Excavations at Magdala, hometown of the New Testament’s Mary Magdalene on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, have uncovered a 2,000-year-old decorated bronze incense shovel and a bronze jug. The dig, conducted near the town of Migdal at the eastern foot of Mount Arbel, is overseen by Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) archaeologists Dina Avshalom-Gorni and Arfan Najar in partnership with Dr. Marcela Zapata-Meza of the Anahuac University of Mexico.
Incense shovels, which were used to carry hot coals in the burning of incense, are mentioned in the Bible in relation to the four-horned altar of the desert tabernacle:
The Galilee is one of the most evocative locales in the New Testament—the area where Jesus was raised and where many of the Apostles came from. Our free eBook The Galilee Jesus Knew focuses on several aspects of Galilee: how Jewish the area was in Jesus’ time, the ports and the fishing industry that were so central to the region, and several sites where Jesus likely stayed and preached.
While it was once thought that incense shovels were used only in rituals, the discovery of these implements in burials and domestic contexts suggests that they were also used as funerary and utilitarian objects.
The bronze incense shovel and bronze jug discovered recently at Magdala were found in a storehouse in the ancient town’s port area, Dr. Marcela Zapata-Meza told Bible History Daily.
“These implements might have been saved in the storeroom as heirlooms by a Jewish family living at Magdala, or they may have been used for daily work as well,” said chief archaeologist Dina Avshalom-Gorni in an IAA press release.
According to Avshalom-Gorni, the Magdala incense shovel is one of ten dating to the Second Temple period that have been found in Israel. Recently, a bronze incense shovel whose handle is shaped like a duck was discovered at the nearby Hellenistic-period site of Khirbet el-Eika.
In the first century C.E., during the time of Jesus, the large fishing village at Magdala had the trappings of a Jewish settlement, including mikvaot (Jewish ritual baths) and a synagogue decorated with colorful frescoes and a mosaic floor. The famous Magdala Stone, which bears one of the earliest images of the seven-branched menorah, was found in the synagogue’s central hall.
One of Jesus’ most prominent followers was a woman from Magdala named Mary Magdalene, sometimes referred to as “the Magdalene” (Matthew 27:56, 61; 28:1; Mark 15:40, 47; 16:1–19; Luke 8:2; 24:10; John 19:25; 20:1–18).
Learn more about Magdala in Bible History Daily:
Magdala 2016: Excavating the Hometown of Mary Magdalene by Marcela Zapata-Meza
The Fishy Secret to Ancient Magdala’s Economic Growth by Marcela Zapata-Meza
Learn more about Magdala in the BAS Library:
Joey Corbett, “New Synagogue Excavations In Israel and Beyond,” Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August 2011.
Hershel Shanks, “BAR Exclusive! Major New Excavation Planned for Mary Magdalene’s Hometown,” Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 2007.
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