A synagogue where Jesus likely preached has been uncovered on the western shores of the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel. The 1st century Jewish house of prayer was discovered amidst the ruins of the ancient town of Magdala, home to the most well known female disciple of Jesus, Mary Magdalene.
"This is the first synagogue ever excavated where Jesus walked and preached," said Father Eamon Kelly of the Catholic organization developing the property. "This is hugely important for both Jews and Christians,” he added. The synagogue is one of only seven dating back to the time of Jesus uncovered anywhere in the world.
There is a very high probability that Jesus preached in this very synagogue. Before Tiberius was built, Magdala was the only town on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. Matthew 15:39 tells us that Jesus landed here as he "he took a boat, and came to the coast of Magdala." According to the New Testament, Jesus traveled extensively through this area teaching and preaching in local synagogues.
Magdala is just a few kilometers south of Capernaum, the fishing village where Jesus met Simon Peter, and not far from the Mount of Beatitudes where Jesus preached his legendary Sermon on the Mount. The town is also situated on the road that Jesus walked from Nazareth and Bethsaida to Capernaum.
This area is on the Via Maris - an ancient trade route that ran from Egypt along the Mediterranean and then up the western shores of the Sea of Galilee all the way to Syria. Jesus spent much of his time here as it provided an important opportunity for him to teach the multitudes passing through.
People tend to think of Bethlehem or Jerusalem as central places in the life of Jesus, but actually Jesus spent most of his life and ministry in the Galilee and northern Israel. "Eighty percent of Jesus' public life was right here," says Father Kelly, pointing to the Galilee region.
In the times of Jesus, the local synagogue was not just a place for prayer, but also a community center where people would gather to discuss the news or share information about current events. Whenever a new rabbi came to town, it was custom for him to come to the local synagogue meet with the people and teach.
According to archaeologists, the Magdala synagogue was destroyed in 67 or 68 CE by the Romans. A sculpted limestone relief depicting a menorah was uncovered in the center of the synagogue. It is the oldest stone-etched menorah ever found.
Archaeologists have also found fishing pools and Jewish ritual baths at the site, which is now open for visitors.