The discovery of a small coin dated to 29 AD was tantalizing enough, but its discovery in an ancient synagogue found in Northern Israel along the Sea of Galilee has provided new understanding of ancient Judaism and even the Gospels.
The site was uncovered during construction of a christian retreat center and spa for a Catholic order called the Legionnaries of Christ.
The organization which trains men for the priesthood has a controversial reputation. Some accused the order of being cult-like due to its regimented structure that during its early years forbid adherents from contacting their families. This policy has since been completely reversed.
The coin confirms the synagogue’s existence during the time Jesus ministered in Galilee. He undoubtedly taught at this synagogue as the Lord regularly spoke at synagogues throughout Israel (Luke 4:15).
The town where the synagogue was discovered is the hometown of Mary Magdalene. She was a close follower, who Christ delivered of evil spirits.
2 as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out. (Luke 8:2 NASV)
Since there was more than one Mary, she was often designated by the term Magdalene which referenced where she was from. She probably became a disciple of Christ during His visit to Magdala.
The Bible tells us Jesus visited Magadan which is the region where Magdala was located (Mathew 15:39).
But this was not your everyday synagogue and that was due to the discovery in 2009 of a carved stone altar called the Magdala Stone. Twenty-four inches long, 20 inches wide and 18 inches high, the stone would have sat in the center of the room with members of the congregation sitting around the outside wall.
It was large enough to hold a Torah and may have been used like a pulpit.
Scholars have traditionally believed that synagogues during this period were little more than Jewish community centers, with Herod’s temple being the center piece of Jewish religion. It was only after the Romans destroyed the Temple in 70 AD did synagogues become the major religious structures for Judaism that they are today.
But the Magdala Stone is changing people’s thinking on the synagogue’s importance in Jesus’ day.
The reason is that the Magdala Stone has a 3-D sculpture of Herod’s temple carved on all four sides including a portrayal of the Temple’s most important area — the Holy of Holies — where the Ark of the Covenant would have stood.
The carvings are so detailed it suggests the sculptor had been inside the temple. It even includes images of the temple’s utensils — such as the sacred candle stick — the Menorah.
Hebrew University of Jerusalem professor Rina Talgam has studied the Magdala Stone for years. In an interview with the New York Times, Talgam said the stone’s sacred portrayal of all the elements of the temple elevated the status of the synagogue to “a lesser temple.”
In addition the carvings on the stone may even help us understand an incident in the Gospels.
According to The Daily Beast‘s Candida Moss, one of the drawings on the Magdala Stone sheds light on how the High Priest justified Christ’s crucifixion.
According to Mark’s Gospel, after the High Priest arrested Jesus they tried to have some men bring false testimony accusing the Lord of plotting to destroy the temple.
But that fell apart when the men couldn’t agree. There is even a hint the accusers may have even argued with each other over whose version was right.
Jesus then purposefully gave the High Priest the evidence he needed to charge the Lord with blasphemy:
62 And Jesus said, “I am; and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” 63 Tearing his clothes, the high priest *said, “What further need do we have of witnesses? 64 You have heard the blasphemy; how does it seem to you?” And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death. (Mark 14:62-64 NASV)
Most commentators assume Jesus was referencing an obscure verse out of the Book of Daniel talking about God descending from Heaven in a chariot:
“I kept looking
Until thrones were set up,
And the Ancient of Days took His seat;
His vesture was like white snow
And the hair of His head like pure wool.
His throne was ablaze with flames,
Its wheels were a burning fire. (Daniel 7:9 NASV)
And in doing so Jesus was putting Himself in this chariot-throne and likening Himself to Jehovah.
But the High Priest’s reaction to Jesus’ statement tells us this reference well-known and he immediately accused Jesus of blasphemy.
The Magdala Stone actually helps explain what happened here. In the area depicting the Holy of Holies, the sculptor use a motif of two chariot wheels and fire to depict God’s Presence that sat on the Ark of the Covenant inside the Holy of Holies.
The sculptor used Daniel’s image of God on the stone. Obviously, he believed this rendering was obvious or even common enough for everyone to understand what it meant.
Having been to the Magdala Synagogue, Jesus understood what the image represented. He also knew the High Priest was familiar with it as well, leading to the charge of blasphemy.
Since its discovery in 2009, Israel’s Antiquities Authority has stored the original stone in a warehouse. It only has replicas on display over concerns the original may take on a cult-like status.
- Is this stone the clue to why Jesus was killed? thedailybeast.com
- A Carved Stone Block Upends Assumptions About Ancient Judaism: New York Times
- The Magdala Stone: Magdala.org
- Stunning find from time of Jesus: wnd.com