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Synagogue

Box found with images found in the Temple

Magdala is a place that the student of the Apostolic writings (Newer Testament) must visit. This location offers what few places in Israel offer, namely a sight that wasn’t build over several times in the 2000 years since the ministry of Messiah Yeshua (Jesus). It offers archeological remains which were not disturbed or robbed in order to build other structures in the area. 

The most significant finds at Magdala are the two synagogues. The one pictured in this post is the first one discovered. A second synagogue was found recently and excavations have begun in that location. 

The synagogue in Magdala offers us a glimpse into the life of the Messiah Yeshua. We know from scripture that Yeshua (Jesus) taught in the synagogues around the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). (Matthew 4:23) Thus, given that this synagogue is believed to have been in existence in the first century, it can reasonably be assumed that Yeshua taught in this synagogue. He read the scriptures from the scroll. He sat on the bench where the teacher sat. Few other places in Israel today offer such direct connection to Messiah. 

Magdala was a thriving city during the first century. It was a port city on the west coast of the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). The city is believed, based on the archeological finds, to have been a wealthy city and Torah-observant city.

With regard to Torah observance, we find in Magdala evidence of many mikveh (ritual purity baths). These were used and continue to be used today by Torah-observant Jews as a means to ritual purity. Use of the mikveh involved immersing oneself into the mikveh and reciting certain scriptures and blessings. The land of Israel has many, many mikvaot. These testify of the strong faith culture of this city as well as the Galilee region.

The main industry in Magdala appears to have been fish processing. It is believed that fish were brought to Magdala and held in shallow pools until being salted and dried for transport and sale to locations throughout Israel and the Roman Empire.

When you visit the site, you are able to see the synagogue, the mikvaot, the pools and other remains of the industry and housing in Magdala. There is also a beautiful hotel and guest center.

 

Pedestal for holding Torah scroll

Ritual bath (Mikveh)

Pools for holding fish

Water channel for moving water from one location to another
Murals inside the chapel at Magdala

Chapel at Magdala

View of Mt Arbel from Magdala

It is our desire to help you grow in your knowledge of Adonai and His Word. If you are looking for additional information and/or materials, please visit our website at RootedinHisWord.org and our Facebook page. 

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The last day I was in Israel was a Sunday, and I was staying in Jerusalem. As a final way to close the trip, my friends and I visited the Old City one last time. It was a beautiful day. In this post, I will share with you some of the splendor of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is a place that can be difficult to navigate for all the apparent organized chaos and the different manifestations of faith and ritual that are all around. This time, perhaps because it was a Sunday, I was able to genuinely enjoy the beauty and serenity of the church. Whatever you may believe about where Yeshua, the Messiah (Jesus Christ) was buried, this church is a place where generations of believers have come and remembered the crucifixion and burial of Yeshua. God said that He would be found by those who seek Him with all their heart. See Jeremiah 29:13.

 

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I apologize for taking a few days to get back to the tour highlights. I left off in my last post about our recent tour of Israel with our visit to Tel Arad. That is definitely a place to visit. From Tel Arad, we headed north and made our way out of the Negev basin. As we climbed, we noted places along the way such as Maon, Carmel (not the Mt Carmel on the coast), and Ziph. (See Joshua 15:55 for the reference to these cities as being part of the allotment to the Tribe of Judah). 

We were not able to visit all the tels, but from a vantage point in the wilderness of Ziph, we were able to remember David’s time in the wilderness of Ziph as described in 1 Samuel 23. We were able to see the route by which David would have easily traveled to En Gedi from Ziph. These connection in the land bring the scriptures to life.

In this area, we were also able to remember the story of Abraham and the three visitors. We could look out and see the Salt Sea, and the traditional location of Zoar at the south end and remember that Lot had asked to be able to go to Zoar after leaving Sodom when it was slated for destruction. Recent excavations and other findings at Tall el-Hamman to the north east of the Salt Sea suggest that the location for Sodom may be in that area, but I leave that for another day. (See article in Nature Journal A Tunguska sized airburst destroyed Tall el-Hammam a Middle Bronze Age city in the Jordan Valley near the Dead Sea)

We reached our final destination, Hebron, with time to visit both the tel and the cave of the Patriarchs. This was not the first time I visited tel Hebron or the Cave of Machpelah. You can see my earlier post here.

We visited the tel first. This is definitely worth the climb. The tel has been partially excavated.

After visiting the tel, we visited the cave of Machpelah – the burial place of the patriarchs. Here are some images from our visit.

