I'm seeing angels! What a beautiful sight.” All she cares about is where in the world did they put the body of Jesus, and that exactly the concern she expressed, even to two angels. It was evident that these are angels. She was there with Peter and John. No one else was there. She was there to see that the tomb was empty. No one else was there. And suddenly, as they leave, she stoops down, and she sees two angels. The angels didn't really impress Mary. It was the absence of Jesus that was really pressing on her heart so hard.

“Now when she had said this, she turned around and she saw Jesus standing

there, and she did not know that he was Jesus.” When you know that somebody's dead, you don't expect him to stand by you. So if you see someone next to you, the last thing you would think is that it's the dead person whom you are looking for. “And Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” And she was so upset, and she was so disturbed that, “She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, “Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.”

Mary suggested that she would come and pick up the body of Jesus all by herself and take Him to the tomb to where He belongs, as a dead person. What dedication. How focused she was on trying to figure out where in the world is Jesus’ body, so much so that He talked to her, and she didn't recognize Him. But look at what happened. Then the Bible says, “That Jesus said to her, “Mary!” All He needs to say -- this is all He needed to express, her name, in His voice. The Bible says that Jesus said, “My sheep knows my voice.” Mary instantly recognized the voice of Jesus, the Bible says, “So she turned and said to Him, “Rabboni!” (which is to say, Teacher, Rabbi). And Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me for I have not yet ascended to My Father, but go to My brethren and say to them, “I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.

Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord and that

He had spoken these things to her.” Wow! The first person Jesus revealed Himself to

as a resurrected Lord wasn't Peter; it wasn't John; it wasn't his mother Mary, whom the

Catholic Church makes a saint and a co-redeemer. It was from Mary Magdalene. That teaches us a lot.

Jesus is not looking at your status in society. He's not looking into your bank account, into your success story. All He cares about is your dedication, your love, and how much of a Lord is He in your life. He was everything to Mary. Magda was a town, but Mary Magdalene is the story of this town. Today everybody knows about Magdala or Midga because of Mary. She was nothing. Nobody loved her. Nobody cared about her. She was an outcast. She was a damaged good. She was rejected, but because of her love and dedication to Jesus, we all know about Mandela today.

She became the reason we want to know more about this town. She became the reason we want to know more about Jesus. How beautiful it is that all that it takes for us to be someone is to us making ourselves nothing, so we can make Him everything in our life. She never considered herself anything good. She always considered Himself as Lord. May we all be as dedicated and caring and sensitive to His voice as Mary. And may we all live our lives with the memory of the forgiveness of our sins, with much love that it produces, and with Him as our Lord.


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