Why pilgrims flock to Magdala

Within days of arriving on site in the 1st-century Jewish town of Magdala, located on the Sea of Galilee, I perceived its specialness. Last year more than 70,000 people visited the site, 30 per cent of them local Israelis and the remaining 70 per cent international Christian pilgrims.

Day after day I watched people leave with smiles and joy-filled hearts. One day a new volunteer asked me: “How would you sum up Magdala?” In a split second my mind raced through all the marketing brand messages:

  • Magdala is a crossroads of Jewish and Christian history;
  • You get to walk where Jesus taught;
  • Magdala is a premiere catalyst for worldwide reconciliation and renewal;
  • We offer a 1st-century Galilee experience in a welcoming 21st-century environment;
  • Our core purpose is to highlight the historical, cultural, and spiritual significance of Magdala, revealing how Jesus engages people and transforms lives.

All of this can describe Magdala, but none of it came out of my mouth. Instead one word slipped out: “Encounter.” Magdala is a place of encounter.

There is so much behind that word.

In the two years of welcoming visitors to Magdala (for what is normally a quick hour-long visit), I have encountered people from many walks of life: Jewish senior citizens, Methodist seminarians, Catholic church groups, Jewish youth coming to learn about Israel, Arab Christian families coming for a tour with their church, Baptist pastors, Jewish and Christian women studying women in the Bible, Evangelicals, Mormons, students of art history, archaeology, Old and New Testament, some believing in Jesus and others not.

Yet all come face to face with rich treasures found in a 1st-century Jewish town. Just as you enter the site, you find the evidence. Behold: on one side of the once booming marketplace (thanks to the salted fishing industry), one finds a 1st-century synagogue. Inside the synagogue rests the Magdala stone, boasting of the oldest carved menorah found in a public place.

On the other side of the marketplace, two wealthy villas include four Jewish purification baths unique to the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Continue reading


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