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On day two we started in Beersheva and then made our way to the east to tel Arad. Tel Arad is located in the eastern Negev. Its location is strategic as being on the route which led to both Sinai and Transjordan. Tel Arad was the site of a Canaanite city from the early Bronze Age. The city was a as large as 10 hectares at its peak. The Israelites occupied the site during the Iron Age, building a fortress on the northern portion of the city. Within the fortress, the excavators found a Judahite temple (a cultic site) with two standing stones and two incense altars. The fortress and the lower city both have water systems to collect rain water run off.

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Our second day of touring on the recent Rooted in His Word Israel tour began in Beersheva. We were starting our “Dan to Beersheva” in earnest.

Some things to know about Beersheva:

  • the ancient tel is located in the south of Israel and 25 miles north of the Wilderness of Zin where Israelites wandered for 40 years after leaving Egypt
  • Tel Beersheba is one of the oldest Biblical sites in Israel dating back to the time of the patriarchs. See
  • Excavations at Beersheba have identified many strata (different civilizations/occupations of the site)
    When the land was divided under the leadership of Joshua, Beersheba was part of the allotment of Simeon
  • The original water system for the town in ancient times was centered around the well. Later, rain water was collected from roofs and courtyards and diverted by a channel beneath the street into  the cistern. 
This gives us a good view of the ramparts of the city wall.

This provides a view of the rampart (glaci) outside of the city provided added protection for the city.
entering the city gate
Chamber inside of the gate. These areas would be used for conducting civil matters as well as business matters. Note the benches along the walls.
Benches inside the city gate where legal matters were handled by the elders of the city

Reconstruction in the gate niche showing it was plastered
another view of the gate niche which would hold soldiers in time of siege
evidence of the casemate wall that existed around the city
Beersheva – ruins of ancient tel
evidence of Israelite occupation – pillared houses
view from the observation tower – showing the extent of the ancient tel

entrance into the cistern (modern)
View looking up out of the cistern
Evidence of plastering of the cistern walls
The land/terrain surrounding Tel Beersheva
Artist’s rendering of the city in ancient times

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Finally, we come to the last two places we visited on day one of our recent Rooted in His Word Israel tour.

The first of the two was Ziklag. This was a little off the beaten path. Literally, we had to wait for the herd of goats to pass before we could proceed. We reached a point where the road was impassible, and from there we climbed the tel. Ziklag,  you may recall, was where David was at one point hiding out from Saul  in the region of the Philistines. Ziklag was a town given to David by Achish, a Philistine king. (See 1 Samuel 27:6) While David was out with his men on a “mission,” his wives and the wives of his men were kidnapped by the Amalekites and the city was burned. (See 1 Samuel 30)

The ruins at this site have not been fully excavated yet, but it is very helpful to put a place to a name in a Bible story. 

Tel Ziklag ruins

tel Ziklag Iron Age ruins
tel Ziklag Iron Age ruins
view from tel Ziklag
view from tel Ziklag

The final site of the day was another new stop on the tour. The parks service has done a wonderful job at this site. Lachish, you may recall from Bible history, was a great city of the Canaanites even before it was occupied by the Israelites. It is known as one of the fortified cities of Hezekiah, a city that was under siege by Sennacherib, king of Assyria, in 701 BC during the reign of Hezekiah, King of Judah. Lachish was, at the time, a highly fortified city, virtually impenetrable–or so it seemed. It had thick, tall walls, steep ramparts, and a well-fortified gate complex. The Assyrians were formidable foes, building a siege ramp against the ramparts of the city. Their custom was to use locals from surrounding towns and villages that they had already captured to build the ramp to discourage attacks on the builders. The residents of Lachish built their own counter-siege ramp, the remains of which can still be seen. To look up the siege ramp is to take in the amazing defenses of the city and to also know that they could see their end coming–closer and closer, day by day. The Assyrians were known to be such brutal enemies that some surrendered without opposition. This was not the way of the Israelites. They fought courageously until the end. 

The tel at Lachish is quite extensive. The remains of the royal palace can be seen with a large open area believed to have been used for horses and chariots. 

This site is a must-see and hopefully, we can add it to our future tours.

Assyrian siege ramp at Lachish

Walls of city of ancient Lachish

Rampart of city

Judeans fleeing Assyrians
outer gate at Lachish

Gate structure – with niche
Gate structure – Lachish
View of the expanse of the city of Lachish (much remains to be excavated)
Part of water system at Lachish

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Believe it or not, we are still on day one of the tour. We had action-packed days for most of the tour. Day one offered some really interesting new treats.

