Dig a foot down at Magdala and you may make history
In preparation for the construction of a guesthouse in 2009 at Magdala on the western coastline of the Sea of Galilee, an archaeological test was conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). A tractor came across what would be the most important archaeological discovery in Israel in the last 50 years less than a foot beneath the soil. This find was the Magdala Stone, a carved stone relief bearing one of the earliest images of the seven-branched menorah. The stunning discovery led to further excavation. A first-century synagogue and a marketplace were soon brought to light after having been covered by a series of small-scale landslides for the last 2,000 years.
I met Fr. Juan Solana, Director and Founder of the Magdala project, in Mexico in 2006 during a promotional meeting about the Holy Land at the Anahuac University in Mexico. I gave him my card, hoping he might need the expertise of an archaeologist in the process of building a guesthouse for pilgrims at the site of Magdala, near present-day Migdal in Israel. In the Bible, Mary Magdalene was from the town of Magdala.
After the IAA had found the synagogue at Magdala, I got a call from Fr. Solana, who asked me to come to Israel as soon as I could and assist him in figuring out what they had come across that stopped the expensive construction.
In 2010, one year after digging with the IAA around the synagogue, I was able to begin my own excavation project at Magdala on behalf of the Anahuac University of Mexico with my colleagues Dr. Linda Mazanilla and Dr. Luis Barba from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). Since then, we have been digging and researching the finds of the ancient city of Magdala in cooperation with the IAA and the UNAM.
This is the first time that the IAA has given an archaeology license to a Mexican dig team. On top of that, I’m the first Mexican woman to lead a dig abroad. It has been an honor to have the opportunity to lead such an important dig that sheds so much light on first-century history. Magdala challenges theories and confirms passages from the Gospels. It is here where important Biblical events happened, and we are the first people to see Magdala after 2,000 years.
So far, we have uncovered at Magdala a synagogue, marketplace, fishing pools, four mikva’ot (Jewish ritual baths), mosaics, a domestic area, wharf and harbor.
This summer, I have come to Magdala for the sixth time with the support of 40 volunteers to continue uncovering history. The volunteers come from Mexico, the US, France, Spain and Italy. Our goal this summer is to understand the lifestyle and usage of the area we dug last year, such as the continuation of the main street, public rooms and a fourth Jewish ritual bath.
Marcela Zapata-Meza is the Chief Archaeologist of the Magdala Archaeological Project. A faculty member at the Anahuac University of Mexico, Zapata-Meza specializes in Biblical archaeology, Egyptology and religion.
The Fishy Secret to Ancient Magdala’s Economic Growth by Marcela Zapata-Meza
Ancient Synagogues—Archaeology and Art: New Discoveries and Current Research by Rachel Hachlili
Reviewed by Benjamin D. Gordon
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