Tour Rewind: Bet Shean, Magdala and the Jesus Boat

As we moved to the Galilee area, we settled into the simple, but beautiful Maagan Eden Holiday Village Resort. Nestled on the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee, we had absolutely incredible views and beautiful grounds. Breakfast and dinner were spent in the dining room overlooking the Sea of Galilee, and accommodations at this kibbutz hotel were very comfortable. These were our digs for three days:

Our first excursion in the Galilee area was a short jaunt south to Bet Shean, the 4th century Roman-built Decapolis and capital city. The thriving metropolis was destroyed by a great earthquake in 745 AD, after which it never regained its former status. It holds little Biblical significance, other than being the place King Saul and his sons’ bodies were impaled on the walls following their demise. (1 Samuel 31:8-13)

However, Bet Shean is perhaps the largest excavated and rebuilt Roman city outside of Europe. Complete with cardo (main street/shopping area), amphitheater, public bathhouses, and a “stack” of unexcavated civilizations in the background, Bet Shean is an archaeological wonder. Take a look:

Traveling back to the north, along the west coast of the Sea of Galilee, we came to what would become a favorite site for many: Magdala. Excavated only within the past few years, Magdala has become a huge draw for Christian pilgrims, as a synagogue in which Jesus almost certainly would have taught was unearthed.

In 2009, a Franciscan priest, moved by the Biblical accounts of Mary Magdalene, purchased a parcel of land in the area to build a small guesthouse for others to pay homage to Mary Magdalene. According to Israeli law, all sites must undergo archaeological testing before digging and building may commence. Upon testing, archaeologists discovered the only known 1st Century synagogue in the Galilee area, as well as the 2000-year-old village of Magdala!

Today, remains of the synagogue, including the Magdala Stone, which would have stood in the middle of the synagogue upon which scrolls would have been spread out and read. Jesus would have taught in that synagogue, using that Magdala Stone!

Beyond the synagogue, a full conference center, chapel and ministry center now grace the property, and many find special connection to the Lord in this place. A replica of a 1st Century fishing boat sits prominently in the chapel overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Beautiful and very meaningful murals adorn the walls, and ordinary voices sound like angels when singing beneath the high-vaulted ceilings. It is a special place.

Find out more about Magdala here.

Speaking of 1st Century fishing boats, an authentic one was found in 1986. The story is a fascinating one, but too long to recount here. (Take a few minutes to learn about it here.) There is no evidence to confirm Jesus was actually in this particular boat, but He would have sailed often on the Sea of Galilee in boats very much like this one. We saw the boat at Nof Ginosar, a kibbutz which houses the small museum.

Fascinating sites, to be sure! However, there are more on the horizon! Check back in tomorrow as we continue our tour rewind!


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