The University of Haifa recently announced the discovery of a first-century C.E. synagogue in Magdala, Israel. Located on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, Magdala is thought by some to be the birthplace of Mary Magdalene, as well as the main base of operations for the Jewish historian Josephus when he was a rebel leader during the First Jewish Revolt (66–70 C.E.). Although this is one of only a handful of synagogues from the first century excavated in the Galilee, it is remarkably not the first uncovered at Magdala. Another was discovered in the ancient city in 2009.a Together, these two synagogues shed light on the religious life of Jews in the Galilee during the Second Temple period.
The newly excavated synagogue was a simple, square-shaped building. It consisted of a central hall with a bench along one side and two small rooms, one possibly used to store scrolls. The rooms and bench were coated with plaster. By contrast, the first Magdala synagogue was more elaborate—with several mikva’ot (ritual baths) and colorful frescoes. A possible explanation for the difference in the synagogues is their location within the city: The first synagogue was located in a commercial area, while the new synagogue was found in a residential neighborhood.