Archaeologists excavating the ruins of the 2,000-year-old synagogue in the town of Migdal, in northern Israel, have likely uncovered the earliest place where Jesus ever preached. They were originally working on preparations for a new hotel and beachfront property at the site, which is standard practice for a new construction site in Israel in case ruins of some kind are found.
The synagogue is only one of seven currently known that date back to the time of Jesus. Migdal, once known as Magdala, is referenced in the Bible as a location on Sea of Galilee where Jesus stopped before going to Jerusalem.
The synagogue is also one of only seven dating back to the time of Jesus uncovered anywhere in the world.
For someone traveling from Nazareth to Jerusalem along the route that Jesus took, Magdala was not a logical stopping point, but it is well-established and documented that Jesus was in the area of the Sea of Galilee for a significant period of time. In fact, Jesus spent the vast majority of his life in the area, which is along an ancient trade route that ran from Egypt next to the Mediterranean and then hugged the western shores of the Sea of Galilee before going on to Syria.
Many people passed through the area, and as a consequence, Jesus would have been able to teach those who came by on the trade route.
During excavations, archaeologists found the ruins of the synagogue, which is now believed were destroyed during war with the Romans. The ruins date back to the Second Temple period, and include stone carvings with the Jewish religious symbol of a menorah. The site is owned by a Catholic organization called the Legions of Christ, and they feel that it is the first known synagogue where Jesus himself walked and preached.
Father Eamon Kelly of the Legions of Christ told Israel Today that the discovery, originally made in 2013, is a significant find for more than one religion.
“This is the first synagogue ever excavated where Jesus walked and preached,” said Father Kelly. “This is hugely important for both Jews and Christians.”
“Eighty percent of Jesus’ public life was right here,” said Father Kelly, referring to the to the Sea of Galilee region.
The newly found site is now open to visitors, and will eventually include a visitor’s center and structure built around the site.
When Jesus was alive, synagogues were used as places for the community to pray, gather, and discuss events of the day. They were also a customary place for a new rabbi in town to teach, as it is believed that Jesus did at the newly discovered structure in Migdal.
Archaeologists working at the site believe it was destroyed around 68 B.C. (CE) by the Romans, decades after Jesus was crucified on a hill outside of Jerusalem.
[Image via Magadala Center Project]