A team of archaeologists from Israel's Antiquities Authority have unearthed an ancient synagogue with some very unique characteristics in a small Galilee village frequented by Jesus and his disciples.
The synagogue was found in Migdal (known in the New Testament as Magdala), which sits just north of Tiberias on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
During Jesus' time, Magdala was a thriving fishing village, and home to many of his followers, most notably Mary Magdalene (literally: Mary of Magdala). Jesus is recorded as having spent a considerable amount of time in the village.
The unearthed synagogue is amazing well-preserved, and substantially more ornate than many of the other synagogues from the first century found in the area.
Archaeologist Dina Gorni told The Global Mail that the find was "a kind of a miracle. ...We were only digging here as a precautionary measure before a building project began."
When the synagogue was first discovered in 2009, Gorni and her team found a large stone table or altar with intricate carvings. They have since exposed the entirety of the synagogue.
What makes this synagogue unique is its positioning, size and ornateness.
Gorni noted that the synagogue was located on the outskirts of what were then the city limits of Magdala. Others have pointed out that its small size would accommodate only about 120 people, but the population of Magdala at the time was several thousand. The synagogue also featured expensive trimmings, such as the carved altar.
All this likely means that the synagogue belonged to a small "outsider" sect that placed great value in its spiritual community life.
While Gorni and other Israeli archaeologists have focused on the fact that the synagogue was almost certainly in operation at the same time as the Second Temple in Jerusalem, the above details, combined with its location in Magdala, make this synagogue a likely candidate for one of, if not the first established Messianic Jewish place of worship.
It should be noted that this is speculation, and the experts have only vaguely made such a connection, though Gorni and others are almost certain that Jesus would have taught in this very synagogue.