MAGDALA (Migdal ), a city on Lake Gennesaret (the Sea of Galilee) in Galilee, about 7 km. north of Tiberias. It is overlooked by a high escarpment near the Wadi Hamam (the Valley of the Robbers). "Migdal" is an Aramaic word meaning "tower" or "fortress." The Greeks called the village Taricheia, a word meaning "pickling," because of Magdala's fish salting industry, one of the mainstays of its economy. The other important element of its economy was its boat-building.
Magdala was first excavated in 1971–74 by Corbo and Loffreda, who found what they misidentified as a mini-synagogue (actually a stepped fountain house or nymphaeum), a water reservoir, and some mosaic floors. One of the mosaics, now on display at Capernaum, depicts an ancient boat with both sails and oars. Situated west of Capernaum (Jos., Life, 59, 72), Magdala was walled on the land side and contained a stadium. Even in antiquity, Magdala was well known, and among its prominent citizens were Jannaeus son of Levi and Dassion, friends of Agrippa ii (Jos., Life, 131; Wars, 2:597).
When three Roman legions under the control of Vespasian laid siege to the city of Tiberias in 67 c.e., the city opened its gates, and Josephus and his forces surrendered. The city was attacked by the Roman army, which advanced from Sennabris to Tiberias and then to Magdala (Jos., Wars, 3:462–505, 532–542). Since Tiberias – along with Tarichaea-Magdala, Bethsaida-Julias, and its 14 villages – had been given to Herod Agrippa ii by the emperor Nero prior to the war, and since Josephus and the inhabitants of the city openly surrendered to Vespasian and his forces, the Romans permitted Tiberias to remain under Jewish rule until 100 c.e. (Jos., Wars, 3:445–61).
After the destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, Magdala became the seat of one of the 24 priestly divisions and as the city grew there were several Roman style villas built, with baths and mosaics, and the cardo (the main street) was paved. Magdala is mentioned directly only once in the New Testament (Matthew 15:39), where it is recorded that Jesus visited the area by boat. However, it is referred to as Magadan, not Magdala. The area of Magdala is also associated in the New Testament with the name Dalmanutha, as seen in Mark 8:10. All other references to the city are indirect ones (Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2).
It was said to be the hometown of Mary the Magdalene (Matt. 27:56; Mark 15:40). In Talmudic sources it appears as Migdal Nunaiya, a center for fishing and the preserving industry (Pes. 46a). R. Isaac and R. Judah were two of the amoraim living in Magdala. Resh Lakish sought refuge there against the wrath of the patriarch Judah ii. After the destruction of the Temple, the priests of the family of Ezekiel settled there.
R. Arav and J.J. Rousseau, Jesus and His World (1996); D. Baly, The Geography of the Bible (1974), 164; R. Bauckham, Gospel Women (2002), 143; L.F. De Vries, Cities of the Biblical World (1997), 327–28; L.I. Levine, The Ancient Synagogue. The First Thousand Years (2000), 67; C. Meyers, C.T. Craven, and R.S. Kraemer (eds.), Women in Scripture (2000); E. Netzer, "Did the Water Installation in Magdala Serve as a Synagogue?" in: A. Kasher, A. Oppenheimer, and U. Uriel Rappaport (eds.), Synagogues in Antiquity (Heb., 1988).
[Lidia Domenica Matassa (2nd ed.)]