Dovecotes

As you may be aware, at the temple in Jerusalem, if one could not afford to offer a lamb or goat, one could often offer a bird such as a turtledove or pigeon instead. The birds had to be raised in a way that would make them acceptable for offering in the temple. The place for doing so would naturally need to be within a reasonable distance from Jerusalem to allow travel there without risk of birds dying. Not far from tel Beit Shemesh and tel She’ayarim, there is a dovecote that dates to the first temple period. It was carved out of the soft limestone found in the area. It is visually quite a lovely place. Quite off the beaten path for big buses I would think, but worth a visit if you can.

First Century Burial

It is always helpful to find places and things intact in a way that allows a better understanding of scripture. First century burial sites can give good insight into how Yeshua (Jesus) would have been buried, i.e. the type of tomb into which his body would have been laid and how those visiting the tomb after the resurrection would have viewed the tomb area. Not far from the dovecote described above, is an example of the first century burial tomb of a wealthy person. It was carved into the rock which was common, it had slot tombs, which was also common, and it had an entrance area with bench seating for those visiting the graves.

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We are still on day one of the tour. After leaving Beit Shemesh, we travel to the Elah Valley to remember the battle between the Israelites and the Philistines, between David and Goliath. Last time we came, we remembered this battle from the top of tel Azeka. This time, we are actually across the valley to the east of tel Azeka, on tel She’arayim, an Israelite city known for having two gates. That is what the word she’arayim means in Hebrew – “two gates.” This is significant because at the time of David, most Israelite cities had one gate. The city would be easier to defend if it only had one gate. This city, which overlooked the valley of Ela had two. It is also identified as Khirbet Qeiyafa. This city was a likely place for staging and supplying the Israelite army when it was facing off with the Philistines as recounted in 1 Samuel 17. It sits just north of where the Israelites were probably encamped.

ruins tel She’ayarim

tel She’ayarim ruins
Flat stones cover water channel

Looking west toward tel Azeka

Looking westward to tel Azeka
ruins tel She’ayarim
view looking south west from tel She’ayarim into the plain where the battle would have likely been
thick line denotes where reconstruction starts
ruins tel She’ayarim
carved out rock to hold post for wooden gate door
ruins tel She’ayarim

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Day one of the tour, we head south from Tel Aviv, to reach the south of Israel. On the way, we visit a couple of very interesting sites. These are new to the tour, so the excitement starts immediately. 

Beit Shemesh

You may recall the story of the how the Israelites have the bright idea of bringing the Ark of the Covenant to battle with them against the Philistines. Other armies bring their gods with them, so Israel thought it might give them a boost over their relentless enemy to bring the ark with them. Their idea turns into a nightmare when the ark is stolen by the Philistines.

This ends up being one of the most comical stories in the Bible to my way of thinking. The Philistines take the ark to Ashdod and put it in the temple with their god, Dagon. The next morning, they find Dagon face down before the ark of the covenant. They set Dagon back in his place, but the next day when they came to check, Dagon’s arms and head were missing and he was face down again before the ark of the Lord. This just led to more problems and the ark was sent from one Philistine town to another and at each stop, the people in the city suffered because of the ark or so they believed. Finally, they are so tired of people dying, being tormented by hemorrhoids and rats eating their crops that they decide to send the ark back to the Israelites. You can read the story in 1 Samuel chapters 5 and 6. 

When they send the ark back to the Israelites, the Philistines send it from Ekron, a Philistine city at the west end of the Sorek Valley, to Beit Shemesh, an Israelite city further east in the Israel-dominated end of the Sorek. 

The Tel of Beit Shemesh sits as it did in antiquity, overlooking the Sorek Valley, a complex system of ravines that protects Jerusalem on the west side from attack because of the difficulty of traveling through it. We stood on the tel and looked into the valley, rich with agriculture today and could almost hear the mooing of the milk cows drawing the wagon with the ark from Ekron.

 

Tel Beit Shemesh
Tel Beit Shemesh (ruins)
Looking east toward Jerusalem

Looking west toward Philistine territory

Cisterns

One of the things you come to look for at ancient sites in Israel are the cisterns. Because of the lack of water in the land, in order to survive the hot, dry spring and summers, occupants of the land carved cisterns out of the rock. The water would be captured and routed to these underground storage places. This is our first cistern of the trip, but it will certainly not be our last. 

Steps into the cistern – Beit Shemesh
Cistern – Beit Shemesh
Cistern
Plaster on walls of cistern to help keep water from leaching into the Limestone
Inside the cistern

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